Scattered Reflections of a Monkey Mind

Scattered Reflections Of a Monkey Mind

My mind is all over the place. Can you relate? I’m like a kite on a windy autumn day, flying this way and that way. I came to the chapel to meditate, to reflect on God’s presence in my life and in the world but OMG, He (She) is not here. The Spirit is hidden underneath all my monkey mind distractions. What God? He sure ain’t here in the chapel with me.

Is he anywhere? Atheists claim that God did not create us; rather we have created God. Nah! I don’t buy that but they are partly right. The God we imagine as a benign old grandfather in the sky is definitely a figment of our imagination. I’ll never find that God in the chapel or anywhere else.

So I ask myself, where will I find the real God? Could be I’m looking in the wrong place. Maybe it makes more sense to search for him in people not in the sanctuary. God is in the moments of our lives. It’s like we have to go out of ourselves to discover his presence in the universe, in people, in nature.

If we don’t find his presence in a child’s innocence or in the heroism of a soldier dying for his country or in the compassion of adult children taking care of aged parents, where can we find him?

God is found in quiet time (if I can keep awake and discipline my monkey mind) but he is discovered more obviously in relationships. Ay! There’s the rub. Finding the image of God in one another is more challenging, don’t you agree?

In the musical Oliver, the little waif of a boy sang “Where oh where, oh where is love” Abandoned by his parents, physically abused at the orphanage, Oliver yearned to find love (God) in his life and it wasn’t easy. The people he had met in his short life didn’t exactly exude the milk of human kindness.

Like Oliver, the wounded vet or the spouse taking care of a spouse with Alzheimer’s disease, can be pardoned if they ask, “Where oh where oh where is this God of love.” And you know what mates? Sometimes, we just don’t know. We yearn to see God and at times he has the unnerving habit of playing peek-a-boo with us. Is it okay to get PO’d with the Almighty? But where else can we go?

So, I will continue to search for God in the people around me, the washed and the unwashed, the saints and the sinners because I have experienced way too much love, way too much grace in my own life to doubt his presence.

And, I’ll continue to search for God in the quiet of the chapel because I know, (if only I can stop nodding off); I will find him there, too.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Saving the World All by Ourselves

Saving the World All by Ourselves

Fellow “do-gooder” and a close friend of mine were talking about all the people in our lives who needed help with their problems. Relatives, friends, kids, old folks all were up for discussion. We worried about all of them. Man! It was exhausting trying to figure out how we could rescue all these people. There wasn’t enough time in our days to solve all their problems. We were starting to feel depressed just thinking about our inadequacies.

Then, in a flash of enlightenment, (or was it the red wine?)  we hit upon the only possible solution. “You know something,” my friend said in mock seriousness “You and I can’t die. We have too many people depending on us.”

We had a good laugh at ourselves over our own imagined self-importance. We decided that it was time for self-appointed “fixers” like ourselves to get a life and time to take ourselves less seriously. The truth is, and we know it in our heads, we don’t change anyone.  People solve their own issues or they don’t get solved.

The troubled teen-ager I angst over will get over his anger issues (or he won’t.) The mom driving herself crazy over trying to balance taking care of an elderly parent and two little kids will eventually figure things out. The man with a drinking problem will stop drinking when he wants to and in his own time. Divorce happens, our pet pooch dies, kids make mistakes; but life goes on. It ain’t a perfect world but it’s all we got.

Does that mean we don’t lend a hand to a kid in trouble or take no responsibility for the planet we inhabit? Of course not. We are in this world together, mates. To be human is to care for others.

But we “fixers” need to accept our limitations. Even religious people (among the worst of do-gooders) would do well to acknowledge that whatever good we do is only a part of a larger design. God is still in charge.

The Creator has his own plans for our lives and the lives of wounded teens and traumatized vets and ill-nourished children. We are part of the plan and God or the Universe or the Spirit invites us to be part of the solution but we are not the whole show. God works through us but we are pretty silly if we think we are in control. Those who would carry the whole world on their shoulders, need to stop, look at themselves and, like my friend and I, have a good laugh.

