Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Why We Walk to School

Some days, he waits, lingering near the back-packed kids waiting to file into the building and do what you do when you're six or ten years old and it's a weekday. He's always there early, and we tend to show up when the line is already up the stairs and bent sharply toward the sidewalk, but sometimes he stalls, especially if he's got news.

I kiss Silas smack on the lips once, twice, and he whispers in my ear, "I'm going to try to get 100% today!" then runs off with Ruby, their breath collecting in a cloud between them.

It's November, and it finally looks that way.

Most of our walk to school was spent in the streets because for a week now, our dutiful neighbors have been raking and blowing leaves into neat piles along the curb. They're shin-high now, and few things are more enticing to little kids than kicking them along as we go. "Don't kick the leaves! Any day now, they'll come and sweep them up."

Any day.

Half a mile up the road, a crew of men work on the railroad crossing that used to zip into downtown - a straight shot from here to there. For reasons related to city planning and traffic flow, the crossing has been closed for nearly a year and I miss it every day. It's just one more way to be forgotten, if you ask me. One more reason to make hard lives harder. Things I used to see as little, or even negligible, are growing now. There are plenty of reasons to sweat the small stuff.

They fire their equipment up and though we're too far to see what they're doing, it echos against November air while the ground crunches beneath us. Silas holds my hand and says, "It sounds like someone is growling. It sounds like GOD is growling!"

"What do you think might make God growl, guys? Anything?"

I thought they might say God doesn't growl, but they don't. Instead, they think God gets growly when we disobey, or when people choose to not follow Him. I tell them I think those things make God sad, but I think He saves His growling for injustice, which is a big word for small people.

It turns out, they're hard-wired to understand.

"That's like the picture I have on my wall!"

"That's like the time Andrea kicked me off the trampoline for saying bad words and I said, 'Please, can I have another chance?' and she said, 'No way!'"

Calvin is largely silent, more worried about his mystery hip ailment and the fact that his mom is singing, "Act justly! Love mercy! Walk humbly with your God!" while his friends might be in ear-shot.

Mercy means giving a second chance.
Walking humbly means we know we can't do good without God.

We cross the busy street, say our goodbyes, and my friend hustles over. "Man, I'm tired."

"Same here" I say, in solidarity. This is typical Monday-morning fare. He's a hard worker, and he likes to sing karaoke across town.

Here's the rest of the truth: before this year, I assumed he didn't work. I took stock, maybe felt sorry for him, and made unfair assumptions that were damaging both to him as a person, and to our capacity to live as friends.

All the while, he's been taking care of business on a low-budget, fast-food income, grabbing side jobs wherever he can find them.

I should know better by now.

I have dealt my own sort of injustice.
I have granted pity when mercy and humility would have been better, simpler choices.

"I worked two jobs this weekend. Two jobs! Man, I'm extra tired." He beams while he says this, his face lit up in blazing contrast to his words.

He's washing dishes now, making nine bucks an hour now. "Can you believe that?!" He'll get insurance. He'll get to put his two weeks notice in at the other job.

We shuffle along in the decaying leaves while I pass out "Good for you!"'s  and one solid high-five. It's all I have to offer but most of all, the only thing he needed.

I walk to school with my kids because I love holding their hands and talking with them, unrushed.
I walk because my body is almost 40, and moving it isn't a bad thing.

I walk to school because my neighbors do, and after two years of hopping into our heated van every morning and driving to the drop-off line, I'm understanding my privilege and the ways it undermines my place as a neighbor.

I walk to school because these familiar sidewalks are inviting me into unfamiliar spaces, and because the road to community is a slow one, paved with ordinary repetition.

We can't all walk to school, and I know there's nothing particularly magical or extra-Christian about it. But we can all find our lane, whatever it happens to be, and commit to staying in it for the long haul, or until God says otherwise.

He waits for us to notice Him in the faces around us.
This is who I am. This is how I love you.

*You can follow along as we walk to school each morning on Instagram or Facebook.