By Trevor Barton
As an elementary school teacher and a writer, I often recognize my students as the shape of the human heart.
One of those students is Maria, a 7-year-old second-grader. Her parents fled the after-effects of the brutal civil war in El Salvador and found a new life on the farms and in the fields of South Carolina.
She is like those farms and fields, with dark skin the color of the ground and a garden of a heart that produces love and joy as if they were tomatoes and beans.
I have seen her hold the hand of a frightened kindergartner in the cafeteria lunch line during early morning breakfast and offer her shoulder to a crying friend who scraped her knee on the blacktop during recess. She is a beautiful child.
I can see her smile from all the way down at the end of the hall from the front office.
Sometimes, I can hear her steps from there, too, because on special days she wears tiny high-heeled shoes with her flowery dresses, and I can hear the click, click, click as she makes her way toward me over the tiled floor. This always makes me stop and smile.
One day, I realized I forgot to send my money through the mail to the water company to pay my bill. I stopped by the office to make my payment in person after school.
Apparently, three-fourths of the residents of Greenville County forgot to send in their payments, too, because the place was full of people.
In the middle of all of that humanity, I heard a click, click, click. I looked up and coming around a desk was Maria!
She was pushing a stroller with a tiny baby inside of it. I could barely see her over the handles of the stroller. She was leading her mother, who was holding a toddler in her arms.
She saw me. Her face lit up with her Maria smile. She let go of the stroller for just a moment, wrapped her arms around me and said, “Oh, Mr. Barton! Buenos tardes! I am always so glad to see you!”
She took hold of the stroller again and I lost her among the faces of the people around me.
But I heard her voice, her sincere, serious voice, rise above the noise. “Excuse me,” she said, “but could you help us pay our bill?”
And there was Maria, 7 years old, translating for her mother, helping her family, sharing her life with our world.
She is all heart.
Trevor Barton is a 4th-grade teacher at a public school in a community where many families from Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras have come to live.