Sunday, July 18, 2010

Walk Tall Despite it All

It was a Friday and I was fit to be tired. I got home from a day at work and my mother is going on and on about a vegetable lasagna recipe that she printed out online. She was so excited for me to help her cook it. Pump your brakes, Ma. HELP you cook it. Give me that recipe. Let me see if my help was one of the ingredients. She didn’t understand that lasagna’s preparation was more of a challenge than actually cooking it.

I asked her what size lasagna she was making and she said “a small one” and then proceeded to pull out a pan that could hold a 10 pound child. Looking from the pan to the ingredients that she had purchased, she didn’t have the right quantities of anything. One (small) can of crushed tomatoes, one (itty bitty) can of diced tomatoes, one container of ricotta cheese. Now I know that Jesus fed the multitudes with 4 goldfish and a loaf of Wonder bread but Mom was just being a bit too ambitious with these skant ingredients. So I volunteered to go to the supermarket to get additional items that were needed. That made her happy.

I quickly got everything at the supermarket and checked out. I’m taking supermodel strides trying to get out of the grocery store. It’s hot and the market is filling up with the after work crowd. A kid stops me in my supermodel tracks and asks me if I could spare some seventy five cents. In a milli-second, I’m thinking what the heck can seventy five cents buy nowadays? So me being me, I ask him. He says, “ma’am, I’m just trying to get something to eat.” What the hell is he going to eat that costs seventy five cents? Blow pops? The red Swedish Fish candies? I’m sorry. I’m getting ahead of myself. Those are things that I would buy if I had seventy five cents. Silly me.

He had a plastic bag tied tightly but I could see about three pop cans (soda cans for you Southerners ;) inside of it. “Meet me at Subway,” I told him. “Subway?” he repeated. “Yes, do you know where that is?” He pointed across the parking lot and I nodded. He headed in the restaurant’s direction. I headed to my car. Even though the walk to the Subway had a covered walkway, I had to drive the 6 seconds that it took to get there. It was hot outside and besides I didn’t want my mom’s lasagna ingredients to melt. I mean who wants melted mozzarella cheese?

When I park my car and meet him inside, I visually access him. We were third in line and so I had time. He had on shorts to his knees and an olive colored t-shirt and gym shoes that were tattered and worn. He had a couple scratches lighter than his complexion above his right eyebrow. One of his top front teeth appeared not to have grown in all the way. I wanted to know more about why he was panhandling for seventy five cents and so I asked where his parents were. “My daddy in the grave. My mama strung out. I live with my uncle.” He had just finished up his 10th grade year at a local high school and “finished with a 2.5. I think that’s pretty good.” I agreed with him. I played up that 2.5 grade point average like he told me he had a 4.5 g.p.a. Hell, some kids with stable households bring home 1.7’s so his 2.5 was gold to me.

He was so excited because after next school year, he was going to enroll in Job Corps. He kept mentioning “free”. “I’m going to have free food, a free place to live, free education…” His excitement overflowed so much that the lady in front of him turned around and smiled. Not to be Debbie Downer but I cautioned him that everything that is free may not necessarily be good for him. Just a lesson as he goes about his life. He went on to say that his trustee takes all of his money and doesn’t give him any. He said the trustee was someone other than his uncle. I asked him why he doesn’t get a job for the summer. He has a job interview this weekend at Wildwood Flower Shop. He was so happy.

He got a number 7 footlong. Bacon and all those extra meats. He got a bag of chips and a fruit punch with no ice. The total was $6.36. He said, “see there. That’s why I don’t come here that often. It’s too expensive.” He told me thank you. I wished him many successes and to always be encouraged. I also reminded him that when he gets into a position to help somebody, help somebody. We walked outside Subway, me first and him behind me. Then the oddest thing happened. I started towards my car and when I looked back over my shoulder he was gone. I looked over my other shoulder but still didn’t see him. Now that I think about it, I’m glad I didn’t see him. I would have tried to get his contact information so I could go after this trustee who is taking all of his money. I can hear my aunt Deb now. “Sherri, you can’t help everybody.” I know, I know. And I’m going to kill myself trying. Help me, Jesus.

Over the next couple of days, I began to think more about those 20 minutes worth of events and I got angry. Not even two weeks ago, Lebron James had an hour long press conference just to announce that he was leaving the Cleveland Cavaliers to make goo-goobs of money in Miami. An hour long press conference. Boy. Boy. Boy. Once again the powers that be are entertaining our asses to death once again. How about the powers that be give the Subway kid an hour long press conference addressing everything he has been through. I’m sure his story can help some other kid in his situation and spur some kind of effort to make sure that what is happening to him doesn’t happen to anyone else. No, we can’t stop his parent from dying or maybe not even his mom from being strung out but we can definitely do something about the aftermath. We can do something about him being taking advantage of by his trustee. We can do something about him not having the basic necessities such as soap. I draw this conclusion from his nails appearing that he had been potting plants all day. Something can be done about him thinking that Subway is “too expensive”. A $6 sandwich meal?!?! If someone takes him to the Olive Garden, he might fall out. Call the ‘medics.

It just gets me all worked up because the United States of America is supposed to be wealthiest nation but we have our 10th graders walking around here elated about going to Job Corps so they can get some relief from the hell that is home because the court system has obviously failed them. Now when they hear the words “free meals”, “free housing”, it gets them excited leading me to believe this Subway kid never had a childhood. He’s been too busy trying to figure out where his next meal was going to come from.

In an attempt to look at the bright side of things, I also observed that he had the sweetest demeanor. He was very kind and forthcoming. During our conversation he pointed out that “people always think that I’m trying to get money to buy drugs but ma’am, I’m just trying to eat.” Wow. I appreciated that he still had his child-look zeal for life. He was so excited about the prospect of his pending job interview and his Job Corps initiation. He spoke about the upcoming events with so much enthusiasm and it made me so happy that he was about to get some sunshine in his life.

I just felt the need to share this story because I still come across so many ungrateful people and I can’t handle it. Somebody somewhere will love to have your worst day and you are still complaining. I also felt the need to share because I’m just afraid that too many folks are getting caught up in the entertainment aspect of life. That’s what the enemy specializes in. He will attempt to take your mind of what is important and try to focus it on multi million dollar athlete’s press conferences while the city, the school systems or even your household become undone. Don’t be entertained. Be empowered.

A favorite of mine, Lamar, shared this video with me. It’s a segment from Oprah’s Legends Ball and it features the great Bishop Walter Hawkins singers (Hawkins recently was welcomed into heaven) , Yolanda Adams, Patti LaBelle and BeBe Winans among others. Valerie Simpson of Ashford and Simpson fame took to the mic and sang “we gone walk taller, we gone think higher, we gone be better.” Yes, I am. What about you?