"Let The Children Come To Me"

a poem written and read by Steve Nolan
(accompanying music by Dennis Parrish)

Let The Children Come To Me

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Maj. Steve Nolan; Photo: Cindy Carpien, NPR

Maj. Steve Nolan, 55, is the youngest son of World War II Army field hospital nurse Katherine Nolan.
He wrote the following poem earlier this year while serving as chief of a combat stress unit in Afghanistan.

 
Let the Little Children Come to Me
(from Mark 10:14)

All week there'd been commotion at the clinic,
an unexpected appendectomy,
a one-year-old burned by
an exploding kitchen stove, the Afghan soldier
who discharged his weapon accidentally
shooting himself through the shoulder, the
little boy with the spiral-fractured femur,
and the old man's severely lacerated leg
an old nasty-looking wound, now infected.
 
It was early morning and I was sleepy,
needing a cup of coffee, as I stomped
the snow from my boots and stepped through
the entryway to the Medical Aid Station.
 
Sitting on one end of a raised litter
was a middle-aged man with rust-colored
skin and loosely fitting Afghan attire.
Beside him sat a little girl, his
daughter? Rarely did parents bring
their own children to the clinic, a mystery we
were trying to solve. Was this her uncle,
grandfather, or just a neighbor? On a
nearby table, the girl's older brother
was treated for a separated shoulder.
 
She turned her head toward me, her eyes
brightened, and the broadest smile of joy
spread across her face. I was surprised,
but flattered surprised because so few
Afghan people smiled at me in greeting
(and never had it happened in the clinic),
flattered that she chose to smile at "me."
I almost turned around to see if there
was someone at my stern, but
the door had closed behind and I could
feel it pressing on my rucksack.
 
Her smile was like a smile of recognition
that one reserves for close relatives
or special friends. I smiled back and she
seemed to take delight in this smiling
even wider and more radiantly
than before, which I would not have thought
possible. I was instantly affected
and felt connected to this child in some
strange way. My own smile grew
and no doubt showed my gratitude,
basking in the light projected from
those brown, innocent, dancing eyes.
 
I looked at the man next to her, he was
perhaps my own age fifty-something.
He was weather-beaten and his eyes were dull.
He looked at me with neither anger nor
disgust, neither joy nor sorrow,
but with complete indifference, a
detachment that one only feels when
cultures clash so plainly, language can't
be bridged, and their is no incentive
to break down those chasms. Finding
no warmth there, I looked again
at the little girl and saw nothing but
interest no, on second thought, interest
would be the wrong word, because there was
no gulf between us in which
to cast the hook of interest. There was
communion in the most delightful,
simple joy of two souls meeting
with a smile, a mimicked nod, a playful glance.
 
Why this child was capable of
transcending age and gender, I know not.
How she saw past nationality,
ethnic features, or religious creed,
I cannot say. But, of this, I'm certain:
if man could plumb the reaches
of the thoughts which sparked that smile,
there would never be a need for war.