Odie showed me how to span cultural differences with a smile and a game of tag.
When people think “spring break,” most envision the beaches of Mexico and Florida. My senior year of high school, I thought “mission trip.” I joined a group going to Honduras for a week to build One-Day schools.
On our last day of work, I noticed a small boy standing at the top of a hill watching us. I gave him a smile and a wave, and without hesitation he sprinted over to me and began speaking rapidly in Spanish.
I had taken Spanish in high school, so I gave it my best shot. “Hola. ¿Como te llama?” Hi. What’s your name? I looked into his big brown eyes, hoping I hadn’t slaughtered his language.
A smile spread across his face, and he bent over to write in the red dirt.
I crouched down to read his name.“Odie,” I smiled back. “Me llamo Mandy.”
Without warning, Odie launched himself into my arms and hugged me tight. Then he jumped down and started running away. That was quick, I thought. Suddenly he ran toward me, tagged my arm, and darted away again. Oh, he wants to play tag.
I looked over my shoulder. My team was still working hard in the blistering sun. I had only one option in this situation. I chased Odie around the work site. His bare feet pounded into the dirt as he shrieked with laughter. The distance between us closed. I scooped him up in my arms and spun around in circles.
Mandy, what are you doing? Who is this?” I set Odie down as our site leader, Tom, walked over to survey the situation. Odie took shelter behind me. Uh-oh. This can’t be good.
“Well, this is Odie. He wanted to play tag, so I decided to chase him for a while.”
Tom looked down and smiled. “OK. Just be careful and make sure you stay out of the way.”
“Thanks, Tom!” I turned and grinned at Odie. He seemed to catch the hint that we could play. His face lit up and he jumped into my arms again.
We spent the next four hours chasing each other over the Honduran desert. No one tried to stop or scold us. The world was ours to enjoy.
All too soon Tom announced that it was time to pack up. Everyone cheered. After a week of hard work, we had accomplished more than anyone had expected.
The schools look great, and we know they are going to be put to good use,” Tom said. “Now you all deserve a shower and a good meal.”
I whooped and hollered along with everyone else. Then my heart dropped. Odie. How was I supposed to tell him I was leaving? I picked him up and gave him a hug, struggling to contain my emotions.
“Hey, Graci. Will you take a picture of Odie and me?” I asked, motioning to a fellow mission worker. I needed some way to remember this kid who had made every minute of my trip worth it.
Smile,” Graci said. “One, two, three.” Click. I lost it. Tears chased each other down my cheeks. Odie looked at me, confused.
“It’s time for me to go, Odie,” I said gently.
He looked sad for a moment, and then his face lit up again. “¿Mañana?” Tomorrow?
I shook my head. “No. No mañana, Odie.”
Odie’s eyes filled with tears. He understood that we would never see each other again. His arms wrapped around my neck as we cried together. Four hours had created a bond that I did not know could exist.
I gave Odie one last squeeze and climbed onto the bus. As it rumbled away, I stole a glance out the window. Odie’s little legs were turning beneath him, chasing the bus as tears stained his face. I understood in that moment that I would never be the same. Odie had changed my life.
I learned that it didn’t matter that we came from two different worlds and spoke different languages. Odie showed me how to span cultural differences with a smile and a game of tag. He also showed me the importance of taking time to play.
I know I may never see Odie again on this earth, but my prayer is that we’ll meet again in heaven. Then we can play the most epic game of universe tag!
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