“Dear Ukrainian friends, my name
is Gioia Maria. And I’m Italian.
I’m very sorry for this horrible war.
I’m very close to you with my heart.
I’d very like to do more,
but I’m very small and far away.
Every night I pray for you
and I ask God to help you.
With love. Gioia Maria.”
— letter from a 10-year-old girl
I’m running on the mad dog. Saturday evening, the smell of barbecue drifts across the park. Dreadlock frisbee guy is out; what may or may not be the world’s only zorro heron gives me the Stink Eye. The minutes drift by, the rhythm of my shoes singing harmony to the softball players across the creek. And then I hear it: The unmistakable musical stylings of “Turkey in the Straw.”
The Ice Cream Guy is parked next to the skateboard lot. My mind drifts back to childhood and the magic that came in the little truck. Drumsticks, Fudgesicles, Push-Ups. Heaven. The joy of watching the truck slowly making his way down the street toward us.
A little kid dashes from the playground. An adult struggles to keep up, eventually helping him with his bounty. They stroll away, the kid content with an ice cream sandwich. Life in America.
I’m trying to shake the numbers out of my head. UNICEF reports that the war has forced 4.3 million children from their homes in the past month — more than half of the country’s 7.5 million children. I can’t even comprehend that number. So I just think about one kid. Holding the hands of his mom and brother. Terrified. Hungry. Confused. I’m guessing he was a lot like the kid here in the park a month or so ago, although I’m not sure what the ice cream of choice is in eastern Europe.
And now, here he is, on a long road to uncertainty. His life will never be the same. He’s just a kid. Life in Ukraine. How can this happen?
It’s an OK run, another hour of birds and sweat and questions about life. I wonder if children here have any idea of what’s happening.
And then around mile 3, there’s a chalked-up sidewalk where a kid has been playing hopscotch. Above the obligatory tic-tac-toe game, there’s a simple message.
Love is love.
In a world spiraling out of control, maybe the future lies somewhere between a kid with an ice cream sandwich and a child hoping to survive a trek on a winding road to a strange new land. Maybe the kids who are growing up with so much hatred will realize there’s a better path. Whether it’s heading back to the T-Rex in an Arizona park, or a shelter in eastern Slovakia.
I finish my run and sit on the picnic table, watching the sun go down behind the palm trees. I say a little prayer for the kid headed to a new life. I’d like to do more, but I’m very small and far away. I desperately want a Drumstick.
I cling to those words.
Love is love …