Photoshopping History

With today’s photography tools, my face can be replaced with yours. If a blemish appears, it can be retouched. If the flowers look bedraggled, I can renew them with digital fresh flowers.

Recently after the hanging of an exhibit of historical church photos, my friends and I saw that blackface masks were decorating the back wall in one picture. The 1960’s photograph is of a band called the Pantomime Band or PB. Two men are in drag, with faces painted like mimes. Musicians and singers are wearing red stripped blouses and shirts. They have skimmers on their heads. The PB Band possibly didn’t actually play their instruments but pretended, or mimed, using recorded music.

The purpose of the band was playful, innocuous, designed as a fun way to kick off a church campaign for annual pledges. They only “played” for two nights.

“Is that Lenny in drag?” Asked my friend. Eighty-eight years old, she remembers people who have long since departed. ‘

“Look, there’s Joe!” Said someone.

“No, that can’t be Joe. That’s Joe’s dad.”

The band’s photograph, resized and enhanced, had been touched many times, framed by the members of the church art board, and hung. No one had said anything about the five small masks in the picture—until after every photo had been hung and workers were cleaning up.

“That’s black face! You can’t hang this! You’ve got to take it down!”

I backed up. I think I said, “Noooo” as in “We can’t remove this photo; it’s necessary” mixed with “Oh no, how did I miss that. Let’s photoshop it.”

I don’t think he heard me. “Look, we have to take this one down. It’s black face,” he called out.

“What is it?” Asked my venerable friend, followed by a cacophony of five voices in unison.

“Oh no! It has to come down/Photoshop it out/It will have to come down/I didn’t see it/You can’t have this up/People will be upset/What will we do?/Take it down!”

“I’ll do it,” said a photographer.

“What?”

“Photoshop it, erase them.”

And so, it was done. The digital photo with its masks on the wall was “shopped” and reprinted and placed over the original photo in its frame on the wall.

What are the philosophical implications of erasing historical documentation, even in a local photo?

In the 1960s’s in the United States, Martin Luther King and others were insisting on equal protection under the law, an end to separate but equal. An awakening of sensitivity to racism was on the rise, but probably not to the level to cause a small group at a Kentucky church to realize that black face as a stage decoration would offend viewers forty years later.

My husband joked, “I’m bothered by men in drag. I want those two queens erased.” We laughed. But men dressed in drag, pretending to be queens, could offend a transgender person, as in They were making fun of me and my people—Even if dressing in drag was considered comical at the time in the 60’s when transgender people were usually hidden and commonly ridiculed, before the rainbow movement arose, before people understood being gay or transgender to be a biological, natural fact of life.

Our collective memory of making fun of queer people cannot be erased, anymore than our memory of symbols of latent racial insensitivity like black face masks, separate water fountains, and the back of the bus.

A divorcee, resenting the over-large family portrait above her mantle, glued Abraham Lincoln’s face over her ex-husband’s face. We are amused by her act of defiance. She knows she had children with the man, ate breakfast with him, argued over the thermostat, put away his shoes. Covering his face emphasizes the irony of her situation.

It is impossible to know the inside story behind the masks in the Pantomime Band photograph since the only record we have is the original photograph of friends having a jolly good time pretending to be a band for a Christian fundraiser. They might have looked for mime masks but instead found black face ones. Hanging them was an Oh well what the heck choice.

History can be redacted, rewritten, omitted from new editions. Would an erasure be misunderstood, over time? Our photoshopped photo, with its masks removed sits on top of the original. It will be discovered someday. Someone might notice and be puzzled. Would the truth matter?

Maybe in 2019 the church didn’t want to advertise its 1960’s insensitivities. Or maybe someone objected to the black face masks. Either option could be true. Would one option be more acceptable than the other? Imagine someone thinking, They were ashamed of their racism, when in actuality five people feared black face masks in the original photograph would disturb a parishioner or visitor. To erase was a politically correct move, which might be interpreted as morally objectionable by a historian. The erasure choice is sensible within one context, but possibly disturbing and misunderstood in another situation and time.

If the image erased had been two water fountains side by side, one labeled “White” and the other “Colored” as if to erase our shame for waiting so long to come to our senses, someone would have said, “You can’t do that!”

