The journey to acceptance of difference starts with simple presence, it starts with familiarity, it starts with understanding. Marty and I started that process with young people who matter to us.
I taught Sunday school for several years. From the time our son Matt was in high school until daughter Erin graduated I taught their Sunday school classes. It was the best way to ensure that the three of us got up and went to church, it seemed right.
In those years of teaching I rarely went long without being taught, without learning more about my own faith than I could ever impart to 15 year olds who mostly came for the donuts.
It’s still the same, the more I think I know, the more I want to educate, the more I find out from those around me.
After Marty and I had met with the youth of our church I walked out of the church refreshed, optimistic and feeling renewed. Marty had risen above her natural self consciousness and apprehension and had listened and talked. She was involved, funny and, well, Marty, confined yet not defined by her circumstance.
Those kids listened, they turned their young minds to us, they paid attention, and more importantly they moved beyond the tendency of focusing on self. They focused on Marty and her life and I think they got to know her just a little; they got to know Marty as I know her.
I don’t know if they heard everything I was saying, it doesn’t matter if they heard everything, they clearly heard some things and they were attentive to Marty and maybe, just a little, tried to get into her head and her life.
We talked about Marty; we talked about our life, our old normal, our new normal, our faith, and our lack thereof, or more precisely, my lack thereof. Marty has never wavered in her faith in a higher power, in fact, her faith has only gotten stronger. She was always stronger than me.
I pointed out to these young minds how they are connected to Marty and how Marty is forever connected to our church, the people in the church and in particular the young people in our church. I told them about Marty’s work with the youth program and how the program was stronger and how Marty was stronger for her efforts.
I talked about Marty and how serious she took her commitments and that one of those commitments was to our children and the children our church. I talked about how important the baptismal promise was to Marty, that when she committed to helping them with their faith at their baptism, she meant it and that was part of why she was committed to the youth that came before them and why, even interrupted, she was committed to the young people who were in the room with her that night.
They listened politely with very few yawns and no cell phones, they listened. They asked questions, they asked good questions, they asked questions about feelings and faith, they asked questions about doubt and anger, they asked questions about simple living and dealing with fear and dying. They were good questions that they directed not just at me but at Marty…..and of course Marty rose to the occasion and answered.
At the end they all wrote affirmations, small notes on small cards for Marty, for me, small words of encouragement and wisdom from those so young. It’s a ritual of our youth program and other youth programs that you leave these meetings with words of faith, love and encouragement. I’ve felt the love of young people before, it’s still there, it’s still powerful, it still means a lot.
The affirmations expressed kindness, empathy and a very simple wisdom, an understanding of what makes a whole person. One was a drawing, a simple drawing that very neatly captured what we all want to believe about ourselves.
We started our journey with these young fertile minds that Sunday evening. Any journey starts with steps, this one started with being in each other’s presence and listening and talking and learning.
I am moved by the openness, I am a captive of the compassion of those so young. It is encouraging for our life.