(edited March 9, 2017)
His name was Juan.
He was new to school and spoke only Spanish. He was about four inches taller than me and one of the fastest kids on the playground. I suppose now that I am an adult I realize he was probably older than the seven-year olds who mostly comprised our second grade class. I had been given the assignment of helping him read a book in English. We sat at a table along the wall of our classroom in Houston, Texas under the large crank windows that used to line mid-century designed elementary schools before they took on the prison-like traits of the twenty-first century.
My mind transports me even now to us hovering over the book laid open on the table under the pale morning light welcomed through the windows above. I am fairly certain it was a Dr. Seuss book. I would point and read each word on a page slowly and in a whisper so as to not disturb the class quietly working. Then I looked at him and slid the book closer so he could repeat it. And when he did I could not help the tears welling behind my translucent flesh toned too-big-for-my-face glasses. My eyes still brim as I recall my delight at his triumph. When I smiled and said, “Muy bien!” he gave me the most darling cheeky grin. I had asked my Dad how to say a few things in Spanish because I wanted to be able to encourage my tutee.
Something in me came alive sitting under that window with Juan. I learned that yes, I quite loved helping another grow, but also there is a certain dignity that comes when we recognize the different powers we each possess and how we might use them in aid of one another. Perhaps he was a bit of an outsider, but frankly, so was I. Are we not all outsiders in a sense, just trying to find our way carrying a hope of some belonging? And maybe sometimes it is an imbedded memory under the light of a window that the belonging “creates and undoes us both,” shaping a vision of what can be.
She was one of those girls in fifth grade we did not quite know how to categorize, as immature youth tend to do. She was slightly socially awkward, very long brown hair, always wearing skirts with tennis shoes, and really, really fast. Speed buys you a lot of social collateral in elementary school. She could run so fast it was as if the skin on her face would get swept back from sheer speed as she outran even some of the boys.
Though she was quite small in frame she was incredibly loud, and tended toward a bit of a pushy know-it-all. Probably she was more awesome than I knew, but my set of friends valued the ever coveted “teacher’s pet” designation, content with being “good” and who ran at normal speeds.
One day playing four square on the black top under the glaring mid-morning north Texas sunshine, she and some of the other girls kept getting into a kerfuffle over every “out.” She argued each bounce that dismissed her from the game and cried foul on practically every call. I, too, found myself filing out of the box back into the seemingly ever-growing line. At one point after her shouting again at the lead four square girl and huffing away, I was compelled to reach out to her on the edge of the red fading lines and remind her, “Its ok, it’s just a game.” Something I am positive I must have been reminded during incidents of sibling rivalry over receiving a dreaded Draw Four in a searing game of Uno. She popped her head up at me squinting in the sun and nodded, “you’re right, we are just having some fun,” and then stuck out her hand for a handshake. Darting my eyes back and forth I reached out my hand and I as grasped hers Time drew in her breath and electricity flowed from one heart to another, a spark, as if a stitch was made in the tapestry of Eden’s dream. She skipped to the back of the line and someone pushed play as distant squeals of children resumed, the bounce of the hollow red ball echoed once again in the sunshine.
How many times since have I passed up the opportunity to participate in reconciliation? How many times have I let my fear, my pride, or my shame keep me from seeing and letting myself be seen? I did nothing remarkable, and I wonder at how the acknowledement of one’s frustration or pain could sooth it. And her simple act of reaching out and connecting with a handshake brought forth our humanness. I saw her, and she saw me. A heartbeat shared that honored the need and the openness in us both.
But now, a woman with forty years of life on earth, my heart pushes for even more. How has my desire for peace been thwarted by co-dependency? Is it better to keep the peace if one is indeed being pushed to the margins? Would it have been more decent of me to join Lisa in confronting the powers? What third way am I missing and what do I lack in imagination today that keeps me from the hard work of peace-making, an even braver act than peace-keeping? Shalom beckons, and yet I still have more questions than answers in my stumbling toward her.
It is Lent, and I decided to lament. Typically, I have a practice of writing down what I am grateful for, as a discipline and attitude adjustment. But I have started a new list for these forty days, a list of the brokenness in my heart and the collective groans of the world. I have entered in to my grief rather than attempt to alleviate it. As my consciousness awakens to loss or regret, I stare it in the eye, and embrace it with my writing. This could be seen as depressing to some, and yet I have already found that what depresses me more is the tendency to dismiss our hurt in our effort to have things sorted out, all patched up and fine so as to shroud our need. I am remembering that I am not alone in the sorrow. My tears only fall into the communal ocean of tears tended by One familiar with grief. In lament my knowing is both undone and remade in the aching compassion of a Lover who has seen many troubles. There is indeed a time to mourn. So every new line on my list, every tear in the fabric of our souls, They know. We ache together. And I am carrying your crosses with you dear sisters and brothers whose burdens are great. And I am dying for resurrection.