Irony in history is like oxygen—everywhere.

A Nutty Season

Beginning in late autumn, walnuts blanket our lawns and flower beds with rotting black mushy balls the size of lemons. In June the nuts sprout under shrubs and in the grass like sneaky aliens. That is, IF the nuts are left undisturbed.

At our place, a mature black walnut tree spreads high and wide just off our deck along a fence line; another marks the front edge of our property and the entrance to our driveway. In the hot summer the trees give welcome shade. They also infect our soil with juglone, a chemical poisonous to most flowers, vegetables, and shrubs, even pine trees.

Sitting on our deck in June, a friend praised the back yard’s black walnut. “That is a gorgeous tree!” Graceful, extravagant, enormous, the tree survived a property line clean-out 30 years ago. When we couldn’t grow tomatoes within 50 feet of it, we moved the tomatoes. When a pine shrub died, we replaced it with a juniper. Zinnias instead of petunias. Hydrangeas instead of azaleas. We have definitely accommodated the tree.

In early November when we walk across the lawn and our feet roll and twist on freshly fallen nuts, we begin their removal. After filling a wheelbarrow with nuts, we cart them 200 yards to the back tree line where squirrels dine. We have been doing this for years, even though as we age and lose cells, the trees grow and gain cells, thus producing ever more nuts.

Two days ago, we finally finished tossing nuts into trash barrels, carting off nuts to squirrel piles, rolling up nuts, raking nuts, digging out nuts, driving over nuts.

We could hire someone to pick up the nuts or even to cut down the trees. So why are we still doing our own nut removal? Because we can is the simplest answer, but there is more to the story.

It’s about respect. The trees are prolific, provident.

It’s about cooperation, with each other and the trees. After all, walnuts fall only for two weeks while we have enough energy and will to rid ourselves of them, over time, an hour here, an hour there.

It’s about responsibility and reciprocity. The trees shade us, cool our yard, clean our air. In the deep woods, the walnuts could remain in place on the ground, but we have an artfully landscaped yard which requires consideration.

It’s about participation and attention. The trees participate in growing and giving naturally, without debate or analysis. They nourish and replenish. Tending to them and their fruit engages us.

This extended metaphor about black walnuts is intended to remind us how best to honor life, celebrate faith, practice peace, and acknowledge each other and our natural world with respect and kindness.

Seasons Greetings, Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas, Happy Hannukkah, Blessings and Peace—Within these phrases are foundations of respect, cooperation, responsibility, reciprocity, and participation; repetitive allusions to deliverance and salvation; reminders of celebratory events, generosity, and renewal. Even if used carelessly, the phrases maintain their foundational intention.

There is a natural order to trees, life, and meaning, which begs our attention and care, even when we are distracted by disruptions and challenges. We respond, perhaps not joyfully, but tenderly, deliberately, faithfully, gratefully, patiently, because we can, because we must. We are more than ourselves. We all are.

New Mercies I See

You, God, have delivered me from death, my eyes from tears, and my foot from stumbling, so I’ll walk before the Lord in the land of the living. —Psalm 116:8-9

I’m surprised to find myself living still. When I was forty, I wondered how long I would have and how I would use that time. Circumstances had alerted me. I had been delivered from death, tears, and stumbling. Now what? I can’t say that I actually made a conscious list of goals, but I certainly was choosing a deliberate direction to walk before the Lord in the land of the living.

I learned to recognize God at work in my life—everyday—in communion with others. In my home love bloomed; with friends laughter and work flourished; in teaching love soothed adolescent behavior; reminders of god’s covenant spread like water.

Life was simpler than I had believed, made simpler by God’s presence in my beginning thoughts, my daily choices, my reactions.

Don’t misunderstand me. I’ve made mistakes, ridiculous ones. I have had my share of shameful moments. Intemperate outbursts. Painful and confusing sidetracks. Oops, try not to do that again! What is wrong with you, woman?! Get a grip!

Recently, one afternoon I was loading a cart of groceries into the trunk of my car. I was bone tired, overheated, thirsty. I needed to return my cart. Which way was faster, the front door of Kroger’s or the cart return in the parking lot?

