Just A Child

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The little girl might have been four years old. She skipped along in her aggressively bright yellow raincoat, twirling her purple butterfly umbrella over her head. Her mother followed along behind her, hunched against the chilly drizzle. She was keeping watch over the child and obviously attempting to hurry her along, but the child had no concern for time. Her world was entirely of her own making. 

Who could know what wonderful place the girl was in? A land where fairies flew along side her? Or where handsome princes rode on fabulous white steeds? Wherever she was, she was obviously utterly content as her rubber boots landed solidly in a puddle that splashed thick black mud on her fuzzy rainbow colored tights.

Her umbrella smacked and dragged against a tree branch, ripping off several tiny twigs but it didn't slow her down a bit.

A particularly wonderful jump created a splash so grand that it splattered the trouser legs of a man in an expensive business suit walking in the other direction. 

"Susan! Please be careful of other people. They may not like to be splashed as much as you do," her mother admonished.

"Yes, Mama. Sorry." 

She squatted to look at a fat pinkish worm sliding slowly across the damp pavement.

"Move along, dear," the woman told her. To her mother's obvious frustration, she took the time to pick the worm up and put it carefully in the soil alongside the walkway. Her next step crushed an anthill and several of its inhabitants. She'd never even seen it.

A sneeze exploded from her. With an amusingly serious look of concentration she riffled through her coat pocket and came up with a wrinkled and torn tissue with which she cleaned her upper lip. The dirty tissue was then cast aside.

"Susan! We must not litter. Please pick up your trash and put it in the garbage can."

But the child had already run off to draw a picture in the condensation on a shop window. With a sigh, the woman picked up the trash delicately, with the very tips of her fingers, and deposited it in a nearby bin. 

"The child has no feeling for anyone outside herself," Klaatu stated. She is careless and thoughtless. She is selfish."

"That's just not true," the doctor argued. "She went out of her way to save the worm. She is not thoughtless or unfeeling. She is a child.

"She is so lost in wonder that she becomes overwhelmed. She does not have the knowledge, at her age, to consider the consequences of splashing a businessman's suit or littering. Her mother must constantly watch her and teach her. Even after a lesson has been taught, she must be constantly reminded until she reaches maturity. That is the normal way of a child."

He turned and watched her with inscrutable brown eyes. "The adults are often as bad as the children. Worse, even."

"Parents do their best to impart their greatest wisdom to their children. Obviously some of them fail. There are some that don't care enough to put forth a real effort, but the vast majority give their whole heart to improving the next generation. And we've grown. We accept now that it is wrong to enslave our fellow man, to treat one gender as less than the other, or to judge a person based on factors they have no control over. We fall short. Every day we fail. But we are making progress. If you care so much you would not murder seven billion people. You would not commit genocide against our species. 

"You are older than us. You are more mature. You've evolved beyond us. Teach us. Guide us. Be our parents."

He said nothing, but stared at her, a slight frown line forming between his eyebrows.

"We, as a species, are little more than toddlers. How old is the planet? How old is the universe? How old are you? We've been here for a moment. We can be taught. We simply need someone to fill the role."

"Not everyone is willing to learn."

"That's true. But do we all deserve to die because of that?"

He turned and watched the child. She began to spin in wide circles, her umbrella flung out by the centrifugal force of her movement. She laughed with such joy and abandon that her mother chuckled along with her. An elderly man crossing the street caught sight of her and the corners of his mouth turned up. A teenage couple on a nearby bench were clearly amused.

Suddenly she stopped and pointed up. "Wow! Look, Mama!"

The entire group of people looked skyward at the brilliant double rainbow. They all paused to appreciate it for a moment. For that single second or two, the strangers were united in the joy of the beauty of life.

"I will speak to the elders. I will ask them to send a teacher," Kaatu said quietly.

The doctor wept. She thought her legs might fail her, so great was her relief. "Thank you." The words were not enough, but they were all she had to give him.

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