Tuesday, November 16, 2004

My friend's son died last Thursday. He was 21. He was her youngest child. He was battling drug and alcohol problems, among other things. The sheriff came to her door after identifying his body -- he died alone. Was he afraid? Did he know? Did he fall into an inebriated sleep and slip peacefully away? We don't know. Could we have helped him? Could we have stopped him? When was the last time I prayed for him? (if ever?)

I watched this boy grow up, although I didn't know him well. I have worked with his mother for 11 years. He was 10 when I started. My friend was a single mother who was a major mover and shaker in my company. She basically created a position for me when I decided to give up full time work to spend more time with my kids. She has always applauded my choice, and always reminds me that if I can, I should focus on my kids. If she could have, she would have.

Her office is a shrine to her 2 beautiful boys. I am familiar with every phase of their development. Her baby, Michael, was a magnificent cherub faced, curly haired, pot bellied toddler baby. Simply lovely. He grew to a an "all boy" kind of boy. I remember him hobbling around the office in cleats with a baseball bat in hand. The next thing I knew he was tall and handsome, and just as suddenly he's gone. Like a dream. I can't imagine what my friend is going through. Her whole life has been about those boys. (Rachel weeping...)

My own son is quickly becoming a young man. He is so lovely these days. His face is almost child like still. His voice is deep. He is taller than I am, yet doesn't look like a man yet. He is in between. Tinkerbell told Pan "you know that place between awake and asleep, that place where you still remember dreaming? That's where I'll always love you." I look at him and love him so much it hurts me. I burn him into my memory, as I tried to do to the toddler and the cub scout. But he passes by and the next phase is more lovely and delightful, and I am smitten again and forget the boy he was yesterday. He is like the wind -- passing by, uncontainable. I pray for his future and God's plans for him. And I whimper and beg, "please spare his life. let him live to have marriage and family and grandchildren and great grandchildren. let him live to bury me when I am oh-so-old." As if God is a henchman. I should be calling on God the comforter -- for her, for me.

I can't bear my friend's loss. I see her as one mutilated. She will never be the same. It seems to me a sign of the times, and I can't help but wonder as I look at the faces of the people I know, "who will be next?". I suppose in this day and age when we are attending 90th birthday bashes and 70th wedding anniversaries, I expect longevity. Children should not die before their parents. I am feeling less shocked by this event, however, and that is worst of all.

There have been other losses I have avoided mentioning this month as I notice my peripheral life is reading a bit like a Kurt Vonnegut novel. (So it goes). Every time I turn around, it seems there is another big loss. I just don't have the heart to talk about it anymore.

I just have to leave this one out there for You, oh God who really sees.

Saturday, November 13, 2004

The angry voices were escalating out side my front door. This was not completely unfamiliar to me. Often I would listen for awhile to determine if it was anger I was hearing, or just a child's game. This day it was anger -- and the two groups were clearly divided. They seemed so angry for boys so young -- probably spanning in age from 11 - 14 -- bad words spewing like a tornado at the corner, punches thrown. I stepped outside my front door, placing myself about 10 feet from the center of the battle. "Okay, that's enough, " I said, in my most authoritative voice. They didn't even look at me. I made my statement a little louder. Still not interested. I lifted the portable phone so they could see it. "This is my phone." I announced. "This is me dialing 9-1-1, " I said with great drama. Still no change. I over emphasized my actions and shouted as I punched the numbers on the key pad -- "NINE --- ONE --- ONE!!!" They actually stopped and looked at me in disbelief for a moment. When they heard me talking to the operator, they waited to hear what I was about to say. "I have a fist fight happening on my front lawn, " I said. "The boys are young, I don't see weapons, but it's escalating. I'm over in the Village." The voice at the other end of the line told me she would have the cops swing by -- they were always around my neighborhood somewhere. By now, the boys decided to take me seriously. "Now the boys are running East on Village Road. They are scattering."

It is now that my husband and son take notice of my little drama. They come from wherever it was they were otherwise engaged and comment, looking up at the sky. "Geez, mom, what did you do? The helicopters are circling our house!" This is actually true -- the police helicopter is now circling my house. I smile. This reassures me. The system is working. "I'm keeping the streets safe, " I say, smugly. I am still of the perception that the police car is a sign that all is under control. If the helicopter wasn't circling my house, it was somewhere within sight.

This drama was typical of a Saturday at home in my old house. The battling boys would always manage to bring their games to my corner. I believe they knew I would do everything in my power to keep it under control. These same boys would come to visit for juice or snacks on calmer days. They'd tell me about the good grade they got in Math or the Student of the Month award they won.

Of course, that corner is no longer mine. We haven't moved that far away (although it seems like light years). We still go to the same schools as all the boys that battled there. This weekend they visited me as I volunteered in the snack bar at the Varsity football game. I bought them snacks and gave them all hugs. I was genuinely happy to see them. As they visited my window the school counselors and security guards were reminding them to take off the bandanas that affiliated them to certain gangs or they would be asked to leave. I half expected the police helicopters. I asked about the new neighbors. They said, "They're alright -- no hot chicks, though." I smiled. "Sorry, " I say. "Come back and visit me, " "Sure, Mrs. J. " The security guards and school counselors move away behind them, circling them, following.

This provides for me a sense of continuity. I'm glad to see them, glad to know they are well, glad to know someone else is keeping it all under control. All is calm. All is bright.

Watch over the boys of my old corner, Lord. Cover them with your grace. Own them. I pray they would be yours. Wholly. May their futures be merry and bright. Thank you that we live in a place where the police actually come when you call. I know that this is a priviledge that not many share, even a small distance from my own home. Bring peace to the places where children are not safe on the street. Let them all be Student of the Month, at least once, and let them have someone to applaud them.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

This has been a tumultuous time at the Johnson house. I don't think we've slowed down since June. It is a time of great blessing, but also a time of great challenge. It's all a big blur. We haven't really had time to move into the new house, so it still seems like it isn't ours. It's a storage unit in which our boxes have been set. It still seems like a motel room on our way to some other place. Our dog, already disoriented from the effects of age, is now completely confused. He gets lost in our oversized yard, confused by the many unfamiliar smells. He doesn't see or hear quite as well as he used to, so he often wanders around looking completely lost. He can't hear me calling to him, so sometimes I have to go out to him and lead him into the door. I kind of relate to him. The world is spinning around me so quickly, I can't seem to get my bearings. I'm disoriented. I need someone to take me by the hand and lead me to my home.

When I was 7, my family moved to Long Island from Queens. I was the oldest of 3 children, the only school aged sibling. We moved on a Saturday and I was in the classroom on Monday. I'm sure they went over the whole bus thing with me, but when that bus driver booted me off the bus, assuring me that this was the right stop, I stood for what seemed like hours trying to find something that looked familiar. I was completely lost. I remember vividly the view from that corner. If I was an artist, I could render a complete and perfect photographic image of the 360 degrees that surrounded me from that spot. I stood there paralyzed. Eventually my mother peaked out our new front door to see me frozen to the corner. My new home was about 20 feet from the spot where the bus delivered me. She was genuinely surprised by my disorientation. My mother was busy with my sister, 4, and my baby brother. Her 7 year old seemed so old and independent. I was capable, or at least compared to the babies I was. I tried so hard to meet that expectation. I think I'm still working on it.

Well anyway, that's where I am today. Back on that corner. Like a little kid lost. I'm trying hard to stand still so someone will find me and show me the way home. I know that we just got a great new home, but I can't quite remember which one it is.

++Hey Lord, I know it isn't going to slow down for at least another 2 weeks. I can't really move from this spot. Peak out the front door and give me a wave, will You?