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Children Restore Faith in Human Nature
An Essay by Elissa Ely

audio Listen to Ely's essay.

Oct. 4, 2001 -- My little girl offered me a jellybean the other night. There were three of them in her palm, yellow, purple and pink. Pink is her favorite color -- this week -- but pink was the one she held out. It was a startling moment.

A pink jellybean is offered at great edible cost. It can't be taken back afterwards. There's no personal gain in the gift. She's too young to be political, too innocent to be canny, and fully in touch with her greeds. An offer like this comes from one place in her: elemental human nature, naked and beautiful.

"Mankind is still in good shape as long as there are children. Their human nature will redeem ours."

Elissa Ely

These naked, beautiful offers are unpredictable, which is human nature all over for you. You've got to be alert to abrupt possibility. If you aren't sharp, you can step right over one without noticing.

One day before the pink jellybean, a little boy from the neighborhood was leafing through our photo albums. He stopped at a black-and-white Polaroid of a man with glasses and a round waist holding a child. The man looked sad. The child was about the little boy's age. With one finger ready to flip the page, he asked the obvious.

"That's my dad and me," I said. He wanted to know why the man wasn't in any of the later pictures, the more familiar kind with color. I explained that he had died after the picture was taken, when I was still little. He pondered. "Well, are you getting another?" he asked. "I don't think so," I said. He pondered a little more. "Would you like to borrow mine?"

The moment was full of sudden light, as if this sad photo had burst into song and Technicolor. It was a glorious offer, a sunrise of an offer, impossible to refuse.

After that came the jellybean. Together I took them as a sign. Mankind is still in good shape as long as there are children. Their human nature will redeem ours.

Elissa Ely is a psychiatrist living in Massachusetts.