Last Monday, after a hard day of writing and catching up on laundry, one of our favorite school teachers from last year stopped by for an unexpected visit. She’d been to the mountains over the weekend and wanted to share a half bushel of Pink Ladies with us. The whole house was a wreck and the 4pm hour is not our finest hour, if you know what I mean. But I let her in and hugged her neck and then offered her the only chair in the family room not covered in clean laundry or dirty underwear.
I truly don’t think she even noticed the filth but I need you to know that a part of me died on the inside.
We spent a few minutes catching up before I asked her about her school year. She looked tired, but she’s battling the kind of cancer you treat and then just live with, so I thought maybe the fatigue around her eyes was due to her latest treatment.
This is the hardest year of my whole career. I think it may be my last. Oh, I don’t know. I’ve never seen kids this undisciplined in my whole life. And they’re so far behind I don’t know if I can catch them up. Even with the tutoring and the home visits. I have no leverage. When the kids move around every few months and food is sparse and they come to school wearing the same one shirt and one pair of pants, every day and they never get washed, I can’t expect them to want to focus in and learn how to write a sensible paragraph. They’re hungry and they no idea where they’re going to sleep at night. The conditions at our school get worse and worse every year.
She paused a minute to gather her thoughts before getting to the crux of her frustration.
I don’t know what to do but I know we can’t just quit these kids. We can’t lump them all together in a few schools and keep biding time until they’re old enough to drop out. These children are part of the human race and somebody has to take responsibility for them. They’re babies for Pete’s sake!
She stayed an hour more and I’ve thought for one whole week what to think about what she said.
I know she’s right. And I know because we have skin in the game. We have our children in her school and we feed those same kids on Sunday nights and mentor those same boys and drop off firewood at their homes. We spend our lives on behalf of those kids.
But it’s not enough.
Because the 99% of children in those 11 schools have collective needs that far outweigh what a small handful of people can supply. Even if we can feed them, clothe them, stock them full of school supplies, and tutor them after school for an hour, it’s not enough.
Meeting their basic needs is not enough, but it is a start.
These kids are members of the human race and we can’t just look the other way and do nothing.
Having lived on Avent street for four years now, the bible stories I have tucked away in my heart are beginning to take on new meaning. The stories haven’t changed but the lens in which I read them is changing. Lately, I’ve been re-reading the story of the good Samaritan.
My first thoughts on the story have always been on that poor guy on the side of the road:
Poor guy. Just minding his own business and Wham! He’s beaten, robbed and left for dead.
My next thoughts, after the ones on the poor guy, have always been on those two religious leaders who were too busy or uncaring to even notice the guy on the side of the road:
Got to get to church. Got to get to church. Got to get to church. What jerks!
The parable is one I’m so familiar with I’ve never given a lot of thought to the actual good Samaritan except that he showed mercy to the man on the side of the road and that it was his mercy that made him a good neighbor.
But lately, as I’ve been fleshing out what makes a good neighbor different than simply being a neighbor, I’ve come to the realization that good neighbors are moved to the kind of compassion that goes against everything society and religion tells them is acceptable.
Good neighbors move to action because there is a need.
The good Samaritan was a good neighbor because he saw the man, he heard his groaning, and immediately did what he could do to alleviate the suffering.
Without asking the man what he’d done to put himself in that awful predicament.
Without checking to make sure the man was his social responsibility.
Without checking his vitals and referring him to an organization receiving tax dollars to fund his care.
Without waiting to vote someone into office who can handle the robber issues and solve the whole mess.
Without wasting time talking with his friends about the best way to go about providing the help.
Without considering the cost to himself or his family.
He simply moved into action because the man was in need- because he was a fellow human being.
Dangerous, but noble.
Misinformed, but noble.
Hopeless, but noble.
Not my responsibility, but noble.
Above my pay grade, but noble.
That maybe I should rethink the whole neighboring plan and schooling plan and fixing our city plan- as if I have a plan.
And all I could think was that if being a good neighbor means that I’m living a dangerously misinformed, hopeless, socially irresponsible life, then that’s how I want to live.
And I wanna live it with gusto with a whole lot of other crazy people.
Because the alternative is to do exactly what those noble, self-righteous religious leaders did.
Which was a whole lot of nothing.