When love speaks louder than hate

I love the view today. I can hear the shouts and yelling but I smile when I do, for it is not the type of shrill shouting or vile words being yelled that normally beckon for my presence. I watch as what must nearly be a hundred kids jump, swim, scream and splash in the community pool in our city.

The streets are hot in the summer and it is a delicate time for me. No kids in school so I spend most of my time preparing for their return and praying. Time can be a friend or foe to our streets. Like anything else, time can be used by these kids for good or for evil.

During my days when the hallways of schools are swarming with them, I can be content that I am here to help them, to protect them and keep the wolves outside of the door in the hopes that those within the walls would be free to discover so much more than what they have been presented with. That within these walls they would become more than what they thought they could be, and what once seemed impossible would seem within their grasp.

When the halls are empty, I cannot protect them and help them avoid the wrong choice. So many fall so quickly back into the rhythm of the street, the ease of finding money and respect by just doing what they have watched so many others do.

For years I have watched motivational experts on television and the internet talk about becoming successful by modeling successful people. Do we not see that these young minds are following that advice? The filthy death merchant on the corner looks successful, he drives a nice car and never appears to want for anything. They are modeling. I cannot stop them but wish the clock to tick faster and get through these days so that I can try again. I maintain my sanity because I can try.

Not today. I smile today because they are not thinking about respect or street credibility or whatever else they call it today. The color of a bathing suit does not represent an allegiance or loyalty, it represents childhood and happiness. I cannot help but smile and watch as they play. I let my guard down and my fears begin to slide away, just for the moment.

pool

I almost didn’t hear the footsteps next to me but turned my head and tore the smile from my face as I felt the approach next to my window. I instinctively reach for my hip, for the reassurance that is always there. But I am greeted by a smile. I relax and smile back. He hasn’t changed much. TJ looks like he did two years ago when he walked out of our school and out of my life.

TJ was high when we first met. He had joined up with others and left the protection of my halls to go into the woods and experiment as young people occasionally do. He had never been in trouble and I hadn’t even known his name. He didn’t have anything “on him” I had told the school, so I would not place him into my custody, but I would take him into my care.

We got to know each other and I had hope for him. We had lunch together in school occasionally and I felt as if he were staying out of trouble. One day when I saw him in the hall, he averted his eyes and tried to hide the marks on his arm that I had already seen. It was artwork to some, a way to use ink to display your sense of self. I knew better, and he knew that I knew. I had seen this art too many times. I had lost TJ. He had joined a gang.

He tried to explain and I told him that I understood. I do. I do not live on his street where survival comes in different colors. I just had hoped that he would find a way out. I heard he had picked back up with his friends and that again he was getting high. I eyed him suspiciously behind my sunglasses.

I hate myself. I hate what this job and this city has done to me. I no longer look at people and assume that they are better than they were or that they had turned their life around. No, like so many other guardians, I assume that once you have joined the forces of darkness, it is too hard to find your way back through that darkened curtain.

I ask him what he is doing. “Working,” he said smiling and pointing his still gaunt finger toward the pool that I have been allowing myself to enjoy and to hide away from my real world. “I lifeguard now.” I notice that the art is covered up by a light brown bandage, big enough to hide it from prying eyes. He sees me look, “they don’t like to see it so I hide it.”

You still hang with your crew? He smiles. I know smiles. I know when someone smiles because they are about to lie to me and want me to believe that they are smiling because their pulse didn’t just increase as they prepared to lie. I am a bit surprised because that was not this smile. “That’s not me.”

“My moms is sick and I need the work for the family,” he tells me as the smile slides away and he looks down at the ground. An adult would be proud to say that they work to support their family but he is a child, he knows that he is doing something that so many others are not capable of doing.

I am proud of him and let him know. The smile returns. It is again my turn to be shocked. “Next month I leave for boot camp and going into the Army,” he says with a true sense of pride. I do not even try to hide my surprise and my pride. I had nothing to do with his change or his desire to change, but am proud that I know it.

We part ways and he trots off to work and I roll the window up and begin to pull away. Someone once told me early on that there were too few victories on the path that we have chosen. Too not get invested or take them personally. I didn’t model that behavior. I am always part of them as they are a part of me. It hurts when I lose them. It hurts when I cannot protect them.

But that is the cost of caring that I have willingly paid so that I can experience these moments. These quick glimpses of so many that do make it out and do move on to change the world. They are few and far between, but I take them and store them behind the shield, closer to my heart. He made it and for that moment, all is right with my world. When I pull away, I pray that this moment will last forever, or even just longer that it has before. Only the hands of time and fate can tell. For now, I can again smile at the view.

When innocent blood spills

My view is of the wipers across the curved windshield as the rain pounds across the glass and each drop sounds like a bullet shot on my thin tin car roof. The sounds distract me as I begin seeing the flashing lights up ahead. As I get closer, I slowly prepare for what is next. Then I look over and I see him. I wish that I didnt, that I could close the door and drive away.
He was only six years old. The paramedics are working on him on the ground, his mother is being looked at by another ambulance person. I am trying to focus on my job, looking at the faces in the crowd to find the one, the one who did this terrible thing. Is he here? Is he looking at his handiwork as they try to save the child’s life?