A woman with two grandchildren was approaching. The children, dressed in school clothes, playfully pushed their grocery cart. The grandmother must have noticed my fatigue.

“Verona, take this woman’s cart back to the store for her.”

The sweet child, her hair in plaits, smiled and said, “Yes ma’am.”

“Watch the cars, now.” The cart was almost as tall as the child. A truck waited.

It was an ordinary act, simple, gracious, kind. God in the living.

I’m grateful to be among the living, to have witnessed love enacted in a Kroger parking lot. It reminded me again how our job as Christians is to see God at work in the world here and now and to join in that work. I like walking with the Lord here – in the land of the living.

Morning by morning new mercies I see.

Maya

I’m wondering what Maya thinks of Ayanna Presley’s win in Massachusetts with the propelling message, “Change can’t wait.”

Maya sat in a front row seat in my junior English class. She carried herself gracefully, artfully downplaying her natural beauty with jeans and tee shirts, her colorful bracelets hinting at the sparkle behind her conservative front.

Maya wasn’t a girl to be ignored. If she did poorly on an assignment, she’d stay after class with questions. Could she do another assignment to practice what she had missed? She was determined to improve.

Her reading journal hinted of deep fears, trouble at home, barriers of poverty and insecurity. She wrote that the only way to improve one’s situation was through education and association with good people. However normal that sounds, for her it was an imperative that couldn’t wait.

One day she asked if she could meet with me privately. Apparently something I had written in her journal had caused her to trust me. “I have to barricade my sister and myself in my room at home. My mom’s cousin won’t leave us alone.”

Imagine delaying going home by participating in after school sports and tutoring, taking the bus home, grabbing something to eat and using the bathroom before “he” shows up, and then pushing furniture against the bedroom door. Those were the circumstances under which Maya had done homework and slept ever since she had entered puberty, three years earlier. Now she felt she had to protect her sister as well.

Near the end of the school year when counselors came to our classrooms to enroll students in classes for the next school year, Maya asked me to recommend her for AP English, a demanding course of literature taught by an exceptional teacher, Anne Padilla. Maya was underprepared for AP English. I tried to dissuade her.

“Was AP English the best course in the department?”

“Yes, but…”

“Then that’s where I need to be.”

I spoke to Mrs. Padilla. “She’s not prepared but she wants the challenge. It will mean extra work for her and you. She might fail.”

My colleague was known for her compassion and her high standards. I was prepared to disappoint Maya, but instead, after Mrs. Padilla agreed to take her, I returned with “You’re in. She will accept you based on your willingness to do your best.”

Which is exactly what happened. Maya entered with a deficit in composition skills and passed the class, graduating with the kind of personal achievement not measured by standardized testing.

Maya went to our local university. Beyond that, she faded into the community. Like almost all my students, she exists in my memory as an adolescent. I would like to think that when she heard about Ms. Presley’s winning the democratic nomination in Massachusetts, she nodded and thought, “Yes, ma’am. Change can’t wait.”

Tasha

She was hefty and noisy.  Definitely Imposing. That was my first impression.  Exactly who was going to be in charge?  Her or me?

Her followers established a tight perimeter in seats around her.  Uh huh.  Uh huh. Yes ma’am.  But no ma’am. I ain’t gonna read no books, no ma’am.  I ain’t never read a book in my life. Ain’t gonna start now!  No ma’am.

To Queen Tasha, the aggressive guard of the girls’ basketball team, all space was like a basketball court.  There were her teammates, her coach, and her opponents. Her job was to protect her teammates, advance the ball, and outflank her opponents. Believe me when I say she didn’t exactly think of me as her coach.

Her basketball coach, a firm supporter of academics, was a no-nonsense gal who also taught math.  I walked alongside Coach J after lunch one day.

“If Tasha refuses to read books in my class, she will fail English III.”

”Oh, she’ll read the books, all right, or lose court time,” she promised. “I will speak with her.”

My next move was to find a book that she would like.  In the library was a worn out paperback about a female professional basketball player who had come up through poverty, broken free of a family drug culture, and become a powerful figure on the court in high school and college, and built a professional career as a player and coach.  The star’s miraculous story included the touching rescue of her little brothers, whom she raised.

