Friday, August 03, 2007

Finding Peace in the Rest of the Story

I blogged several weeks ago about my birthday visit with Mike while he was in jail.

In that visit I could see through the video camera that Mike's eye was black, but I did not know why and decided at that time not to ask him. I was afraid to know, and if he wasn't interested in telling me, then I would wait until he was. Another person visited with Mike several weeks after that (his second stint in jail) and mentioned to me confidentially that once again Mike presented with a black eye. So I have wondered about that, but have waited.

In our conversation this afternoon as I was pleading with Mike to work with us, and explaining how it would really be in his own best interest to avoid further jail time, I implored, "You know, Mike, we really don't want you to spend any more time in jail or ultimately in prison. It's not a good place, you know."

In a show of bravado his response was, "Yeah, well, I could make it in prison if I had to." I decided it would not be in our best interest to continue down that line of conversation, so we moved on to more practical matters.

Later tonight as Mike and I sat eating dinner together, after mouthfuls of chicken schwarma, he pointed to the bridge of his nose and asked, "So, does my nose still look messed up?" I looked carefully and said, "Hmmm. Maybe a little. Why?"

"Cause it got broke."

"Oh. It did? How?"

"In jail."

"I guess that explains the black eye, too, huh?"

"Yeah. But I've been punched more than once. Just broke the nose one time, though."

"How did that happen?"

"I was the only white guy in the cell, and I turned the TV channel and got nailed."

"Yikes. What did [the guards] do about that?"

"Nothing. They don't care much."

"Well, Mike, I'm glad you're out now. I really don't want to see you go back."

There was no response to my comment, so once again I left it where it was, knowing that there is little I can say as a person who has spent no more than three hours in his whole lifetime in a jail, and none of those hours as an inmate. Although I say nothing to Mike, inwardly I recoil as I am reminded once again of how distressing it is to live in a culture whose only solution for someone like my organically challenged son is jail time with people two or three times his size, double his age and perhaps more developmentally advanced than Mike is at his chronological age of eighteen. It is hard for me to find inward peace knowing how many other people like Mike have aged out of the system and have no positive adult safety nets in their lives. I wonder how advanced our society really is when tens of thousands of kids will leave foster care to hit the hard, mean streets on their own.

I suspect there are many more chapters in the rest of the story of Mike's life, both in the recent past as well as in the future. And I am reminded of the unscheduled pastoral conversation I had in my office just yesterday morning with one of my recovering parishioners who, without knowing it, prepared me for my day with Mike. In our conversation, my parishioner once again shared with me just how significant the Serenity Prayer is in his life.

And tonight, as I hear bits and pieces that help me put the more complete story together, I must rely upon those words as well.

"God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference."

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