 

“Spot Players,” Subs and Coming Off the Bench

“ Spot Players,” Subs and Coming Off the Bench

My brother Dan and I were reminiscing the other day about Dan’s high school basketball career. My brother’s role on the team was to be the “spot man.” Dan’s defensive skills were modest at best and he was not known for the spring in his legs or his speed, so he was not a first stringer. But man, the kid could shoot. Give Dan a clear shot and it was good for two points. So, when the team was down a couple of points and needed a shot in the arm, the coach would call on Dan. Invariably, he would oblige  SWISH!  A basket for our team.

Our conversation got me thinking about the roles we play in our lives, Few of us are called to wear the mantle of super stars, whether it is in politics or sports or the entertainment business. We are destined to be bit players in life’s drama. We may as well face it; our demise when it comes will not grab headlines in the media. Headlines are reserved for the JFK’s or Martin Luther King’s or the Brad Pitt’s of our day.

Yet, like a spot player on the basketball court or a bit player in a movie, the parts we play are important. I recall a high school teacher saying to me “You have a gift for writing. Use it.” I doubt if he remembers the moment when he said that to a boy struggling with his own self-esteem and how much that mattered to me.

On another occasion, a “spot player” entered my life in the person of an older Afro-American woman. I was grabbing a pizza at Union Station waiting for the train. The tables were all taken so I asked a young man if he would mind sharing his table. He agreed and just before we began scarffing down our pizzas, the black lady asked if she could join us. “Sure no problem,” we said. But before we could began to eat, the lady, a complete stranger, asked us to wait a moment. Spreading out three paper napkins in front of us, she bowed her head and said a prayer. We waited politely until she finished. Then she turned to us and said with a warm smile, “Gentlemen, now we can dine.”

I was impressed by the way this lady turned the prosaic act of downing a pizza into something sacred. She went out of her way to share this meal with a couple of people she had never met and would probably never see again. She, as it were, came off the bench to teach us a valuable insight, one that has stayed with me all my life. She had her moment with a couple of strangers and played the role to perfection.

As the years have gone by I have come to believe that the Divine Director has a role for us to play. The world is still in the process of creation and we are in the cast. For most of us, we have only a bit part but, as any good director will tell you, bit parts done well can make or break a production. Spot players can win a game.

Companions on the Journey

Companions On The Journey

When I call to mind the good companions who once shared my journey, the pain of their loss returns. I feel like crying. Yet, in a strange way, they seem to help me move along my way and we walk together.”

                                                       Rabbi Chaim Stern

      My wife Kathleen passed almost eight years ago, but she is with me still. I don’t think of her all the time but at certain times, I feel her presence and know that she is still with me on my journey.

I have shared my experience with others who have lost a spouse or child or parent and there is instant recognition in their eyes. “I know exactly what you mean,” a woman friend told me. “It’s not that I obsess over my late sweetheart. I have mourned his loss but I am fully engaged now in living my life.” She paused before contining. “It’s just that, I feel him with me sometimes. It’s kind of eerie but also comforting. “

When we lose a loved one, we can’t help wondering. Is she still alive somehow? Does her soul rise from the ashes of death to live another life? Is she or he “up there and looking down on us?”

My own Christian religion has no doubt about an after life. Resurrection from the dead is one of the basic dogmas of our belief system.  Yet, I believe that even without the reassurance of religion, I would hold on to a conviction that the spirit in us remains alive.

The cynics will say, “Nonsense, when you are dead, you’re dead. End of story. I don’t agree. We may bury the bodies of our loved ones but their spirit remains. It’s the soul within us that puts a sparkle in our eyes and a spring in our step. It’s the spirit within that reveals who we are.

That same human soul that can dream dreams, and yearn for peace and compose songs and poems that can move the world, that soul capable of giving his life for another person or for a nation, is that soul dead? I don’t think so. The human spirit is as eternal as love and faith and beauty.

I know my wife is present on my journey because, as the Rabbi says, and I know, we walk together. She is with me just as surely as your parents or spouse or children are with you.

Stripping For the Journey

There is a lot of press given to football injuries these days, Rightly so, it is a dangerous sport and kids, especially youngsters whose bodies have not completely developed, are vulnerable to suffer concussions.