I placed the book on shelves with other books available for independent reading.  Would she find it?

On book selection day, I did my usual introduction and turned the students loose in the room to browse through books.  I struggled to be casual, hanging around to answer questions and give encouragement, alert, however, to what Tasha was doing.

She had left her desk and was picking through books as if they were slimy slugs.  Then she paused.  In her hand was the worn out paperback I had planted among newer books.  She was taking it to her desk.  One of her friends was also interested in the book, but competitive Queen Tasha wasn’t about to part from it.  “You can read it when I finish.”  When I sent the sign up sheet around, she wrote the book’s title next to her name.

Signing up for a book isn’t exactly reading.  We wouldn’t know until later if she was actually reading it.

Two days later, Tasha burst into the classroom waving the book.  “This is the best book ever!  Do you know what this girl did!?”

She didn’t want to do anything in class except read her book — a new issue.  I left her alone, because not participating in independent reading would insure failure, whereas not participating in short classroom exercises would only lower her average, not fail her.  Perhaps if she turned into a willing reader, she would take an interest in other activities.

In writing a personal narrative, she struggled to find the words to show how, when she was five years old, social services and the police had taken her and her three siblings from their mother one night.  Like other non-readers, she could express herself freely aloud but not on paper.

“Let’s give your story time to develop,” I suggested. “You can add to it and revise it over time.”

Soon Queen Tasha was quieting the classroom.  One look from her and the strutting mac-daddy’s would straighten up.  She brooked no nonsense from her friends.  “Show respect!”  She’d say to them.  My classroom discipline problems were being solved by the very student who had attempted a take over.

With every book she read, she discovered more language.  She practiced sentences.  She bragged about her new vocabulary. She learned to code switch from black English vernacular to standard English.

Tasha finished English III with an A.  She joined a school leadership team, she applied to college, she excelled on the court.

Imagine her happy and warm, not angry; progressive, not defensive.  To be hugged by her was to be completely enveloped, her enthusiasm like a down comforter.

In college, she continued her leadership roles.  “I’m going to be a teacher,” she said.  And so she did.

