Hailey waited on the sidewalk in front of her house. She lived – or lives – in one of the low income duplexes I pass on my morning walk. It had become her habit to watch for Simon and me, and then join us for the few blocks to the place where she turned a different way to catch her school bus.
She loved Simon and laughed loudly as he jumped up and down, tugging and capering on his leash. “He’s a puppy,” I explained, “that’s why he jumps up and down like that.”
“He’s a puppy?” Hailey stared at the 65 pound mass of black fur.
“Yes, he turned one in December,” I assured her.
Hailey looked thoughtful. “I believe that,” she finally said, “because I’m big for my age. I’m big and I’m only nine. Simon’s big and he’s only a puppy and I’m big but I’m only a little girl.”
Hailey is big for her age. She’s several inches shorter than I am and weighs at least 200 pounds. She’s also young for her age.
We never talk about anything too profound. Sometimes she tells me what she saw on television, but mostly we just laugh at Simon’s antics.
One day she surprised me though. “What would you wish if you could have anything you wanted?”
I was caught off guard. “Well, I think I would wish that everyone I know and love could know how much Jesus loves them,” I finally said carefully.
Hailey looked at me a little perplexed. Then she stopped and opened her back pack. She took out a bright plastic toy with some kind of spinner. I was so nonplussed that I didn’t even take a good look at the toy.
She gave the spinner a spin and then peered into a little window on the front of the toy. She held it up for me to see. There was a picture of Shrek and the window had a conversation bubble that was apparently activated by the spinner. The words in the conversation bubble were, “I don’t think so.” Hailey looked sad.
(Shades of our old fortune-telling eight-ball! But wisdom from Shrek – give me a break!)
“What would you really wish for?” Hailey persisted. “Would you like to have a lot of money?”
“No, I have enough money,” I was feeling something almost like bewildered panic and lost opportunity. There wasn’t enough time to have the conversation I really wanted to have with this little girl.
“I guess I’d wish that my children would grow up and marry people who love Jesus.” It was a lame answer, but it was honest.
She turned the toy over to the other side and flipped the spinner again. Smiling, she held it up for me to see. This time it was Fiona’s picture, and the little conversation bubble said, “There’s a good chance of it.”
“So what would you wish for?” I asked Hailey.
“I’d wish the kids wouldn’t make fun of me.” She said matter-of-factly.
My mind was in a whirl and I groped for some comforting or encouraging words to say, but we were at the place where Hailey had to leave us to catch her school bus.
“Bye,” she smiled at me. “Bye Simon!” With a wave she ran across the street.
That was the last time I saw Hailey. I don’t know if her family moved, or if her parents cautioned her about walking and talking with strangers. But every time I pass the duplexes I think about her, and pray that she will find out how much Jesus loves her.