Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Barbecue Sauce and a Side of Hope

Yesterday, I posted about hope and my search for it for even just 51 minutes at a time.  I kept the same prayer today.

At around 12:15, God laughed.

I spent more time this afternoon in the hallway, correcting behavioral choices than I did in my classroom, teaching English.

I cried. Twice. In front of my supervisors.  Two of them.

I don't know that there's any other job in the world that this is okay.  I'm not sure it's even okay in my job, but good Lord, it was kind of cleansing.  And bonding.  It's nice to know you're not alone, and there comes a moment where you'll welcome anyone into your life raft -- supervisor, colleague, parent, bum on the street -- as long as they're willing to pick up an oar.  And let's get real, I will shed a tear (or a laugh) with practically anyone.

The conversation with one of them didn't end on such a positive note.  The bell rang, and we were off to take care of the 1,000,001 responsibilities that awaited each of us.  It was a sad day anyway, and then I'd left her with perhaps my most awful and heartbreaking student story.  My bad, y'all.

I can't write about the real news of the day.  Even with the passing of 12 years, I have a hard time thinking and talking about that time.  So, on the way home, I tried to think about a positive moment that I never dreamed possible.  I actually have far more good stories than bad, but this is my favorite.

Three years ago, I had just finished basketball practice and stopped at a local barbecue place to pick up some dinner before heading back home to Fort Worth.  As I gave my order on the creaky old speaker system, I heard a long pause before it was read back to me.

Finally (and timidly)... "Coach Naz?  Is that YOU?!"

I began looking around for a hidden camera, or maybe the face of God.

"Ummm... yes.  Yes, it is.  May I ask who I am speaking to?"

The reply?  "Oh, you'll see!"

Dear God.  As I sat behind several cars, I started coming up with alternative places to go grab dinner rather than take my chances with some "saliva enhanced" chopped beef.  

When I got to the window, a face popped out at me.  Immediately, I knew exactly who was on the other end of the speaker.  She'd been in 7th grade twice, ran a gang, beat up half the boys at school, and a list of various other (much more serious) offenses.  I can clearly remember where she sat in my room (both years) and how long it took for me to build up enough trust to allow me to just sit next to her and help her with her homework.  I remembered how many times she had promised she would change and how many times she had failed at that too.  I remembered how, in so very few moments, she would let down her defenses and just smile or laugh, and for a split second, I could see who she might have become if the world had not already overcome her at age 13.

And here she was, handing me a Diet Coke, waiting for me to recognize her.  And she was smiling.  She was smiling that same smile.

"How'd you know it was me without even looking?" I asked.

"You yelled at me, coached me, followed me down the halls, and talked to me every day for 3 years.  I will NEVER forget your voice."

I laughed, and she filled me in on her 19 year old life.  There were more face piercings and tattoos than I would have recommended, but she had graduated, stayed out of trouble, and held down a job for an entire year.  There aren't many moments I'm more proud of than that 2 minutes in a barbecue drive-through. Those 120 seconds bring me a lot of hope when I feel most defeated.  I wouldn't trade those 3 years and 2 minutes for even the most peaceful days in my career.

I don't know where that crazy girl is these days.  Hopefully, she's still smiling and staying out of trouble.  And maybe even hearing my voice, cheering her on, when she least expects it.

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