I try to wrap my head around the scene that unfolded before me. I arrived to see them doing CPR, I had seen it so very many times before. These people are amazing warriors, they don’t take death lightly and fight it as if the enemy were there standing over them trying to steal away this precious young life. When it is a child we are all there to fight, it is even more important.

The window of the white SUV is shattered with the speckled shards of broken glass all over the inside of the car. This is what we call a clue. The window to the driver was closed. So many times we see the window open and begin to ask, was there more to this than meets the eye? Was this some poor drug addicted mother, with her vulnerable child sitting in the back seat, helpless to help Mommy fight her addiction as she purchased her sins on the corner?

No, she cares and she was driving home. Macaroni and cheese, she said. That’s what the conversation was in the car, he wanted macaroni and cheese she begins to wail again as she watched. They are taking the stretcher now and putting it into the blinding light of the ambulance. The siren will soon start to wail as they rush to the trauma center, life hanging on every tick of the clock.

The bullets struck him in the head. One moment sharing what joy a mother and son share when talking about a family dinner with mother, father, son and older brother. Then in a flash, their life changes forever. Not because they wished it upon themselves, only because on this night, in this town, they pulled down the wrong street and drove in between a violent representative of the devil and his intended victim. The child did nothing wrong but get in the way of a bullet intended to end yet another life.

I look at them and wonder if any will talk to us. So many times they tell us that they are afraid, but when do we draw the line and push fear away to fight? When will they fight for their own freedom? This innocent child is the victim of this war, what will they say?

 The next morning I was surprised and elated. Three people had come forward in        the night. They were afraid but said they needed to give this fallen angel justice. We   will find him, we must find and bring him to justice and off of our streets. We will win this battle, but will they help us fight the war?

 I am hopeful on this rainy day looking out on my city. Hope emerged in the  darkness and I pray that others can learn and follow on their path of bravery. Behind the clouds I can see the sun and I cannot wait. My view is one of renewed hope in those on the other side of my window.

The search for truth and meaning

Today’s view begins behind drawn curtains but will end with a view of endless wonder. I was reading this morning, as is my habit to try to expand my knowledge beyond that of a simple guardian, and was struck by how difficult it was to answer two very easy yet terrifying questions.

The first question I have asked myself perhaps a thousand times but the wording was such that I had to choke back and realized that I knew not what the answer truly was. I have asked myself “what would I try to teach my children if I knew I had only minutes to live?” I have confidently answered this question many times in my mind as I prepared myself for the challenges of fatherhood. Honor, I say to myself, and ideals are the values that I wish to impart. Something cliché such as to leave the world better for your having been upon it.

But alas that was not the question which stopped me before I took the time to look out of the window. The question asked of me was, “If I knew I had only thirty seconds to live, what three things would I teach my children about how to live a happy and fulfilled life?”

My pulse quickened even as I re-read the dastardly note. A Happy life? Why I don’t know what I would say! I turn from my window to glance upon a mirror on the wall. Have I lived a happy life? I query my own image. Can I even define happiness? Were I to pass today, this very moment, I would not be able to impart guidance of any value to them for I am not sure that I have completely lived a “happy” life. I have enjoyed friends and celebrations, have experienced true romance and passion. I have “felt” happy, but cannot say for certain that I have lived a “happy” life.

I smile almost daily, surely that’s it, that is the sign of my happy life right? We cannot really smile if we are not happy. So that must be it, I would tell them to make up their mind to just “be” happy. I can see my son looking right through me as he asks the question that many a young person has asked, “how?” I don’t know. That is all that I could say. Make a decision to be happy, but its not that simple is it? What kind of father could I be if I do not know how to teach my kids to be happy?

Before I could even begin to recover from this trauma to my fragile ego and psyche, the next question finished the job of melting away any semblance of belief in my own mastery of my life.

“If I could achieve one single thing in my life,” the written words taunt,” what would make all of my hard work worth the struggle?” Once again, I beseech the mirror; please tell me that you know, for I haven’t the foggiest! The truth is painful; I cannot answer the second question even an inch better than the first.

I try to think past material wealth and the well-being of my offspring, but is that all that we live for? Is our life’s mission to revolve solely around our children and take us past our own desires? I had desires once. I knew what I thought that I wanted. I have achieved so much yet cannot point to a single thing to say that one thing is worth all of the work and effort and blood and tears. Surely it must be my children, but why doesn’t my heart leap at that answer?

The answer to both is simple. The answer to both questions is that I do not know, but my journey is set to help me find out. We go through our daily lives looking and seeing but not searching. The meaning, the one thing which brings everyone happiness, the one moment that shows the victor that tha view of the night skye spoils of his victory are out there if only we knew we were searching for them.

Today I will look out my window with a desperate desire to know myself and know my destiny better than before. I can no longer just look outside of my window but search within and without until I find that which is out there awaiting my embrace. Out there I will find the answer to who I am and how can I know that I have accomplished that which our Creator sent me here to do? I turn the corner of the little book; I rest it on my shelf knowing that someday I will again take it up, once I know the answer. Until then, the search continues…