The Common Denominator

The Common Denominator

A moment that has shaped this writer’s perspective on people no matter where she travels.


The shop was selling meat that hung from hooks or sat on flat tables without refrigeration. Flies darkened the surface of all that was offered. A young woman was sitting in a battered, orange chair. A toddler sat next to her on a bale of hay. Across the room, her 4 or 5 year old son played in the loose straw.

As the bus came to a halt in front of the shop, the people of our group became aware of the sight and began to express disgust for the filth, both of the shop and the mother and her children. Quickly cameras came out to capture the sight. I heard my fellow tourists commenting on how repulsive it was and that no one at home would believe it.

The woman, thinking her beautiful children were being admired, reached back to stand the toddler up on the hay bale as she called her little boy to her from across the room. With one hand she held tight to the wobbly toddler’s arm, with the other she pulled her son between her legs and turned his face toward the cameras.

As shutters clicked and words of disgust filled the space around me, I watched the mother’s smile of pride. Many of her teeth were missing, but love for her children spilled out of her eyes. As our eyes met across the space between us, I saw through my own tears how much every mother the world over is like me. Love and pride in our children is a common denominator.

That vivid moment lives in my heart and has shaped how I look at people wherever I travel. I’ve learned to appreciate the differences in the surroundings, the smells, the foods, and the people, but to remember that beneath it all, we human beings are more alike than different.

Jane Wirth lives in Pittsburg, CA with her husband Craig. A retired Health Educator she enjoys gardening, travel, Chinese brush painting, reading, and playing the harp. An Episcopalian, Jane strives to live out her faith through volunteering.

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