The silent ones
I scooped up one more shovel of snow to finish off the walk before the thought came to me. The first 26 years of life I lived under the sweltering humidity and scorching heat of west-central Florida. Here, 34 years later, I’m actually enjoying the 24 degree, snow-covered setting of upstate New York. I smiled at my realization as I climbed back into the cab of my F250. I’m headed to the next widow’s home to plow out the driveway.
In some ways, there is little difference between the two eras.
My brother and I grew up around senior citizens who appreciated us being able to help them with odd jobs. We got a lot of positive vibes from the things we did. Between Boy Scout service projects, church youth car washes, and our lawn business, I got a keen sense of satisfaction from helping others.
I think the clincher came when I was only 12 years old.
Before the first day of Junior High School, I was called into the offices for a chat with the Principal and the school counselor. I was scared to death! Was it something I had done already?
Thankfully the reason I was called in was not what I had done, but what I was about to be asked to do. Apparently, I had the same exact schedule as a boy who was legally blind.
The request was simple enough: allow this kid to shadow me throughout the days ahead as school began. We would have lockers next to each other, the same Phys Ed class, the same homeroom, and every class in between. We would walk the same hallways. As a plus, we would be allowed to exit classes early to walk the halls and gain a sense of each day’s path.
When the Counselor stated the boy’s name, my heart relaxed. I knew this kid! Glenn was in my Boy Scout troop and we had been together for a year already. We met a few days before school started and walked the halls, found our lockers and classrooms. Being prepared in this way at least eliminated one part of our trepidation.
I had little understanding, however, of what this assignment really meant until school actually started.
Administrators were concerned for the logistics. We quickly discovered logistics was the least of our worries. Stigma is the word that comes to mind as I recall those first days. Glenn was an outcast from the get-go. Only hours into our first day and it was clear I had a choice to make. Was I going to just go through the motions of assisting him? Or was I going to be what he needed: a friend and advocate?
I really struggled with this role. There were kids I felt I wanted to impress, and being a friend to Glenn meant the opposite – or at least I thought so. There were days I had to stick up for him, talk down a group of boys making fun of him, ignore the girls laughing at us as he walked behind me in the crowded hallway like I was his bodyguard. That year was a turning point. My heart softened. There was something about Glenn’s vulnerability that pulled out the champion in me. I became much more aware of those who live along the margins.
So when I graduated from college and Seminary, my days in church ministry and public education were oriented with compassion toward those who didn’t fit in. I think I actually lost a job because I wasn’t really interested in promoting a youth culture of popularity. Rather, I sought the outcast to minister to. I learned that doing what is right it isn’t always popular. And it isn’t always profitable. But to stand with them is no less valuable and important.
Someone has to speak for the silent ones.