Hesitating to Help

When I got to the church tonight for the regular rehearsal with the Old Time Band, the person who sits in the entry hall to direct folks to whatever room their meeting is in was sitting next to a young teenager, who was leaned over, elbows on his thighs, talking into a cell. “Momma, can you come and get me? Please?”

I went into the LCF room and set up my hammered dulcimer. I was the first one there. so I checked to see if I was out of tune (I wasn’t, fortunately), and came back out to get some water before everyone else arrived. He was still there, still on the phone. He handed it to the sexton, who started giving the address of the church, and then he looked up at me. “Can you take me home?”

I hesitated, and he returned to the phone. “There’s a guy here. If he’ll bring me home, will you pay him?”

Immediately regretting my hesitation, I said, “I don’t want your money. Where do you live?” He told me and then said, “You don’t have to take me all the way in if you don’t want to.” Where he lived was a public housing project, and I guess he was anticipating my probable reaction.

“Let me get my hat,” I said, and we went out into the parking lot. We were headed to the car and I said, “Do I need to know what’s going on here or do you just want a ride?”

“Just a ride,” he said.

We made small talk on the way there, about school and how he liked football and was trying to get a summer job, and when we arrived he directed me down a dead end street, saying, “You can just let me out at the end here.” When I stopped the car, he offered me his hand, said thanks, and was gone.

I’ve been thinking about this incident ever since. 

It saddens me that I felt that hesitation when I learned where he lived. And concerns me that he didn’t want to say what was going on, how he ended up at our church early this Monday evening.

It shouldn’t have been any kind of big deal at all, should have been just like I told him when I said I didn’t want any money. “We’re supposed to help each other out. That’s how it’s supposed to work.”

But there, standing in the church lobby, just for a moment what I was thinking was whether or not to help out a kid who needed a ride. Should have been a no-brainer, but it wasn’t.

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A career working with teenagers on the fringes of society has made me both sensitive to and appreciative of the complexities of character and the struggles, inner and outer, that we all wrestle with in one form or another. My writing emphasizes character development over action, and, as a lifelong Southerner, the rhythms and cadence of the Southeastern United States influence both my spoken and written voice.

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