My admittedly cockeyed theory is that the cause of many football injuries lies in the very armor players wear to protect themselves. Concussions come about almost exclusively from getting a helmet or a cleat to the head. So, if everyone stripped down to shorts and t-shirts and played barefoot, there would not be nearly as many injuries.

The thought occurred to me that even if the NFL turns down my suggestion, maybe in the larger world beyond football, in the way we live our lives, the idea has some merit. Know what I’m saying? We are so afraid to get hurt that we don the armor of pretense and fake it through life. The guy puts on his stud mask and the women portrays herself as Ms Perfect.

I have been reading a book by Glennon Doyle Melton who has written on this subject. In  “Carry On Warrior, Thoughts on Life Unarmed” she says “Maybe the battles of life are best fought without armor and without weapons.” What she is saying is suppose we shuck off our emotional defenses and were “real” to one another?

Sounds like a “chick book.” Maybe it is. But listen up guys. We wear even more equipment than women. We are so damn competitive with one another that we don’t dare let down our guard.  “Big boys don’t cry” is our mantra, a stupid mantra but we let ourselves be hobbled by the armor we wear.

Someone said “The more together we look, the more needy we really are.”  Remember the poem Richard Cory? The man who seemingly had everything, mesmerized people by the way he strode down the street, handsome and smooth and oh so cool. Then, one day, this cool man put a bullet through his head. On shit! How could that be? We thought we knew him.

We kid ourselves and (sometimes) we fool others by the way we handle things. No fuss. We are in command. “Hey, I’m good.” We say. But we are not good; not all the time. By pretending we are in control we not only hurt ourselves (because we know better, deep down) but we deprive others of the gift of our own weakness and vulnerability.

People think that we are in command. We stride through life unafraid. But no one does that, not really. We are all afraid that we don’t belong or that we are not the moms or dads or bosses that we would like to be.

It’s okay. We all share the same human condition. Maybe it’s time for all of us to doff that heavy protective gear; put on the shorts and t-shirts of our vulnerability and just be who we are.

 

 

 

 

What Maisie Knew

What Maisie Knew

There is a sleeper of a movie out now with the unlikely title of “What Maisie Knew.” Based on a Henry James’s short novel, it tells the story of the breakup of a marriage seen entirely through the eyes of a sad and wise little girl named Maisie.

Maisie, with her child’s eyes, says very little as she finds herself the pawn in a struggle between her mom, an aging rock star clawing desperately to salvage a career and her equally self-centered dad, an art dealer who loves the good life. She hears their bitter shouting matches; listens as they cut one another down. The little girl is a silent observer to scenes worthy of “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf.”

Maisie is nothing more than an inconvenience to the careers of both parents. She is mostly a bother. Neither spouse wants to have to take care of her, yet both are unwilling to let her go lest they be the one accused of child abandonment. For spite, each parent takes up with a younger person. Overnight, Maisie finds herself with two moms and two dads.

Pardon me if I state the obvious; this is not an untirely unknown scenario in real life. Trust me; I have worked with far too many foster kids who know exactly what Maisie is experiencing. Their parents, tired of taking care of their kids, want the freedom of living the good life without the burden of being responsible for their offspring.

In the movie, neither parent is seen as a complete villain. They didn’t set out in life to damage their child. They are “sorry” that their little girl has to suffer but, after all, they have their needs. They want a life for themselves.  The bottom line is painfully evident; neither is willing to be an adult.

The media is full these days of stories of adults who want their “rights.” Whether gay or straight or some combination thereof, we all insist on our civil rights. We want our tax credits and our civil rights and off with the head of any politician who doesn’t hear us pay attention.

Then I think of Maisie and all the little kids who can’t speak for themselves but who are not getting what is coming to them, a safe home life, loving adult parents, a quality education.

Instead, they are getting broken homes, self-centered adults who love them too little and keep them as only as long as it is convenient to do do so. Like Maisie, all they can do is sit on the sidelines while we adults squabble over our rights.

 

Go see the movie. It’s painful but we need to see it.

