Friday, February 6, 2015

My New Year's resolution is working


We've been attending the local Episcopal church more or less regularly for the past few weeks, having bid a tearful goodbye to our former parish in affluent, Caucasian, Newburyport. The race-related situations in Ferguson and NYC over the past months finalized our discernment about making the move. (You can read more about that here.) Our local church has experienced very rapid growth, due in large part to the after school programs it offers. This has helped the formerly aging, pale-faced congregation transform into one of mixed generations, races, and sexual orientations.

Particularly apparent are the kids. There are a lot of them. One young guy is a particular favorite; his round face and eager responses to the questions Mother Bearden raises during the children's sermon make him an easy object of attention. One day during coffee hour I spoke with him twice. First to comment about his shirt. The second to say that I liked his name. He's commonly known as Bubba, but his Moms think it's about time he matured into his real name: Montay. (I figured that if he was resisting the shift, a few compliments couldn't hurt.) That day he stopped, tilted his head while gazing thoughtfully at me, and said "You're nice." before turning away to do whatever he'd been on his way to do.

I was gratified by that exchange.

This past Sunday I chatted with Montay and two of his four siblings, all wrapped in coats and scarves and waiting patiently while their mom chatted with Mother Bearden.  Montay's bright green coat prompted a conversation about Ninja Turtles, which led to the Maze Runner and other related movies. The three kids tried to take turns pouring out their thoughts about characters and action, but with such exciting material, it was hard. I did my best to keep up and ask questions, and struggled to keep the various bits straight.

The youngest child in this family is autistic, and non-verbal. Every time I see her, I sing out her name when she passes by in one of her roving circles. "Jazzy-Jazz!" I sing. I've not yet tried to engage her, but I let her know that she is present to me. While I was talking with her older siblings, she grew increasingly agitated, tugging at her mom's hand and pulling her arm toward the door. Eventually, she came over and took MY hand, hoping that I'd take her out into the glorious snowy day beyond the fellowship hall's door. I'm not sure how rare a thing this is, for her to take someone's hand like that. But it made me glow on the inside. I was so honored.

Before I returned to Dolce, bearing our coats for departure, Montay threw his arms around me in a big hug. I bent over to return it, thanking him.

My New Year's resolution was to be less segregated. I think it's working.

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