A Real-Life Happy Ending… in Progress!
We hear a lot of negative stories in the world and fight a lot of negativity in our daily lives. I believe a “good story” is always welcome.
Today, I would like to tell you a bit more about my former student, Carl. I had Carl as a third-grader, ten years ago. He had a rough time in my class, but we eventually became buddies.
We bonded after a specific incident with his mom. She called me after school one day regarding a behavior notice I had sent home with Carl. He was LOUD! (I always told him his voice would someday be a great asset as a preacher or a sportscaster, but it had to be contained in the classroom.) He also threw furniture regularly. I don’t recall for sure, but I bet the behavior notice was about another flying chair.
His mother’s phone call, however, helped me understand why he was so angry; his mom was clearly drunk. Carl told his mom that I was picking on him and that the situation described on the behavior notice was not true. He lied to her. But, considering her state, I couldn’t blame him.
She fired all kinds of threats at me and was still yelling when I politely hung up, saying I would talk to her at another time, in the presence of the school principal. The next morning, Carl hid in an alcove in the hallway, afraid to come in the classroom and face me. When I approached, he started cowering further and crying. I assured him, “Carl, I’m not mad. I understand why you had to lie. It’s okay. I understand.” With that, he jumped out of his hiding place and lunged at me with a hug. A very long hug! The poor kid cried all day long. It was heartbreaking. But, I also think it was healing for him, too.
As time went on, I discovered that a large part of his anger was over his father…or lack of father. His brother was only one year older and had a different father, who was an active member of his brother’s life. Consequently, Carl carried around a hefty burden, constantly feeling, “What is wrong with me?” I had a talk with him one day at recess about how some adults are idiots and that his father was the one who made a bad decision, not him. I told him my Godson was his age, his father left him before he was born, and his father was the one who was the jerk, not my Godson.
After recess, Carl immediately went to my desk and looked at all of the pictures on my blotter, asking if one was a picture of my Godson. Sure enough, there was a picture of him, his brother, and me riding in the back of pick-up truck with our arms around each other, the wind blowing our faces sideways, and huge smiles on our faces. Carl looked at that picture and said, “Wow! He looks like a good kid!” I replied, “He is. Just like you.” Carl went back to his seat with a big smile on his face. (Picture George Jefferson with a satisfied smile, slowly sauntering back to his seat…)
The very next day at recess, Carl had somehow managed to gather a group of other kids around him and they appeared to be chatting casually. This was rather unusual since it was one of the first nice spring days so I expected them to be playing and running around. I approached and overheard Carl talking to them. Interestingly, I realized that all of the kids in this group were father-less, as well. But I heard Carl say, “I DO have a father…” and I thought, “What in the world is he talking about?!?!?” Then I heard him explain, “God is my father. He looks after me all of the time…”
Wow! I stepped aside to let that conversation take its natural course. 🙂 I later discovered that Carl had transformed a notebook I had given him into a prayer journal. That eight-year-old kid had written more profound prayers than I could ever imagine myself!
At the end of that school year, I was transferred to another building. I attempted to keep in touch with Carl via letters, but that was a challenge.
Fast forward ten years from that time to one day this past November when I randomly thought about Carl again. I instantly ran to my computer and found him on Facebook. I sent him a message, asking him to send me an update when he had time. This is the response I received:
Omg i cannot believe this is happening! 🙂 everything is good with me. I am at oakland university now. A freshman 🙂 there is soooo much that has gone on! I am so surprised that you even remember me. I am 18 now and i have had a share of ups and downs. No children. Working at sagebrush in royal oak, also where i graduated from.. … Um i dont know what else to say haha
A week later, I met Carl for lunch and we talked for hours. I asked him to elaborate on his “ups and downs.” Fortunately, he shared some very significant “ups”: He was captain of his high school football team and brought his team to playoffs for the first time in years. He is in college now, after many people told him he would never make it. (Shame on them!) He talked fondly of friends that help him and he’s optimistic about the future. His optimism, alone, is quite remarkable!
His primary “down” is that his mother is now very ill. She is blind and only has 17% function in her kidneys. Carl is her primary caretaker.
Another challenge he faces is that he does not have a car and must walk or take a bus to get anywhere.
In some areas, that may be feasible, but here in Detroit, public transportation is almost non-existent. To get to his 8:00 AM class in the morning, he has to wake-up at 5:00 and walk several blocks to catch the 6 AM bus (the only route that will get him to school on time). To get home, he has a 1.5-mile walk from the bus stop. He walks 3.5 miles to his job. Let me tell you, winter has arrived here in Michigan and those walks have got to be brutal!
Rest assured, I am working with him to help him, but he is proud of his self-sufficiency and very resistant to the help. Nonetheless, we are finding little ways to provide support and won’t let him fall off our radar.
Ironically, however, as I sat down at my computer to write today’s post (and wondering what in the world I felt like writing about today), I got a text message from Carl. He was having a bad day. It turns out that he tried to connect with his father on Facebook and his father has not acknowledged him. It was really bumming him out. I called him back and we had a nice conversation. Carl just needed a listening ear. He said, “I’m just bummed and I’m finding it really hard to work on school work when I feel so bad. I kinda feel like that balance…you know the one, the symbol for justice…I’m like that part in the middle with my arms stretched out, trying to balance work on one side and family and relationships on the other.”
“Carl,” I said, “you just described that perfectly. That is life…a constant balancing act. But, being aware of that balance is giving you more strength than you know right now. You’ll be okay.”
We hung up shortly thereafter and I turned back to my computer. Suddenly, I knew what I was going to write about!