 

 

 

A Dad Named Charlie

A Dad Named Charlie

You may have caught the news story. A crazed man in Alabama boarded a school bus and demanded that the bus driver, fella named Charlie, hand over two of the school kids. The man had a gun and pointed it menacingly at the bus driver.

Charlie stepped between the deranged man and the kids. “You’re not taking any of these children. They’re my responsibility,” he said. The gunman shot Charlie, put four bullets into him, and then fled with little Ethan, a five-year old special needs little boy.  (Later, that week the killer was found and killed by the police and Ethan was rescued)

I can’t get Charlie out of my mind these days. His photo was in the papers, white whiskered, grandpa type, wearing suspenders, maybe in his sixties. He is smiling in the picture. One of his sons said afterwards “That’s my dad. It was his goal, his purpose to make sure every child was delivered to his mom and dad every day. For my dad, every one of those kids were “his kids.”

I try to put myself in Charlie’s place as he faced a totally unexpected crisis. How could anyone prepare for a mentally ill man to jump aboard a school bus and with a gun pointed right at the bus driver’s chest, order him to turn over two of the kids to him. So the account goes. “Charlie faced down death, putting himself between the gunman and the children.”

I am in awe of this man. He is the average man’s version of Nelson Mandela or Gandhi or Jesus Christ. In that moment of truth, he did not back away; he stepped forward. He made his choice. He would rather die than be less than a man for any of those little children.

This was a man at the peak of his manhood, strong, courageous, and protective.

What is the saying?  “No man stands taller than when he stoops to help a child.”  Oh yea! Double yea! As we dads and grandpas gather to celebrate Fathers Day, may we all salute the ordinary guy who became in one shining moment, a hero and model for our manhood, a man named Charlie.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Dad Named Charlie

 

 

You may have caught the news story. A crazed man in Alabama boarded a school bus and demanded that the bus driver, fella named Charlie, hand over two of the school kids. The man had a gun and pointed it menacingly at the bus driver.

 

Charlie stepped between the deranged man and the kids. “You’re not taking any of these children. They’re my responsibility,” he said. The gunman shot Charlie, put four bullets into him, and then fled with little Ethan, a five-year old special needs little boy.  (Later, that week the killer was found and killed by the police and Ethan was rescued)

 

I can’t get Charlie out of my mind these days. His photo was in the papers, white whiskered, grandpa type, wearing suspenders, maybe in his sixties. He is smiling in the picture. One of his sons said afterwards “That’s my dad. It was his goal, his purpose to make sure every child was delivered to his mom and dad every day. For my dad, every one of those kids were “his kids.”

 

I try to put myself in Charlie’s place as he faced a totally unexpected crisis. How could anyone prepare for a mentally ill man to jump aboard a school bus and with a gun pointed right at the bus driver’s chest, order him to turn over two of the kids to him. So the account goes. “Charlie faced down death, putting himself between the gunman and the children.”

 

I am in awe of this man. He is the average man’s version of Nelson Mandela or Gandhi or Jesus Christ. In that moment of truth, he did not back away; he stepped forward. He made his choice. He would rather die than be less than a man for any of those little children.

 

This was a man at the peak of his manhood, strong, courageous, and protective.

What is the saying?  “No man stands taller than when he stoops to help a child.”  Oh yea! Double yea! As we dads and grandpas gather to celebrate Fathers Day, may we all salute the ordinary guy who became in one shining moment, a hero and model for our manhood, a man named Charlie.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Dad Named Charlie

 

 

You may have caught the news story. A crazed man in Alabama boarded a school bus and demanded that the bus driver, fella named Charlie, hand over two of the school kids. The man had a gun and pointed it menacingly at the bus driver.

 

Charlie stepped between the deranged man and the kids. “You’re not taking any of these children. They’re my responsibility,” he said. The gunman shot Charlie, put four bullets into him, and then fled with little Ethan, a five-year old special needs little boy.  (Later, that week the killer was found and killed by the police and Ethan was rescued)

 

I can’t get Charlie out of my mind these days. His photo was in the papers, white whiskered, grandpa type, wearing suspenders, maybe in his sixties. He is smiling in the picture. One of his sons said afterwards “That’s my dad. It was his goal, his purpose to make sure every child was delivered to his mom and dad every day. For my dad, every one of those kids were “his kids.”