Addy

One afternoon I received a phone call from the office.  “Mrs. Simmons, a former student, Addy…wishes to see you.  May I send her back?” 
Addy? Oh my! I thought. Really? Addy from my junior and senior English classes.  That Addy!
I rose from my desk to open my locked door.   There was Addy with a chubby blonde toddler in her arms. 
“Mrs. Simmons, this is my boy Johnny.”
“Johnny, this is the lady who taught me to read so I could read books to you.”
“Please come in.  We have lots to talk about.”
Indeed!  Three years had passed since I had first met Addy, one of my most remarkable students, not for what she knew but for what she gained. 
Here is the story I have to tell about Addy.
*********
Addy slipped quietly into a desk in an outside row near my desk.  Wearing jeans and a tan crew neck tee, she was short and sturdy with dirty blonde hair pulled into a ponytail. In a crowd she could have been easily missed, overlooked or dismissed. 
Each year on the first day of class students entered, one after the other, usually selecting a desk near a friend. I studied their entrances: who was friend to whom, who was shy, who was boisterous, who seemed confident, who didn’t have an obvious friend?  Addy spoke to no one.
Prior to opening day, I had checked the school data base for pictures of my students, studied their state test scores, and read through their disciplinary records.  Addy’s record was blank except for her recent enrollment date. 
Records for new students are obtained from their prior schools.  When Addy’s record finally arrived, it indicated poor school attendance and spotty state test scores.  She was missing high school credits because of failing grades.  
She was certainly earnest, recording all assignments in her weekly calendar and turning in each assignment on time.  Each assignment was perfectly presented as required: Name, date, and  identified from the appropriate page of a book or worksheet — except the content she wrote didn’t follow directions.  Words were spelled accurately but were unrelated to the objective. I tried verbal teaching, asking and listening aloud.  The results were the same: name, date, assignment identity, unrelated words or blank stares.
I created increasingly simple exercises and goals for her.  What was her baseline?   Could she spell simple words if she heard them.  Yes.  Could she write a sentence, a paragraph?  No.  What could she read?  I noticed that when I gave her the same assignments her neighbors received, her responses were better than on independent assignments. That’s when I caught onto her surreptitious copying.  
Independent reading was an essential program in all my classes.  Students selected a book to read each quarter, kept a reading journal, took quizzes, and did independent projects based on an idea or theme promoted by the book. Obviously Addy would not be able to read a book.
What exactly was her reading disability?  Maybe she had learned reading skills in broken, interrupted pieces, like when we sleep through parts of a movie.  We would know how the movie began but wouldn’t know how to connect the middle to the ending. 
“Tell me, Addy, about your first school,”  I asked one day during a tutoring session.
“It was in Wheelwright. First grade.  Daddy got laid off and we moved.  He left to go for work in West Virginia and Momma and me and my brothers moved in with Granny.”
“And where did you go to school next.”
“I missed a lot of second grade.  My granny got sick and my momma had to work so I stayed home with Granny.”
“So you were kind of in and out of school for awhile?”
“Yeah.  A lot. We moved around.  Momma would need me at home.  And I was sickly. I missed school.  I kept askin’ to go, but Momma said I had to stay home.”
“This happens sometimes,” I said. 
When parents move, there can be major gaps before their child is reenrolled in school.  Sometimes, the child is needed at home to care for an ailing relative.  Sometimes, a parent wants to keep the child at home for chores or comfort.  Or the parent is keeping one step of eviction orders.  All of these disruptions in education had happened to Addy.
I didn’t ask Addy if she could read.  I said, “Reading is like solving a jigsaw puzzle.  If some of the pieces are missing, the puzzle cannot be solved.  Let’s find the missing pieces for your puzzle.”  
She could have said, “I can already read.  I don’t need help.”  But she didn’t.  Her face brightened.  “Can we do that!?”
We plunged ahead, beginning with books published for readers of a second language, as if she were beginning a new language.  Her progress was remarkable, probably because she was definitely filling in missing pieces of a verbal puzzle.  She would polish off one level, and begin another, and then another.  
At the end of the year, she presented a project to her classmates about non-readers and told her story.  The class responded with genuine applause.  My eyes watered.
When school started the next year, she happily announced her pregnancy.  In her family teen pregnancy was common, even celebrated.  She had plans.  She and the boyfriend would marry, get an apartment, take turns working and finishing school.  Her mamma would live with them.  Indeed, she remained in school and graduated as the first of her family to receive a high school diploma.
* * *
That a high school student might advance two grades forward without requisite reading skills may seem inconceivable.  It is rare but it does happen.  
Teachers learn to recognize the clues: misbehavior meant to distract a class from its work and throw the teacher off track; boycotting the work in order to gain parental support for withdrawing from school; copying work by other students; using listening skills to gain information; bribing others to do his/her work.  
In Addy’s case, she was polite, considerate, and diligent.  Even if she could only write her name and the date, she always turned “her work” in on time.  I suspected Addy had copied enough work to slip through the system.  
I bet you are still thinking, But how!? This is so wrong!
A student may have been recommended for exceptional education services but the parents to avoid the label of a “special education” objected.   The child would then develop the aforementioned coping skills (misbehavior, cheating, etc). 
The curriculum may not have been sufficiently rigorous.  A teacher may have felt helpless.
The student might have been so like-able to have won a free pass over and over in hopes that  maybe over time, she would fill in the gaps herself like Abe Lincoln did.
I’m not going to defend the teachers that failed to do due diligence for the Addys of our schools. However, anytime a child pops in and out of school, the educators’ ability to assess and strengthen a child’s skills weakens proportionately.  
In overcrowded classrooms with minimal resources, as is the case in many schools in distressed economic zones, or in states notorious for underfunding education, teachers struggle with extraordinary, incredible situations.  Children locked out of their homes at night. AWOL mothers.  Alcoholic and abusive parents.  Hungry kids.  Angry kids.  Sad, frightened kids.  Kids begging to go to school.  Kids begging for help.  Kids without coats.  Maybe the child can’t read, but at least the school staff sees that she is fed and clothed, and safe. It happens.  
And all the while, the child is growing, until one day, she is five foot two, fertile, and two years from entering the full time job market, even though she can’t read an instruction manual for work or a book to her child. And there she is hoping she can by osmosis learn until finally her reading problem is so noticeable that a teacher steps in to help her.  I’m only one of thousands of teachers who filled that need, but note, I worked in a fully resourced and well funded school district. Giving extra attention to Addy was not a stretch for me.  
Addy saved herself by expecting to learn, by asking to go to school, by being willing and grateful.  She was fortunate to have finally landed in a place that could help her fulfill her hopes.  
______
All names of people and places are changed in the story, except for my own.  

