Up until this weekend there were these kids living in our neighborhood. A boy about Tre's age who has a brother and sister who are twins and are six. These kids wander the streets a lot, often hungry, always searching for a place to belong. The older boy keeps an eye on the younger ones and carries his mom's cell phone to wait for word that they're allowed to come home. On weekends they will sometimes stay out all day, and hang around in front of the house with the gaggle of kids that congregates out there. Occasionally, they'll sigh as a grownup walks by, "I'm hungry..." Sometimes they disappear for a few weeks, sent to live with relatives. There is an angry stepfather in the house and a "real dad" whom they're not allowed to see, because he doesn't pay child support.
Those kids kill me. Their lives are so hard, so unreasonable and unyielding. I can pass out graham crackers and cheese sticks, yes you can use our bathroom, yes come on in, sure, join us in the back yard, but I can't change their lives. I can't feed them enough to make them not be hungry tomorrow. I can't break the terrified yearning they have for their parents' love, the dread that they never really will care.
The older boy announced this weekend that they're moving. We won't see them anymore, and they wanted to say good bye. I hugged them all and wished them well and watched them make their way down the street, too young, too old, too much to bear. I hope someone in their new neighborhood keeps an eye on them.
I remember the first time I wanted to save a kid. I was in third grade, and there was a student in our class who everyone hated. I can't remember her name, let's call her Anna. Anna was weird. She dressed wrong, and she was tone-deaf to the complex relationships of the school yard. Worst of all, she didn't even have the sense to seem embarrassed about being wrong and irritating and...WRONG. Everyone hated her. I felt bad for her, but couldn't figure out how to change things.
One day I was standing in a huddle of girls, trying to fix my necklace. It was some trinket, strung on a cord around my neck, and on that day it was the treasure of my life. The cord had come unknotted, and we were all jostling each other to be the next to try to re-tie it. Anna wandered up to us in the vague, unconcerned way she had, and when I saw her it struck me that this could be Anna's chance. I would give HER my necklace, and she would fix it, and everyone would stop hating her. In my mind I could see the scene, Anna, surrounded by friends, generously stopping to help anyone who needed something tied.
I handed over the necklace, ignoring the shocked glares of my friends. "Here, Anna, could you fix this?"
Well, no. She couldn't either.
And if anything, I was meaner to her than ever, I was so irritated by her failure.
And there's where I balance, right between the desire to sweep in and be the savior, and hot-faced indignation that people just can't be saved. Not by me. Not today.
Tonight I sat in church, family all around. Raphael leaned hard against me, deep in grief at the fact that he had to sit through a SECOND church service in one day. On the other side of him sat Max, staring at the watch he had borrowed from Amma, sitting next to him. On my other side sat Clay, his hand warm around mine. Tre was stoic beside him.
It was an evening mass at a church that isn't ours, and we were there to see Kate be confirmed. Kate is Clay's brother's daughter, 15 years old. As the processional music swelled, people who were to be confirmed walked down the middle aisle. In the midst of that crowd strode Kate. Her chin was level, proud of every inch of her 6'1" (plus heels), and she carried a bright red banner that read, "Courage." She was so beautiful and brilliant that she brought tears to my eyes.
Kate spends quite a bit of time with us. There has been enough loss in her life that sometimes I look at her and want to pull every inch of her long-limbed frame into my lap and rock her like a two year old. I also find myself spewing out
wise advice long winded lectures with alarming regularity. I just want so much for her to be ok. When she goes home at night sometimes I have to stand behind the door as it closes behind her and willfully disengage from my concern for her. I cannot save her.
But I watched her tonight, standing in the front of the church with such grace and joy. I am a fool to think that the biggest thing in Kate's life is the loss, and a bigger fool still if I think I am somehow her salvation.
"Stephen, be sealed with the Holy Spirit," said the bishop, pressing a cross of oil into her forehead. She chose Stephen as her saint name last week, and her face glowed as she described his devotion, his Christ-like-ness.
There was a sensation of lightness, like flying, sitting there with my family tangled around me. We are called to love, and to leave the salvation to Another.