Wednesday, December 19, 2012
His chin is up, his eyes vibrant. I catch that flash of bright white teeth and my heart is full of the best of all there is. He's right here in front of us, no grainy screen, no crackly phone. He's here, the frame of a man carting around the heart of a child. He's steady and sure, deep breaths and an easy smile.
But his future dangles and I know his palms are wet.
We sit in the front row, the only kin for him, the only kin for anyone in the room. I'm nervous for him, proud of him, scared to death for him.
The Judge peers down over his frown, grumbles and grunts.
Robert stands. He speaks from his heart, quiet but clear. He speaks some of his truth and there's no more time for pride. Each word drips humility and he asks for a second chance. I never got a ball game with this one. There's never been a school play or a science fair. Can I jump up and cheer for this?
Judge pounds his fist on the stand. He knows what he did. He's heard it all before and he's sick to death of words. He's looking at the boy who I watched crazy-braid the hair of a disabled three-year old, teasing her while he worked, making her giggle while he made her even cuter. He's looking at the kid who put the neighbor kids on the bus for their first day of school because their mom didn't come home that morning. "I told 'em to have fun and listen to their teacher." He took their picture on the sidewalk with his flip phone and they ran kid-screaming to him at the end of the day so he picked them each up and twirled them around. This is who the Judge looks down at, but all he sees is a thug, so he screams "You had a second chance!" and smacks the stand again.
Oh, I'd been praying. But this is the moment my prayers get desperate.
10 years. True, he's young, but the court doesn't care. And yes, the judge read our letter, but he doesn't give a rip and how foolish can we really be?
10 years. This can't be right.
3 years in prison. 4 on house arrest. 4 probation.
I don't understand. The judge mumbles. His face is mean. I dig my nails into Cory's leg. Robert looks at his public defender and this was not what we were hoping for, was it? Is this right? Because my heart is breaking and I was praying for mercy.
The gavel bangs and here it is. It's the future now and my eyes sting.
Robert's face gives nothing away. He stands, turns around, gives us one more look that I'll spend hours decoding.
I knew I wouldn't cry, so why am I sobbing in my car? I call my mom and cry my eyes out, then cry harder when she cries, too.
Our company comes over so I forget about it for a while and eat beef tacos and pumpkin roll.
We tuck the kids into bed and Cory heads out for the jail while I stay home, knowing there's a reason, trying to make sense of things, forcing out thoughts of that documentary I watched about prison gangs, counting the minutes until Cory comes home and repeats every single word that was said.
I should know by now that I get a lot of this stuff dead wrong. It should have at least crossed my mind that Robert thinks the news is good.
This child who raised himself, who never believed in God, who knew abandonment more than security, abuse more than love, this child knows mercy when he sees it. He understands justice and its worth. (He also knows more about the system than we do, so he knows that 3 years is actually more like 18 months.)
He has chosen, once again, to fling himself recklessly into the heart of God, a place he's just now getting to know. It could be much worse and the truth is, he's a hopeless optimist, so he smiles and laughs and jokes with Cory about his "Mom" (that'd be me) sitting at home crying for her big kid. He says to tell me not to worry. It's gonna be alright.
Who knows where he'll go when they take him, but he's sure we'll come along. He's let himself believe us.
This boy teaches me all over again about unconditional love and my fundamental need for grace. He reminds me that my worst moment doesn't define me. He shows me how to bend low to rise above.
He's ours. We're his.
In it to the end.
Bright-smiling thankful every single hour for the gift of all he is.