I was walking across a green field on a cliff high, above the southern Pacific ocean when I saw the girl. From a distance, she looked like any other girl; long dark hair and skin the color of wheat. But as she drew closer, I noticed the filth of her ill-fitting clothes, the broken shoes she wore on her feet, and her beautiful, beautiful brown eyes.
I smelled her before she leapt into my arms. A child should be bathed. They can’t bathe themselves. And a child’s clothes should be washed, even when the effort is taxing.
Still, I caught her and held her in my arms.
I felt her chipped fingernails against my shoulders and the thick, matted grease in her hair, pressed under my chin.
I shuddered, but held on.
I carried the child to the edge of the field, kissed her forehead and set her down on the damp green earth, but she would have none of it. She held the fabric at the hem of my jacket until I took her hand.
Together, we walked to church for evening service. It was time and I couldn’t bring myself to send her away.
I entered the small, wood framed building with a filthy child in tow. No one asked where I found her or who she was.
I sat down on a rough wooden bench and welcomed the child onto my lap. As we sang hymns, I pulled fleas from the child’s matted hair. I crushed them between my fingernails and wondered if I, too, would get fleas. I knew I would, but it was too late. I was smitten.
During the sermon, I thought, Christ holds me, just this way. And I loved the child even more.