Every child has a childhood, but some childhoods are not for children.
Take the Windshield Wiper children, for instance. Every day in Jerusalem, these boys, ages 6 to 10, wait on busy street corners with squeegees in hand. When the light is red, they move to the line of waiting cars. You can see their eyes searching the driver's face. Is the driver male or female, young or old, Palestinian or Jewish, foreigner or local? Does this person have kind eyes or mean? These children see a lot of mean eyes, disdainful eyes, along with eyes that register distaste, or worse, total detachment - the eyes that do not even acknowledge that you exist. These are the meanest eyes of them all.
The boys choose their cars and move to the windshields. They don't ask permission. At this point in the process, the children don't even look at the driver. They spray a little water on the glass and then squeegee the water off. You can hear the noise of the rubber on glass. You can see the blankness in the boy's eyes. He knows you don't want him at your window. He doesn't want to be at your window. The shekel or two given to him will not be kept by him. He'll be expected to bring money home, and if he doesn't - well, he'd better!
He should be playing soccer or climbing walls and trees or something else that little boys do when little boys are allowed to be little. He should be close enough to home to hear his mother call him in for lunch. The childhood given to him is not a childhood for children. It is a scandal to see them there, a severe indictment on the failure of adults to be adult so that children can be children. We all ought to be ashamed of ourselves, because there are far too many of these children in the world - children who have childhoods that are not for children.
A Mennonite friend of mine tries to do something for these children. He carries coins in his car to give to them and he gives these coins to them with a smile on his face. He keeps small bottles of water in his car to give to them as well, along with a PowerBar. He knows they are thirsty and hungry and so he gives them a drink. I think Jesus rides with my friend. I think the children see Jesus in my friend's face. And I know that Jesus is one with the children. I know this because Jesus said so: "When you did it to the least of them..." I can't imagine any other being more "least" than these little guys.
The boys look for my friend's car. They never clean his windshield, even when it needs it. They lean their little heads inside his open window and chat with him until the light turns green. He makes their day. And they make his.
I need to learn from this. Maybe you do too. Such a small price to pay in order to be Jesus to a child. Such a little offering to put in Jesus' little dirty hand. Such a little gift and yet so big too, I think. Big enough to be childlike.
(Photo courtesy of Marlin Vis.)