 

I try to put myself in Charlie’s place as he faced a totally unexpected crisis. How could anyone prepare for a mentally ill man to jump aboard a school bus and with a gun pointed right at the bus driver’s chest, order him to turn over two of the kids to him. So the account goes. “Charlie faced down death, putting himself between the gunman and the children.”

 

I am in awe of this man. He is the average man’s version of Nelson Mandela or Gandhi or Jesus Christ. In that moment of truth, he did not back away; he stepped forward. He made his choice. He would rather die than be less than a man for any of those little children.

 

This was a man at the peak of his manhood, strong, courageous, and protective.

What is the saying?  “No man stands taller than when he stoops to help a child.”  Oh yea! Double yea! As we dads and grandpas gather to celebrate Fathers Day, may we all salute the ordinary guy who became in one shining moment, a hero and model for our manhood, a man named Charlie.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Dad Named Charlie

 

 

You may have caught the news story. A crazed man in Alabama boarded a school bus and demanded that the bus driver, fella named Charlie, hand over two of the school kids. The man had a gun and pointed it menacingly at the bus driver.

 

Charlie stepped between the deranged man and the kids. “You’re not taking any of these children. They’re my responsibility,” he said. The gunman shot Charlie, put four bullets into him, and then fled with little Ethan, a five-year old special needs little boy.  (Later, that week the killer was found and killed by the police and Ethan was rescued)

 

I can’t get Charlie out of my mind these days. His photo was in the papers, white whiskered, grandpa type, wearing suspenders, maybe in his sixties. He is smiling in the picture. One of his sons said afterwards “That’s my dad. It was his goal, his purpose to make sure every child was delivered to his mom and dad every day. For my dad, every one of those kids were “his kids.”

 

I try to put myself in Charlie’s place as he faced a totally unexpected crisis. How could anyone prepare for a mentally ill man to jump aboard a school bus and with a gun pointed right at the bus driver’s chest, order him to turn over two of the kids to him. So the account goes. “Charlie faced down death, putting himself between the gunman and the children.”

 

I am in awe of this man. He is the average man’s version of Nelson Mandela or Gandhi or Jesus Christ. In that moment of truth, he did not back away; he stepped forward. He made his choice. He would rather die than be less than a man for any of those little children.

 

This was a man at the peak of his manhood, strong, courageous, and protective.

What is the saying?  “No man stands taller than when he stoops to help a child.”  Oh yea! Double yea! As we dads and grandpas gather to celebrate Fathers Day, may we all salute the ordinary guy who became in one shining moment, a hero and model for our manhood, a man named Charlie.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Dad Named Charlie

 

 

You may have caught the news story. A crazed man in Alabama boarded a school bus and demanded that the bus driver, fella named Charlie, hand over two of the school kids. The man had a gun and pointed it menacingly at the bus driver.

Charlie stepped between the deranged man and the kids. “You’re not taking any of these children. They’re my responsibility,” he said. The gunman shot Charlie, put four bullets into him, and then fled with little Ethan, a five-year old special needs little boy.  (Later, that week the killer was found and killed by the police and Ethan was rescued)

I can’t get Charlie out of my mind these days. His photo was in the papers, white whiskered, grandpa type, wearing suspenders, maybe in his sixties. He is smiling in the picture. One of his sons said afterwards “That’s my dad. It was his goal, his purpose to make sure every child was delivered to his mom and dad every day. For my dad, every one of those kids were “his kids.”

I try to put myself in Charlie’s place as he faced a totally unexpected crisis. How could anyone prepare for a mentally ill man to jump aboard a school bus and with a gun pointed right at the bus driver’s chest, order him to turn over two of the kids to him. So the account goes. “Charlie faced down death, putting himself between the gunman and the children.”

 

I am in awe of this man. He is the average man’s version of Nelson Mandela or Gandhi or Jesus Christ. In that moment of truth, he did not back away; he stepped forward. He made his choice. He would rather die than be less than a man for any of those little children.  This was a man at the peak of his manhood, strong, courageous, and protective.

