Children's days

It's a time to celebrate children, as if any time were not! Universal Children's Day, marked by some 120 countries, awaits Oct. 1. But Japan and South Korea (see essay below) observe Children's Day on May 5. National Family Week begins May 6 in the United States. Our own Massachusetts has its Children's Day on June 9. Recently Boston has seen displays of young people's art from around the world, gathered by the nonsectarian Christian Children's Fund. We are grateful for permission to show the two examples here.

I had a friend who came to the United States with his wife and three daughters. He came here to study for his master's degree in international relations. I often met him in the library, and he would give me a ride home at times. On the way home, he and I discussed politics and economics, and occasionally talked about the Americans in general.

He said that the Americans had no national conscience. To him, the American's nickname, ''melting pot,'' explained their lack of national identity. He said that when the American automobile industry went down the drain, the Americans should have bought American cars, not Japanese cars. Free trade, to my friend, was an evidence of not caring for one's own country, an evidence of deficient nationalism.

My friend criticized the Americans' uneconomical ways of living. He pointed out the school buildings with lights on and said that people waste electricity. He said that the people in his country are extremely careful in using electricity. According to my friend, the Americans were losing their political and economic power as well as military power; petro power had been threatening America's status in the world; further, America's prestige was declining. But the Americans do not care; they are, my friend accused, selfish and indifferent, and they discriminate against foreigners. He finally whispered, ''What did the proud and ugly Americans actually do?''

I would argue with him that the Americans can't be defined or explained in one word; moreover, no human being can be known in a short period. Each of us is here to understand another person, and it takes time and effort. Therefore, it is not fair to be critical of any individual or country through a first impression. I also argued with him that he had not been in the States long enough to understand the Americans; further, his friendship with the Americans was too limited.

To my sermon, he said I had been in the fish market so long I was not able to discern the odor. Moreover, I was away from my own country for so long that I, too, had a very diluted nationalism. I exclaimed: ''Possibly, but who is to say what a Korean should be like? Further, why should I deny my friendship with foreigners? I appreciate our sharing thoughts.''

One day after our dispute, my friend said that he got a phone call from his daughters' teacher in a grade school. ''My daughters told her that May 5 is Children's Day in my country. She asked what the people do on that day. Just now , she phoned to ask me if she could take my daughters out for ice cream.'' He smiled. ''The teacher and my daughters are going out for ice cream on Friday afternoon.''

When I met his daughters, I asked them if they had enjoyed the ice cream party. They shyly nodded. They had a strawberry ice cream cone and a vanilla ice cream cone with jimmies, and the teacher had a chocolate chip ice cream cone. They said that the teacher licked the ice cream cone the way they did. The children became so fond of their teacher after that ice cream party that they wanted to give her something. I suggested they could draw a picture for her. They did.

One evening when my friend was driving me back home, he said that he had visited his daughters' school for a conference with the teacher, who thanked him for letting her take the children out for ice cream. She pointed to the picture on her wall which the children had given her, and praised the children's talents.

There were trees, the sun, two children, and an adult with ice cream cones, and ''Thank you'' on the picture. My friend looked at the teacher, looked at thepicture, and thought of his children's babblings after the ice cream party; suddenly, he no longer felt the teacher was a stranger. Since my friend spoke English poorly, the teacher spoke to him slowly and explained, in many different ways, how well the children were doing in the class. She told him how privileged she was to have them in her class, and offered to help the family with American culture.

So my friend's wife asked her if she could tell her how to make a sandwich. One day the teacher invited her for a sandwich party. The teacher showed my friend's wife how to make egg salad sandwich, tuna sandwich, chicken salad sandwich, and ham and cheese sandwich. Afterward, the two women became friends; they exchanged recipes.

My friend's anti-Americanism is disappearing little by little. He told me that he would import the teacher's kind attitude and openness to foreigners to his own country. He also told me that his children were invited by other students overnight and for birthday parties; somehow, children do not build walls between different nationalities.

My friend was discovering that people, including himself, were responding to interests and love in others. He said that making others feel loved and welcomed must be one way to love one's own country.

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