A lot of things have hit me over the first two days as we traveled from the U.S. to the Dominican Republic and into Haiti. But, I never thought the heaviest impact so far would come from a tennis ball.
Emmanuel, one of the staff at COCINA (Coalition of Children in Need Association), had brought in his nephew, and as he waited for his uncle to finish a conversation, he was playing with a tennis ball he had brought with him. He was rolling around on the stage in the main room of the school, throwing the ball, then jumping to catch it. He was having a great time with his tennis ball!
I decided to join in his little game.
He didn't speak English, but we connected quickly when I motioned for him to toss the ball to me. He did, and I bounced it off the ground and into his little hands. He giggled and bounced it back to me. This went on for a minute or two, bounces getting higher, and giggles turning into outright laughter.
Then, I said, "I'm gonna bounce it REAL high", and motioned with my hands and arms to express the height it would rebound once I let it go. He nodded his head and smiled from ear to ear, anticipating the next throw.
I bounced hard, and the ball flew high; so high, in fact, it got a little out of control, rolled past him, and dropped down into a narrow space at the back of the stage. He ran back to get it, and then popped up with fear in his eyes, it was gone!
My heart sank, but I thought surely I could reach down behind the stage to fetch this little boy's precious toy. No such luck. The stage was empty underneath, and the ball had rebounded off the back wall when it fell, causing it to roll deeper than I could reach, or even see.
I had to try harder to find this ball!
I took off my glasses and the keys on the lanyard around my neck and set them both on the stage near the boy. I hung my head over the edge, behind the stage, where there was nothing by wires and some trash.
No way was I going to get his ball from back there.
As I returned topside, what I found was this little boy wearing my glasses and my keys around his neck. In his own sweet way, it was as if he was saying, "You lost my ball; so I'll just take these. Cool!"
That's when it hit me: That tennis ball meant everything to this kid.
If I had been in Ohio, I would have just grabbed another one out of my garage (we've got at least 15 tennis balls in a bin at home); but here, tennis balls, and soccer balls, basket balls, bikes, and other toys are not available to just anyone. I don't know this boy's specific situation and whether or not it would have been easy to find another tennis ball when he got home; but my assumption was that's not the case.
In the end, I was able to get him a new tennis ball, and everyone lived happily ever after. But, my revelation was this: that tennis ball was far more valuable to that boy than it was to me; and by recognizing that, I invested more time and energy than I ever thought possible searching for that ball and then, ultimately finding a replacement.
And, when you take a step back and look at any scenario (whether it's in Haiti or in your family or at the office) from the other person's perspective, you'll have a much better experience in dealing with that person/circumstance.
Forget that it's "just a tennis ball", and remember, it might be the ONLY tennis ball.