In this together

Credit: Gregory Bodnar, Flickr via Creative Commons

Credit: Gregory Bodnar, Flickr via Creative Commons

When I was ten years old, a man and his two sons moved into my house. One boy was a year older than me, the other two years older. I went from the only child of a single mother with a few absentee fathers under my belt to a house full of testosterone. The new man of the house was loud and violent when he drank, unlike the previous one who was just mean verbally after one too many. Most of our patriarch’s outbursts were aimed at his sons, and we learned the art of avoidance. Well, I also learned how to apply a butterfly bandage but I’d consider that more a skill than an art.

It wasn’t long before my stepbrothers started to get into trouble, first at school and then with the law. Now I was a ‘fraidy cat kind of kid, terrified of getting into trouble. I blossomed under the praise of people in authority and would never dare do anything to risk their disapproval. But I also learned to love my brothers, and by extension their friends. So here I was, now a twelve-year-old nerd getting straight As in school, on the paper and mentoring younger kids. And most of my friends had already served some time in juvie or drug rehab.

I learned a few things during this season of my life, junior high and early high school when all of my friends were on the brink of dropping out while I strove for the dean’s list. One was that most of these kids were incredibly talented in some way, exceptionally intelligent or poetic or amazing with engines or astounding artists. Another was that they were very kind, compassionate, sweet even to this nerdy tag-along girl. And another was that the adults in our world, from parents to teachers to police, had already written them off. I was amazed at how easily dismissed they were, how quickly adults seemed to predict their dead-end futures with no eye at all for all the potential and beauty in these boys.

The truth is, most of them were unwanted. They were rejected or abused or neglected at home. Parents said horrible things to them, in front of strangers like me. There was no food in the house, but plenty of drunk men to belittle and harass these young men. Parents’ parties until all hours of the night made sleep elusive, and the idea of studying for the morning’s test a joke. They were a band of great boys with no home and idle hands.

They could’ve been so much more. I remember feeling that their destinies were somehow partly the responsibility of all those dismissive adults. I wonder now, as I see so much brokenness and missed potential in the world, so many shallow and selfish and lost people, see my own face reflected back at me when I peer into that pool, what would change if we took a little more responsibility for each other. If we saw ourselves in the eyes we try to avoid. If we used our voices to sprinkle kindness, encouragement on the dry souls we pass every day. If we felt the reality of our interconnectedness, how would we live differently toward one another?

And this also, though the word lie heavy upon your hearts: The murdered is not unaccountable for his own murder, and the robbed is not blameless in being robbed. The righteous is not innocent of the deeds of the wicked, and the white-handed is not clean in the doings of the felon. Yea the guilty is oftentimes the victim of the injured, and still more often the condemned is the burden bearer for the guiltless and unblamed. You cannot separate the just from the unjust and the good from the wicked; for they stand together before the face of the sun even as the black thread and the white are woven together. And when the black thread breaks, the weaver shall look into the whole cloth, and he shall examine the loom also.

~ Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet

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