We were just getting ready for our daily walk to the post office, Goldie and I were at the corner of Meyer and Center Street in Kyle; it was late in the day, about 3:30 and a yellow school bus was rounding the corner. I looked up into the window and I thought the young man sitting there waved at me, so being a good neighbor, I waved back.
We continued on our walk to the post office and it dawned on me that he wasn’t waving at me after all; he was giving me the middle finger salute! For the rest of the walk I pondered what would lead that young man to reply to my friendliness with such hostility.
My first thought that he was no fan of the Chicago White Sox because I was wearing that baseball cap. I realized that was a little far-fetched, but then he being angry at me for no reason was pretty far-fetched as well.
Then I thought, maybe it was his comment on the state of education in the school system; I mean there’s always something wrong with how we’re trying to prepare our young people for the future; and it would seem that precious few people are asking for or taking anything he might say about how he would like to be educated seriously.
It certainly had something to do with his difficulty dealing with authority, because well, I’m older than he is, and being a teenager, it’s his job to think we’re all full of green cheese. And in a way, I’m a safe target because he didn’t know me, he knew he would never see me again, and well, if it made him feel better, if briefly, then I’m willing to suffer those “slings and arrows.”
The easiest explanation is also the hardest as well. The easiest explanation is that he just had a pretty rotten day; I know, spending a whole day confined at school can feel like prison, especially if you’re not doing very well. I get that too.
But here’s the hard part. He’s angry about it, and has no way to channel that anger, has no one he can trust who will really listen to what the problem is or how to fix it. Anger can make you crazy, make you do dumb things, things he might soon regret. And unless someone, a parent, a coach or a teacher, picks up on that anger and helps him redirect it, then we’re all in trouble. One of the best ways to redirect that anger is with an interested third party, someone who’s a safe place to take all that anger. I choose to do that by mentoring. I hope that my relationship with a young man may help him as he grows into adulthood to make better choices, to invest in his life the way I’m investing in his. That’s just one way, and all it costs me is an hour a week, which seems very small for a possible return of a life well lived. If you’d like to help affect the life of a young person contact Angie Mendez at the HaysCISD, who will fit you with a young person whose life you can help shape for a future full of hope.
Mark W Stoub is a retired Presbyterian minister, author of Blood Under the Altar and the forthcoming Fire in the Blood.