Dino. Three years old. A giggler. A smiler. A cuddler. A child of Zimpeto and a son of God. Desperately underweight and malnourished when he was brought to the Centre two years ago, Dino thrived on the care and attention he received. He grew gradually into a chubby, happy, good-humoured boy known as “Mr Dino” because he seemed old and thoughtful beyond his years.
Everybody fell in love with Dino. He was one minute hilarious and laughing without a care in the world, the next pondering and serious as though he were weighing the world’s problems and deciding what he could do about them. Mr Dino had a plan.
Two weeks ago, Dino died. After months of undiagnosed infections with high temperatures, Dino was admitted to the hospital where he stayed for a night. The next morning, in respiratory failure, his little body had no more fight left in it and he left us.
The last time I saw Dino, it was just a few weeks ago - a day or two before I flew out to visit Australia. He spotted me as I was walking across the hot sand. I was in a rush as usual to see someone about something so seemingly important then but now, from this view, utterly unimportant. I saw a little round body stand up in the distance, brush the dirt from his hands and begin to move towards me. I paused, mentally calculating the time it would take to get all the jobs ticked off my list so I could try to find a respite from the oppressive afternoon heat.
Dino was overweight – a miracle really after the physical trials of his first year of life – and still not the healthiest of children, HIV positive with various issues not yet clearly diagnosed. He shuffled towards me, arms out wide and his little feet stirring up a cloud of dust as he dragged them through the hot, hot sand. He looked unsure. Perhaps I had walked past, too busy, just one too many times for him to trust that I would stop for him this time.
As the thought registered, it pierced my heart. This babe, this precious child who had lost everything important in the world before his first birthday, was turning to me now with arms open wide. I stopped. I grinned. I crouched, bent low and spread my arms out wide.
Dino squealed. His face lit up. He laughed – one of those from-the-belly bubbling-over laughs so pure and free and joyous that I laughed with him. He shuffled faster, arms pumping at his sides. I thought he would topple forward, his feet not moving as fast as the rest of his body. But he knew what he was doing, his timing was perfect. Dino had a plan. Just as he reached me, his momentum lifted him off his feet as he fell towards me, giggling, reaching. Trusting.
As his arms encircled my neck, I picked him up and lifted him to me. I held him tightly and we swung together in a circle, stirring up more dirt that billowed and wafted, sticking to our damp skin. We turned and we turned and we turned, laughing and puffing and clinging tightly to one other. Ah the purest of joys!
Dino’s place on this earth can never be filled by another. He is irreplaceable in the hearts of those who had the privilege of loving him for a short season. In Heaven there was a place prepared for him and ready for his arrival and now, after three years of pain and grief and sickness and love and joy and laughter, He is home.
Our kids do not belong to us. We have no ownership, no rights. We do, though, have an awesome responsibility to nurture them as best we can, filling them to the brim with all the love we can muster for as long as they are entrusted to our care. It is impossible to know how long that will be so every second and every smile and hug and touch count in ways that go deeper than we can know.
My heart aches to see Dino again. I think of Paulo and Tino, Irene and Thabo, and all the children we have known and lost. It is not fair. It is not right. The world is out of balance when children can starve to death or die of diseases inherited through no doing of their own.
It is not right that children suffer. The “problem” – and even to name it “a problem” minimises its enormity and the injustice of it all - is huge and I feel so very, very small in comparison. Asking “Why?” brings an overwhelming sense of helplessness which leads me to numbing inaction in the face of such a huge question. So instead I ask, “What now? What next?”
I and the workers of Zimpeto had the privilege of loving a precious boy for much of his too-short life. Dino was loved and he was happy. Now he is no longer sick and he cannot be rejected or harmed anymore. He is in the safest place of all, in the arms of the Father who knows him better than we ever could.
Dino. Son of God and a child of Zimpeto. He was with us not nearly long enough and now is in the arms of the Father who loves him perfectly. May we learn how to do the same with those of His children that He asks us to love here on earth.
Dino, on the left, with his buddy Francisco.