The rag doll and how to (not) quantify suffering


Left, right. Left, right. Left, right. Watching my feet as I walked home was extremely dull, but it really helped me not pay attention to other people in the street. I like to think of myself as an individualistic being and when other people randomly start talking to me, I kind of freak out inside. Only on the inside though, so most people are oblivious to this (not any more, hello, internet!)

But while trying to be the selfish being that I am, I accidentally looked to my left and saw a little girl sitting on the curb. I was walking home from work and it wasn’t very late so I wasn’t immediately worried about the fact that this little girl was just sitting there on her own. As I walked closer to her, already planning my escape route, I noticed she was shaking, sobbing, and crying into her hands. My heart went a bit soft and I groaned.

She was definitely almost choking from so much sobbing, and with that groan I forced myself to stop and ask her what on earth was so wrong? Why was she crying, and could I do anything to help her? For a few minutes she was unable to speak, so I decided to sit next to her – my feet were so tired.

“I lost my favourite doll,” she said. “And my mother is going to kill me because it used to be hers when she was a kid. And I can’t buy a new one to replace it because it was unique.”

I didn’t know what to say because it was really a problem without a solution. If she hadn’t been able to find it, how could I? I was expecting something else, maybe that she dropped a piece of candy, or something. At least a problem I could help with, somehow…

“Er, where did you see it last?” I asked, trying to distract her from all the sobbing and the choking.

She looked at me with tear-filled eyes and said she had forgotten it in the park, and when she came back to get it, it was gone.

“It wasn’t there anymore!” she despaired. “Someone took it away, and I will never see my doll again! It was the best doll, made out of flannel and wool, my grandmother made it when my mother was born and when it ripped they always fixed it together, they always sewed it together. And for years now my mother and I have been fixing it together, too, but now we can’t any more because someone took it and I will never ever see it again!”

She was inconsolable. The problem seemed very finite. I don’t know what was worse about the whole situation, that she was going to miss out on quality time with her mother or that she lost a doll that was made by her grandmother who, by the sounds of it, she had never got to meet. That doll, raggedy as it probably was, meant so much more than I could have ever imagined.

I could see it in my mind’s eye, all patchy with different types of fabric to cover up the many holes and rips that made it so unique over the years. I envied that girl for having something so damn special. But I also felt incredibly bad for her, because she had lost something that I doubt she realized was so damn special before she ever lost it.

I did my best to comfort her, saying that her mother wouldn’t be angry at her because it was an honest mistake – but I knew that she wasn’t upset because of what her mother would say, she was upset because of all that she had lost with that doll.

I know that people say that material things don’t really matter, but sometimes I think they really can do. Sometimes I think we can own things that make our heart jump with happiness or our eyes mist up with tears from a lost time in our past. Maybe a silly cinema stub from a movie you saw with some one you love, or an old photo that holds a moment so dear to you, your chest becomes tighter just thinking about it. Maybe a teddy bear with a familiar smell, or even a blanket you’ve had since you were a baby. We all have tokens like that and that little girl had lost hers.

After much persuading, I convinced her we had to get her home because her mother would be worrying about her. Still sobbing and unable to answer me, she took my hand and she pointed the way.

The house was small, it wasn’t much. But I could feel it was a happy place, where this little girl’s laughter had echoed since the first day she had been able to smile. Now, I was a hundred per cent sure that this girl’s mother would not tell her off, or scream, or be mean about the fact she lost her doll.

I knocked on the door and the mother opened to find her sobbing child holding my hand. I wouldn’t blame her if she immediately thought I had done something to her child, what a scene we were, standing there in front of her. And so the little girl started sputtering her story about the old doll, and how sorry she was and how she missed holding that raggedy doll already.

Her mother smiled and kissed her on the cheek.

“Don’t worry, my love,” she said. “Your grandmother taught me how to make that doll so I can teach you too. We can make one together and there will be no loss from today but your tears.”

And with that, the mother embraced the child, picked her up to take her inside and muttered a thank you my way.

I don’t exactly know how it feels to lose something so precious to me, but maybe someday I will. For that little girl, losing that doll was so painful that it was almost the end of her whole world. Her tiny world, with her mother and the idea, the made-up memory of her grandmother had simply vanished with that doll.

On my way back home, I started think about how suffering will never be exactly quantifiable, because it is so individual to one person’s world it is impossible to be measured. It is an unfair assumption to make, and I will try never to make such a mistake and always think about the tears streaming down that little girl’s face.

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Photo from Flickr Creative Commons.


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