Romans 12:9-13 “Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good. Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other. Never be lazy, but work hard and serve the Lord enthusiastically. Rejoice in our confident hope. Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying. When God’s people are in need, be ready to help them. Always be eager to practice hospitality.”
My job at age nine was to walk down the block to Steven’s house, talk to his mother, get any special instructions, usually a recitation of safety warnings, a repetition of the week before, walk with Steven to the schoolyard within the same block, push him on the swings, bring Steven home and report to his mother how the excursion went, get paid seventy-five cents. I enjoyed it. Steven was pleasant and it gave his mother, a nurse, a well-deserved break. Steven required constant care because of his mental disability. I don’t know exactly what it was. The label, I mean. I just know that he was my age, but not attending school with me.
I walked him to the schoolyard, to the swings, like I had every week before. Steven was excited to swing. He loved to swing. And, so did I. So, I would push him over and over again, and sometimes join him on the adjacent swing, trying to teach him to stretch his legs, reach for the sky, and pump, pump your legs to keep going.
Steven could pump his legs once or twice but then he would lose track and need pushing again.
It was fun. Easy. I understood the significant responsibility I was undertaking given the somber repeated instructions each time. Watch for cars, take your time, do not rush, do not lose track of time, return home at the end of the hour. Do not divert your course, same path, same swings, same pattern.
We were swinging when they approached, blocking the sunlight with the height of the taller boys, I placed my hand against my forehead to see them better as the rays of sunlight surrounded them. Ha, ha, they laughed at Steven. Retard. Retard, they said. Mocking him, laughing. They smiled ominous wry smiles at him. And he laughed. Steven laughed. Which made them laugh louder. Which made Steven laugh louder.
Steven swinging, them laughing, mocking him, repeating his sentences, disjointed phrases really- a bird, look over there, a place, hear that, a plane, I think, a plane. Yes, Steven, a plane. See it, over there. A plane, you were right. Them repeating and laughing, meanly.
Me, trying to ignore, trying to continue our playdate. That was Steven’s perspective. Me, a friend, taking him to the swings to play. To his mother, a respite, a babysitter for one hour.
They stood menacingly, commenting to themselves, to each other, about the retard and perhaps, his retard friend. I ignored them. My face flushed. I pushed him on the swing, focused, trying to think what to do, how to proceed, going over the instructions, nothing relevant coming to mind.
They smiled and mocked, and laughed loudly, brazenly, and Steven laughed, great big, belly laughs along with them. New friends. New friends joining him at the swings to play. How great was that?! Incredible. The best day ever. A great day. A fun day of playing with many, many friends, bigger boys, big boys like him, even older than him.
The more they laughed, the more Steven laughed. The more menacing and intimidated I felt the situation was becoming, the more Steven was enjoying himself. It was a sad, sad moment for me to witness such mean behavior and such pure innocent joy. Friendship, belonging. Mockery, belittling. All the same, just different perspectives. And, I was ashamed and embarrassed at who we are and who we can be and in awe that Steven could be who he was. And, I wished I was blind like Steven. And, that good hearted, that pure, that untainted, unable to be tainted. How blessed was he, how uncomfortable was I. These older boys making me cringe and recoil, ignore, unnerved. I did not know what to say or what to do and I felt angry and frustrated that I did not know how to defend Steven. Or what that would even look like to hi m if I were capable of dissuading, chasing off his new friends.
We walked the short walk home. I relayed the events to his mother. I left her looking much older than she looked when I picked Steven up. She did not want Steven to go anymore. Perhaps because I didn’t do the right thing? What was the right thing? Letting Steven know they were mean and not friends, telling them to stop as Steven applauded with joy?
Steven was so much more than I would ever be. I knew that. Because I could see the ugliness in the world and he could not. My heart and mind will become hardened by the blackness and I will spend my lifetime fighting to regain that innocence and purity that he will hold without effort forever.
Retarded? Yes, retarded in any comprehension of the hated that no person should ever endure. Blessed? Yes, that he embraced them in laughter and joy and only had a comprehension for love and interpreting their actions as loving. If only we could all be so blessed and so retarded.
I am sad when I think about that day. Sad for me, not for him. Sad for all of us that do not view the world as he views it. And, I am blessed for knowing people like Steven, who renew my vision and wear God and love as a cloak, every single day. Steven, who only knows good, and for whom God is ever present and effortless; love, as pure, not qualified; and friendship, as the potential in everyone he meets. Much love to you, Steven. My playdate. My friend.
Hate what is wrong. Love all that is good. Hold to faith, look to hope, practice love.
James 1:27 Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.
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