A second-grader wailed in tears. What hurt more than the skinned knee was his friends laughing at him as well. Cardinal Van Thuan expressed it well when he said, “You suffer most when you suffer at the hands of those who should understand and sympathize with you, indeed those who have the obligation to defend you.”

I felt his pain. Who among us has not been laughed at during a vulnerable moment? God blessed me with a keen intellect and a kind heart. I enjoy walking in Providence serving God by sharing those talents with whomever crosses my path. Yet, I also know the pain and humiliation of sharing my gifts only to receive lies and hate in response. Although you probably have never seen me cry, such irrational behavior from others does deeply hurt. Cardinal Van Thuan said, “God uses trials and sufferings to teach us to better understand and be more compassionate with the suffering of others.”

I considered the situation. No chance to plant that seed for together all of us creating a world of kindness or for discussing respect and trust being a two-way street. He wasn’t even my student. What to do? The cardinal reminds us that God’s call to step up and make a difference can begin with what we may perceive as a small action. Cardinal Van Thuan asks, “What about the charity of a smile, the charity of a handshake, the charity of compassion, the charity of a visit, or the charity of a prayer?”

My intent was to simply provide a special moment to the young child’s day. Cardinal Van Thuan reminds us that the “Holy Spirit will guide your plans.” I invited him up to the grade six-eight classroom after school to look at a few microscope slides. I set up five microscopes. Each with an age appropriate slide focused on the interesting part of the image.

After school, the child called eagerly to the many friends he had invited! A fellow educator whispered better a few kids than one. But, alone, could I handle 11 kids? I smiled and said, “God can.” The cardinal again reminds us that when we teach children to answer where God is, part of the answer must be “God is living in me.” Arbitrarily leaving any of them behind would dilute the message that each of us is a special child of God created and unconditionally loved for who we are.

I thought, “Thank You Lord, for having me already set up five microscopes.” Those children lived what Cardinal Van Thuan describes as “Setting fire to the world with the flame God placed within your heart.” Each child would call to the others, “Hey come look at this. This is so cool.” Between changing slides, ensuring safety, and learning to give a one-second answer for what they were viewing. I watched them explore together.

Cardinal Van Thuan shares, “The heart of a little child knows no hatred or indignation.” Were some of these kids the thoughtless ones from the morning? If so, it seemed that my bringing them all (leaving judgment to God) had sown a seed of kindness in more fertile soil. The cardinal says, “The more you study and increase your knowledge, the more you realize there is yet to learn.”

A woman’s voice inquired what this was. My eyes shifted from the teacher’s perspective to the eyes of a parent walking into the chaos of scattered microscope slides and kids screaming about insect wings. Her son ran to her saying, “Mommy we got to use the microscopes. I saw ….” She smiled. As Cardinal Van Thuan explains, “Wherever love exists, God is there.”

Are you familiar with Cardinal Van Thuan? He was unjustly imprisoned for 13 years. All of the quotes in this column originated as individual messages each smuggled from his prison cell. The 1,001 messages now are together as “The Road of Hope a Gospel From Prison.”

The hard road is holding on through pain. “When people have betrayed and falsely accused you, what hurts most is the irrational malice that pours out from those from whom you least expect it.” Hope is the view from God’s side of the tapestry. “The wheat of your good works will continue despite obstacles.” In essence, the Road of Hope is an active faith lived by a child-like heart unconditionally ready to accept and share God’s love and mercy.

Cardinal Van Thuan says, “The circumstances in which you find yourself may force you to be inactive. Nevertheless, continue to act in a manner appropriate to the circumstances and spread love wherever you go. One day, when you look over the places you have been, you will be surprised to discover the seeds of love you sowed have grown 10 or one hundredfold in those whom Divine Providence allowed you to meet on the Road of Hope.”

 Dr. Helen J. Flavin, Ph.D., is a Catholic scientist, educator and writer.