What is the saying?  “No man stands taller than when he stoops to help a child.”  Oh yea! Double yea! As we dads and grandpas gather to celebrate Fathers Day, may we all salute the ordinary guy who became in one shining moment, a hero and model for our manhood, a man named Charlie.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Dad Named Charlie

You may have caught the news story. A crazed man in Alabama boarded a school bus and demanded that the bus driver, fella named Charlie, hand over two of the school kids. The man had a gun and pointed it menacingly at the bus driver.

Charlie stepped between the deranged man and the kids. “You’re not taking any of these children. They’re my responsibility,” he said. The gunman shot Charlie, put four bullets into him, and then fled with little Ethan, a five-year old special needs little boy.  (Later, that week the killer was found and killed by the police and Ethan was rescued)

I can’t get Charlie out of my mind these days. His photo was in the papers, white whiskered, grandpa type, wearing suspenders, maybe in his sixties. He is smiling in the picture. One of his sons said afterwards “That’s my dad. It was his goal, his purpose to make sure every child was delivered to his mom and dad every day. For my dad, every one of those kids were “his kids.”

I try to put myself in Charlie’s place as he faced a totally unexpected crisis. How could anyone prepare for a mentally ill man to jump aboard a school bus and with a gun pointed right at the bus driver’s chest, order him to turn over two of the kids to him. So the account goes. “Charlie faced down death, putting himself between the gunman and the children.”

I am in awe of this man. He is the average man’s version of Nelson Mandela or Gandhi or Jesus Christ. In that moment of truth, he did not back away; he stepped forward. He made his choice. He would rather die than be less than a man for any of those little children. This was a man at the peak of his manhood, strong, courageous, and protective.

What is the saying?  “No man stands taller than when he stoops to help a child.”  Oh yea! Double yea! As we dads and grandpas gather to celebrate Fathers Day, may we all salute the ordinary guy who became in one shining moment, a hero and model for our manhood, a man named Charlie.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mi Casa Es Tu Casa

Mi Casa Es Tu Casa

I’m doing my meditation at the chapel when a Latina mom arrives with her little boy. The kid is draped over mom’s shoulder and is fast asleep.  Any parent who has carried a child when he is completely zonked out can identify; the 25 pound kid has gone to 125 pounds in an instant.

The mother needs to unload her kid somewhere so she can say her prayers but doesn’t want to wake her child.

Not to worry. The mother makes room on the carpet and gently lays her little guy down. Whoops! He wakes up. Knowing full well that the only one crankier in the morning than an adult without her coffee, is a sleepy little kid awakened from his nap. Mom takes quick action.

She kneels down on the floor next to her boy and starts to rub his tummy. The little guy’s eyes flutter, half open and half closed. Mom lifts his t-shirt and puts her warm hand on the child’s belly. Little by little, the kid returns to his deep sleep, perfectly at home sprawled out on the chapel floor. His mom sits herself down and takes out a prayer book.

There is a blessed stillness’ in the chapel. When I was a little kid, we used to call our church “God’s House.” In the silence there is something sacred about it now. Candles burn on the altar; I hear only the soft hum of the fan.

A little boy sleeps peacefully on the floor while his mom prays.  It’s only one moment in time but I want to hold on to it and make it last. It’s only then that it comes to me. It’s Mother’s Day. Of course it is.

 

A Dying Man, a Boy. a Legacy

                              A Dying Man, a Boy, A Legacy

      I was thinking recently about President George Bush and the legacy he left the nation in his memorial museum in Dallas. Presidents and former presidents get to do that sort of thing. I guess it’s okay.  Not a damn thing I could d do about it anyway.

     But as I sat by the bedside of an ordinary kind of guy dying of cancer, I

begin to think of the legacy this man left to literally hundreds of foster kids he worked with through the years. The kids who experienced the love and caring attitude of Jim were blessed.

 

     I wonder if many of us can relate to the traumas, the neglect, and the abuse that has been the lot of many kids in foster care. Abandoned by their parents, they troop from foster homes to group homes, never quite understanding what is happening to them.

