By Steve North
I have a daughter named Jennifer. She’s 12 years old, beautiful, creative, talented, and wired with personality all her own. She is a voracious reader, and is willing to tackle more difficult reading than most 12-year-olds because she loves learning that way. Jennifer loves dance, and has taken ballet classes for the last 3 years. She also loves horses and stamp collecting and Piglet (of Winnie the Pooh fame). She’s creative and energetic and full of life.
Jenny has a nice singing voice, and this July will get to fulfill a 7-year-old dream by going on a 6 week musical tour with a singing group from California called The Young Continentals. She will tour all over the south and eastern U.S., including a performance at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., which President Bush has been invited to attend. I’m excited that this favorite dream of hers will be lived out this summer, and I’m proud of her.
My wife, Lyn, and I have many dreams for Jennifer. We want, more than anything, for her to grow up to be a responsible young woman who makes her unique contribution to the world. We have prayed many times for her success and personal happiness, as well as her protection and health. We have agonized with her over failures and disappointments, and celebrated her joys and successes. We have comforted her in times of sickness and sorrow, and loved her as best we could from the time she was born. I can’t wait to see what Jenny’s future holds.
I met another man’s daughter today in the open doorway of her tiny house, on a street with no name, in a poor colonia of San Pedro de Marcoris, in the Dominican Republic. She is beautiful.
I ask her mother’s permission to take the little girl’s photo, then wait while, with pride in her beautiful daughter, mother clothes the girl in what I assume is her Sunday-best dress. Having taken the picture, I ask the girl’s name. It’s Jenny. I’m glad to explain to Jenny’s mother that I also have a daughter named Jennifer. I find it a wonderful and touching coincidence to meet a Dominican girl with my daughter’s name, and I enjoy the connection.
But as the day wears on, that connection haunts me. I can’t escape other thoughts about this Jenny and her parents, who live a world apart from my Jenny and our family. Surely, this mother and father have dreams for their little girl’s life. Surely, they look at her and see hope and promise and potential, one day fulfilled beyond anything either of them has experienced. Surely, their love for their daughter is as deep and unconditional as that of any parent on the planet.
I feel certain they long for opportunity and advantages for their Jenny, as I do mine. I’m certain they agonize over every disappointment and rejection she suffers. I feel certain they live for the days when they can celebrate successes and joys. But I wonder: how often, in this world apart, do those days ever come? I feel certain they pray that their Jennifer will one day be as joyful and fulfilled as Lyn and I pray our Jennifer will.
In spite of the fact that these two Jennifer’s live a world apart from one another, geographically, they are remarkably similar in both personal potential and family support. Each is alive with hope and expectation for what life may hold in store for them; and each has parents who long, more than anything, for their Jenny to be fulfilled and happy.
Life is not fair, and the opportunities available to the two Jennifer’s are a world apart in terms of both access and quality. But in the hopes and dreams, love and tears of two remarkably similar sets of parents, maybe—just maybe—they are not so far apart, after all.