Kevin

Could it be?  A friend request on FB from a Kevin Johnson*, boat captain offering private cruises out of Virginia Beach.  
Only one Kevin Johnson crossed my life path, in Drama class thirty years ago, in the beat up trailer called a classroom behind a rural high school. 
My entry into public education as an English teacher had required my acceptance as a drama teacher and coach.  “We need an English teacher who will also take the drama classes and direct the plays.  Will you do it?” Asked the assistant principal at my interview.  
I needed a job quickly.  I didn’t hesitate.  “Sure!”  Little did I know how dramatic this acceptance would unfold with characters like Kevin whom I would remember forever.
Kevin, handsome with dark curly hair and twinkling brown eyes, had a perpetual mischievous smile above a strong cleft chin.  His glib style followed him right over the threshold into the classroom where he continued wooing his classmates with his endless charm.  On the first day of class, I waited quietly for him to settle down.  
Eventually everyone turned toward me, everyone but Kevin who continued with an outrageous story about a weekend keg party in the woods and sheriff’s deputies and getaways.  Everyday would begin the same, unless I could challenge Kevin immediately.  He obviously had leadership potential, and he certainly understood dramatic story lines.
Within a few days the students formed three drama casts, each with a student director. Obviously Kevin had to be one of the directors.  He could memorize lines and deliver them in character.  He was a natural with body language and understood blocking.
And then one day, he arrived looking disheveled and depressed.  His ebullience faded.  He refused to participate.  He became like a disruptive three year old, hell bent on earning negative attention.  Usually, mildly disruptive behavior can be ignored until the student self-corrects.  But Kevin’s behavior worsened.  He deliberately interfered with presentations by his classmates. Once he threw a book across the room.
I removed him from class for two days.  Maybe a cooling off would work.  When he returned, he was sullen.  “That makes sense,” I thought.  “He is going to pout. But for how long?”  Passive resistance can be just as disturbing as manic disruptions.
Was he using?  Pot? Uppers? Downers?  Alcohol?  His behavior was erratic and unpredictable.  He began to hang around, sometimes apologizing, sometimes scapegoating.  
His behavioral record on file showed disciplinary actions from alternative in school and out of school suspensions, truancy violations, and substance abuse suspicions.  Yet, he was utterly charming and appealing.  
He had little respect for authority and a weak moral compass; that was obvious.  He craved attention.  He was narcissistic to the core, lying for personal advantage, inventing stories, contradicting facts, deliberately flaunting school rules.
Our class occurred during lunch.  That is, half the hour was scheduled prior to a thirty-five minute lunch break, the other half afterwards.  I decided Kevin needed more attention from me.  With the Principal’s approval, I kept Kevin with me during lunch.  On sunny days, Kevin and I walked around the football field’s perimeter.  
At first, he was quiet. Then curious.  In time he stopped telling me outrageous stories about a  dysfunctional broken home, where he and his brother were victims, locked out, or forced to drink with his mom.  I figured a small percentage of his tales were true, the rest meant to shock  and gain sympathy.  I said very little during his era of tall tales, my goal being the reduction of misbehavior in his classes.  
Because Kevin could act and had a strong baritone voice, I cast him as the lead in Grease.  A wanna be mix of James Dean and John Travolta, he fit the part. 
“Now, Kevin, understand this.  You have a lead role. You have responsibilities, parts to memorize, practice schedules, etcetera….We are entrusting you with an important role. I’m backing you over the objections of my colleagues because I believe in you.”
“I get it.  I won’t disappoint you.”
And he didn’t, although I watched him like a hawk, keeping him busy as a director’s aide.
He didn’t come apart until after the performance, when he went on a bad behavior binge for a few days, as if he couldn’t stand the self-discipline one more day.  
