Symbols of the world's religions



Barbara Richstad

Columbia, South Carolina

During the winter of 1971-1972, I worked at a daycare center serving the housing projects in downtown Albany, New York. The following stories are from four- and five-year-old African-American children; I recorded their questions and comments as soon as possible so I'd remember the wording exactly.

One day at the daycare center, a week after I'd started teaching, the little four-year-olds were sitting with me on the floor and Bobby noticed the sparkle of a gold chain at my throat. He reached his fingers up, pulled, and discovered my locket, which he opened to find pictures of Baba (and Baba's hair concealed under one of the pictures). Bobby held the locket in both hands, looking at the pictures very seriously.

Just then Clayton passed behind him, turned his head to see what Bobby was looking at, saw the pictures, pointed at Baba, and declared, "That's God!" So Clayton passed by and Bobby continued to stare at Baba's pictures, but now muttering, "That's God, that's God." Then he looked up at me and asked, "Who took a picture of God?" I said I didn't know who had taken the picture and Bobby then asked, "How do they come down so that we can see Him?" I stammered out that once in a while God comes down as a man so that we can see Him. Bobby nodded as if he understood perfectly.

Although I never explained more and only said His name, "Baba," many children would dig out my locket, kiss it and say, "I love Baba." One said, "I see his halo." One day I asked Joyce, at the easel, what she was planning to paint. She looked at me, smiled, and said, "Baba!"

One day in the gym, one of the three-year olds from another class came over to me and said, "I see Baba in there," pointing to my classroom. I turned quickly, but wouldn't you know it, I didn't see a thing!

Charlene, a five-year-old from another class, looked at Baba's picture for the first time and asked if He was my father. I replied, "Yes," and she said, "He's my father, too. He everybody's father!" Then, a month or so later, Charlene's teacher approached me and told me a few of her girls were playing together and one had said that she didn't have a father. But Charlene declared triumphantly, "Yes you do! Baba's your Father!"

Again, a few months later, I was chatting with a group of five year olds, each teasing the other about "boyfriends," when suddenly Charlene piped up, "Baba's my boyfriend!" And a little while later when I got up to leave, Charlene reached for my locket so she could kiss Baba.

Meanwhile, Bobby had graduated to the five-year-old class and I didn't see too much of him. But one day we were visiting and he took out my locket. He pestered me to tell him who Baba is, and I finally said, "Well, who do you think He is?" And Bobby replied solemnly and softly, "I think he's God."

A number of years later my own young daughter, just learning to talk, became fascinated with a large painting of Baba. I thought, "This is it! She's going to say Parvardigar!" Instead, she said, "Big nose!"


July-September, 1998
1998 © Barbara Richstad


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