 

     Then, for the fortunate ones, a man called Jim shows up as a house parent at a group home. He understands them. He respects them. He sees their possibilities. He does not give up on them. Wow! A seed is planted in the soul of a kid who, until then, thinks that he is a failure. Someone believes in him.

     As Jim lay dying in a board and care home, I recalled one of Jim’s proudest moments in his work at the Children’s Village (a home for abused and neglected kids in Santa Rosa.) A fourteen-year-old boy was in the throes of a major melt down. I don’t know what caused it, parents not showing up to visit him? Maybe being blamed for something he did not do? Being bullied by one of the other kids? Who knows what can set off the ticking time bomb that sets off a kid already traumatized by rejection and abandonment.

      The boy was out of control. He was cursing to heaven, blaming God, his parents, the village with all the energy of his fourteen years. He kicked garbage cans; he threw rocks; he cursed God. It was scary. 

     One of the other group home staff, fearful of the boys own safety and that of other kids, was about to call the police, to take him to mental health services for observation.

     Then I saw Jim quietly approaching the boy. He didn’t say a word. Words were of no use now. Instead he took him in his arms and hugged him. Just hugged him. Gently, this caring man led the trembling boy to a place on the edge of the village grounds. They sat together arm in arm for maybe ten minutes while the boy magically calmed down. In his despair, the young boy had found someone he trusted, someone who cared for him.

      Legacies come in different forms. For the rich and famous, it is wonderful that they can leave libraries and papers and all the things that make people sit up and notice them for all they have done.

      I have no quarrel with that but I am in awe of a man who showed up in the life of a kid who was starved for affection and respect and love and gave him all three. Now there’s a legacy.

      PS. Jim died two days ago, surrounded by a small cadre of friends who knew him and who will always hold him in their hearts. And the desperate kid who got his hug from Jim? He graduated from high school last year and is now attending college. Somewhere up there I am betting there is an ordinary guy named Jim who is rooting for him.

 

   

 

Words To Parents From Troubled Kids

Parents Might Learn from the Words of Troubled Kids

Every year, the Juvenile Justice Commission of Sonoma County sponsors an essay contest for youth caught up in the Juvenile Justice System, whether residing at Juvenile Hall or in one of the group homes or alternative schools scattered throughout the county, The contest gives these kids an opportunity to share their thoughts on what went wrong for them and how they would like to change their lives. It also gives parents a chance to listen and learn from what these teenage kids have to say about the kind of parents they would like to become.

“I would like to be the parent I never had. My friends said “Your parents are cool.” What they didn’t know was how I hated the way my parents did not care what I did or where I was or how late I got home. I wanted more protection but I never got that and I felt abandoned.”

15 year-old girl.

“Being a parent to me means you step up to the plate and make your child’s living environment stable as well as healthy. I want to be the kind of parent my kids will look up to and can go to for anything.”

15 year-old boy

“One of the biggest mistakes parents make is getting a divorce. In my experience my parent’s divorce kept my own father distant. When I needed a male role model, I had no one to look up to. I vowed to myself to never divorce because I know the damage that it does to your kids.”

17 yea-old boy

“As a young father, I want to give all the support I can give to my daughter and to be there for everything she needs from her first fall to the days of motherhood.”

17 yea-old boy

“Parents need to step up and lay down rules. They especially need to follow the # 1 rule, be a parent; not a friend.”

15-year-old girl

“I want to be the kind of parent who likes to hang out with his kid, teach him or her how to ride a bike and help him with his schoolwork. I will never spank my kid. That just teaches him to be mean.”

“I was told that drugs are bad but I was never confronted about my problem. My father didn’t know I did drugs until I was 16. He wasn’t a bad parent; he just worked too much.”

17 yea-old boy

The essays spoke of other teenage issues like bullying, teen suicide, gangs and other problems but most of the youth spoke of that universal yearning they had for parents who would be there for them, parents and other adults who would give them the gift of time and attention and understanding.

Just as important was their longing for a certain amount of structure and discipline in their lives. We do our kids no favor when in our striving to be “cool”, we lose sight of our role as parents.