Jesus said, “Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye?” (Matthew 7:3). Reading this, I decided that it was time to take a look in the mirror. I saw a young teenager in high school. His teachers, the good ones, or rather, the ones that really mattered, were telling him that he was doing a good job in his studies and how proud they were of him. For unknown reasons, the boy was happy and terrified at the same time. He did not want to disappoint his teachers. He did not want to lose their affection, but alas, he lost confidence in himself. He sank into the abyss of low grades. He stopped interacting with his teachers. He thought that he lost their affection forever. They remained the same, perhaps just a little puzzled. They could not understand why the boy was not doing well. Neither did the boy. It just happened. Something triggered in his soul that made him think that he wasn’t worthy of this kind of attention. It didn’t make sense then and still it is mystery. We are such complicated beings. I have spent enough time in the mirror. Now I am ready to write to about another teenager who is not me. He was late and we had been waiting for him for almost an hour.
We had marked a dentist appointment for him. He had been complaining about his toothache for months. We tried going to the free clinics but nothing came out of it except free painkillers. This time we went to a private practitioner. This boy had suffered enough. It was time to get the problem solved once and for all and yet he was late. We told the dentist that we might have to cancel the appointment. She was kind enough to say that she was able to attend to him even if he showed up an hour late. Then we saw him walking nonchalantly towards us. We wondered what excuse he was going to conjure up. He did say a word. He just walked past us. I was furious. What a rude boy! I thought. Then I remembered that this was not unusual behavior for him. I went up to him practicing all the self-control I could muster up and asked him if he remembered his appointment. We had reminded him for several days and the day before we got the time and place finalized. He said yes and then mumbled something incoherent. It was pointless to sit there and talk about the virtue of punctuality with him at that moment. Time was ticking. We asked him if he still wanted to go to the dentist. He nodded and off we went. Two extractions later, he walked out of the dental clinic smiling and then he went on his way without saying a word of gratitude. It would be easy to jump to conclusions about this boy. He is not ungrateful or rude. He is who he is. One of the other teens remarked recently that this boy was truly strange. He is not strange neither. He was just severely neglected. It is not an excuse. It is just the plain fact. He does not know how to interact with people in a normal way. He is not autistic. He is aware of people but he doesn’t know how to engage them. He has spent most of his life unstimulated. His cluelessness is coherent. He doesn’t do anything illegal but he doesn’t know how to do anything positive for himself. He just exists without knowing why. He did thank us in his own way after two days. He greeted us with a big smile. This is the best he could do. I won’t mention his name. It is not necessary. We don’t want anyone to have a negative opinion of him. He has enough of that in his life. He is a very different kind of teenager but not by his choice.
Danyel has been in the hospital for five days. He suffered an accident. He almost got killed and fortunately he only suffered a broken leg. It is something that can be fixed. Naturally he was shaken up by the whole incident. He had been sniffing paint thinner and the doctors could not administer any painkillers until the chemical substance leaves his system. Apparently this is an eight-hour process. He just laid there in agony on a cold bed in the intensive care. He was surrounded by adults but none of them were his parents or relatives. Only one visitor was allowed at a time. Mary went in to see him first. He saw her and then broke down and cried. Perhaps he was waiting to do this the whole day. He needed to see a maternal face. I entered after her. He was much calmer by then. He told me that he almost died this day. He closed his eyes and rested.
His father showed up while he was in surgery and never returned after that. His mother only visited her son for the first time five days later. We were in the room when she came. She did not hug him. She said something to him but there was an obvious lack of affection. It wasn’t deliberate but strangely natural. Danyel is accustomed to it. He was happy to see her and was satisfied with her minimal display of fondness. It is not that Danyel is a hard child to love. Everyone adores him in the streets including complete strangers and even the nurses and doctors in the hospital fell in love with him. His mother looked like a person who had had a hard life. We got ready to leave the room so that Danyel could spend time with his mother. He insisted that we stay and she went downstairs to get some fresh air even though she only had been in the room for five minutes. The next day we found out that she did not stay long.
I can understand why Danyel and his brother are in the streets. The neglect is very clear. However, it is not intentional. His mother cannot give what she has never received. It is not fair for me to take the speck out of her eye. I don’t know her life. I don’t know her experiences. I know Danyel in the streets and I am amazed how he has managed to be such a kind and considerate boy despite his circumstances. Each of us are different. Danyel and the unnamed teenager are victims of neglect. Danyel ran away to the streets when he was younger and perhaps, in a strange way, he suffered less from the consequences of neglect. The other boy just got accustomed to being neglected. It was his way of life.
Neglect is such a strange thing. It is not something peculiar to poverty. Children of millionaires can be victims of neglect as well. There is no cure for it. All our children carry the scars of neglect with them. Perhaps all of us do in reality. Not everyone suffers neglect equally. Some of us have people who help us overcome the neglect we have suffered. I don’t remember if I suffered it when I was young. I remember being complicated. I remember the teachers whose kindness and genuine concern remained imprinted in my soul but I don’t remember anything they taught me. I just remember that they cared for me despite my idiosyncrasies and insecurities. They did not judge me. They just cared for me. Maybe they did judge me. They judged me to be worthy of love.
Jesus said, “For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get.” (Matthew 7:2)
Hopefully one day Danyel and our unnamed friend will have many faces that are clear in their minds as they look into the mirror to take the log out of their eyes.