April 18, 2006

The Other "Normal"

Easter Sunday morning I was pouting. After being with my friends from upstate New York I didn’t want to go to my church here in Baltimore. My friends from Rochester are my age or older (for the most part). Even if they aren’t older in years, they have a mature perspective and are emotionally articulate. After church there, the snippet conversations are about struggles with God, with cancer, with parents, with life. At my current church my closest friend is my pastor’s wife. Obviously we rarely get a chance to catch up on Sundays. Most of my conversations are with people younger in years and idealistic in perspective. Often our talks consist of what classes/rotations they are in and how busy/stressed they are.

For me ‘pouting’ looked like novel reading, moving slowly and leaving the house five minutes before church started. It’s a 20-minute drive, minimum. I even drove the long way. It’s ‘longer’ due to a very slow traffic light. As I sat there, pouting, a little body darted in front of my car and stood by my passenger window. It was Smart Boy. I often pick him up for church. His single mother works two jobs and doesn’t come to church. I unrolled the window, “Did you want a ride?” He nodded expectantly and said, “I tried to call you but the phone wasn’t working. My Mom was just about to take me down on the bus.” I looked over and waved at the woman smiling from the bus stop. “Come on, get in. Does she need a ride?” I asked. “No, she’s going to work, she was just going to take me downtown first. This will save her some time.”

On the way, I asked about his week. He’d had spring break but didn’t do much. The day he was to go stay at his Dad’s house, his Dad went to jail. I asked if Smart Boy knew why he went to jail. “Yeah. He was disciplining my [half] brothers. You know how you get a welt when someone disciplines you? Well, I guess they weren’t used to that and they had some scratches, so their Mom called the police.”

There was too much there for a quick response, so I asked a different question, “How did you feel when you found out you couldn’t go visit him?”

“I went in the living room and started crying on the couch. I told my Mom I didn’t want to talk about it right then. I guess though that I’m lucky. I’ve been disappointed so often that I’m used to it. I don’t need to throw things or break things the way some people do. Plus, if you have a hard childhood, it means you’ll grow up to be a celebrity. Like Oprah.”

I agreed, “Yeah, especially if you take the hard things that have happened to you and use them to help others. You can also turn that hurt in on yourself, that’s when people start drinking or using drugs. But Oprah decided to help other people out and I know you’d be good at that, too.”

We chatted more and every other sentence he dropped a matter-of-fact statement that hurt to hear. No one in his class at school has a Dad at home, he hardly ever sees his Dad, about his cousins and how they broke things after their Dad died and the long hours his Mom has to work. In his world, it's all normal. Normal to get welts. Normal to be alone. Normal to be disappointed.

Last weekend I hiked with a friend. During the walk she explained she doubted God’s existence since He’d never answered her prayers when she was younger. Her question is one I’ve often wondered, where is God when kids are being hurt? I was humbled that in a very small way on Sunday, God used my pout to make me late and let me be a tangible God moment for Smart Boy. I know he needs a lot more than that, but being at the stop light at the exact right moment, having a longer light than usual, and his quick eyes and feet made both of us glad.


weigook saram said...

That's a heartbreaking story. There are a lot of kids like that at my church, too. One of them gave his testimony on Sunday and it almost made me cry.

L said...

Our church is in the middle of what we affectionately like to call the ghetto. Many of the kids who have grown up there have had tough lives. Many come from broken homes and single parents and don't have a lot of money.

My husband grew up in that town and when he was in college, he became the youth leader of his church and many of the younger people really leaned on him for support and guidance. I know that emotionally it was hard for him to be responsible for so many young people's livelyhood but I think, while it might seem sometimes burdensome, the presence as an older, more wise mentor really changed theirlives. I think it is nice that you take the time out to spend with the people who are searching for answers and wisdom.

OTR sister said...

Linda, so your husband was able to serve as an adult in the same neighborhood he grew up in? I'm curious because I also grew up in a ghetto but ever since leaving for college it has been difficult to go back - so much has changed, including how people view me.