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LOOKING DOWN



I was five or six years old when I was taken through the gates of the Children's Home Society Orphanage in Jacksonville, Florida. A beautiful 10 acres or so, surrounded by a six-foot high chain-link fence. Little did I know that this orphanage would become my home. In fact, it is the only home that I ever knew as a child and now even in my memory as an adult, it is the only home I can remember.

Within several weeks, I had fallen into the normal routine of marching (two abreast) like little soldiers to and from wherever we were instructed to go. It did not take me very long to learn the routine. One misstep and you would be slapped upside of the head and called every name in the book. If that did not do it, then you would be locked in the dark closet located by the television room door at the end of one of the two staircases.

I never did quite understand why when we children marched to the dining hall that almost every one of the kids walked with their head down. Their eyes always looking down toward the ground. However, after a few weeks, maybe a month, I too began walking in the same manner. I never really thought much about it, because that was just the way we kids marched every time we lined up to go some place.

As new children would arrive at the orphanage, I noticed that they always walked upright for several weeks. Then one at a time, right out of the blue, they too lowered their heads and looked only at the ground as they walked to and from Spring Park Elementary School.

One evening, we were watching television and it was showing this place overseas where this mean old man was putting people in bathroom showers and killing them with this gas stuff. I remember those people also walked real slow just like us kids did. Almost in a slow, constant shuffle. Their heads always down and their eyes always looking at the ground.

That night when I went to bed, I lied there thinking a whole bunch about those people. Watching that movie show made me a little scared that the orphanage might do something like that to us kids one day 'cause nobody really wanted us either.

As I look back over the last 50 years of my life, I can now fully understand why we children walked in the manner we did. If we didnít not look up then we did not have to look anyone in the eye. If we did not make eye contact then there was a slight possibility, just a small chance, that we were invisible to the rest of the world. A world that felt as children, we had no absolutely no value, whatsoever.

I am so thankful that somewhere along the way, I learned that all it takes to save a child is to lightly put your finger underneath a child's chin. Slowly raise their head upward so they can see a warm, friendly face with a smile on it.



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