The park was utterly quiet this grey early morning. Ellie the dog pricked her ears and turned her head abruptly, to the left and then to the right, looking for a sound. In the snow, which was softening and hardening at the same time with rising temperatures and accelerating wind, lay a child’s light blue ski helmet. I picked it up and shook out the snow that had collected inside. Ellie was jealous. Hadn’t she spotted this interesting find first?
I tried to hang the helmet on the gnarled trunk of an old tree, but it fell down into the snow again. It didn’t feel right to leave it lying there – felt something like leaving a lost child behind – so I took it along with me and decided to find a nearby park bench for it, so that it might eventually be retrieved by its owner. As I placed the helmet on the bench, I thought I could hear the echoes of the children that had played in sleds on the hill behind. In the silence, I could hear the echoes of their laughter; shrieks of terror and joy as they threw themselves down the steep drop. There was also the weeping from a red face at having stumbled and landed nose-down in the snow; then the sound of lips smacking at the good flavors of hot chocolate and clementines. It was an innocent world of raw emotion that was spontaneous and uncontrived. Today this world was just a ghost in the echoes of the young voices that had been.
Whenever the children suffer and their voices are silenced, our world becomes a poor beggar. We have nothing and the future seems hopeless. When the children are echoes, our world is silenced.
As I leave the park, a Chinese tourist snaps a picture of us. “Beautiful,” he says in broken English looking at Ellie. That which is young and full of joy is beautiful in any culture and in any language. Who could disagree?
The morning becomes an experience in staccato as the palace guards march up the hill. I see the staccato, but don’t hear it. The silence is overwhelming today. The young men and women of the royal guard, many of them just barely emerged from childhood, are themselves now bearers of rifles. It is just tradition, people say. Time for new traditions, I say, to give this beggar world new hope.
In memory of all of the children whose voices are silenced in the world every day.