For his Senior year, Kevin was allowed to take a second year of drama after I requested him, to the relief of his counselor.  I no longer had to keep him in at lunchtime, though he would hang around sometimes.  As a senior, he began to express concern about his younger brother, a sophomore who had a worst disciplinary record than he.  I learned about how the boys helped their dad with a business mowing the right-aways along state highways.  Their dad took them to ball games, had them over for barbecues, fixed their cars, was active in their lives.  The mother drank; she would be fine then not.  The boys adored her and helped her.  She frustrated them.  She was lonely then happy then lonely.  The family break up had been difficult on her.  Kevin’s moods were tied to her well being.  He felt responsible; too often he wanted more than his share of relief and attention, more than any of us actually receive on any given day, as if accumulated deprivation entitled him.
His situation invited trouble for teenagers in broken homes, with unsteady parenting, especially when alcohol abuse is involved and weak permissions blur decision lines. While attending the local university, he was picked up for possession of drugs.  
I wrote him a letter while he was in jail.  I was sad.  I believed in him.  He could, if he willed it, overcome his situation but it would be more than difficult.  I wasn’t exactly sure I believed my own words.  If he was using and selling cocaine, he was headed for deep trouble.
Afterwards he came to see me at home.  Sitting across from me on a sofa, he sorted through the lead up to consequences he hadn’t imagined.  He wanted to do better.  He wasn’t sure he was capable.  What should he do?
He was receiving addiction treatment as part of his sentence, parole with community service.  He had withdrawn from the university, was working, and living with his mother.  
Within the year I saw he had been indicted for theft.  He came to see me again.  He had stolen from a relative in order to buy drugs.  He was ashamed.  We repeated the previous conversation, except this time, I asked, “What do you want from me, Kevin?”
“I want a normal family like yours.”
“Kevin, what you think is so wonderful here hasn’t been gained easily.  Let me tell you a story or two…”. When I finished, he had learned how my mother had died when I was one week from turning thirteen, my children’s father and I had divorced, I held two jobs to pay the mortgage and cover college expenses, and so on.  What came easily was love.  That was the glue in our life.  Love and faith.  
“Kevin, you can do that too when you are ready.  I don’t know when that will be.  Some people have to lose everything, to find love, to experience faith. I want it to be easier for you, but I can’t promise you it will be.”
“I guess this means I can’t date your daughters.”  He half-joked.
Kevin was sentenced and served his time.  He came to see me after his parole release, after the birth of his little girl. This time, he talked about his baby girl, how he wanted to be a good father.
A year later I saw he had been charged with theft and fraud.  Third time.  Persistent felon.  Oh, oh, this was going to be serious.  
He showed up at the backdoor.  “I’m in serious trouble.  I stole my girlfriend’s credit cards, emptied her bank account, and wrote bad checks.”
“What about your child?”
“I’m not allowed to see her.”
He cried.  “I think I have finally lost everything.”
When I asked him why he had stolen from the child’s mother, he said, “I was so angry with her.  She wouldn’t let me see our baby girl.  So stupid.”
I listened while my husband hovered around the deck, making up yard chores just so Kevin could see him nearby.
Finally, Kevin rose to leave.  He hugged me.  “Thank you for all the love you have shown me.  I want you to know I would never steal from you.”
Kevin was sentenced to federal prison as a persistent felon.  I never saw him again until he showed up on FB last year.  A yacht captain.  Still handsome with some middle aged heft.  His photos are of gorgeous seascapes; pictures of him, his brother, and dad; a blurry I love you, Mom photo; a photo of his mother with a newborn, presumably Kevin; “loving and blessed” photos of Kevin with a pretty, smiling woman; a house in the woods; yachts; sailboats; artwork; barbecues; even a high school photo —everything positive, creative, kind, blessed.    
His profile lists university studies, a nearby county residence, his profession as sea boat captain.  I think he righted himself, don’t you?  It took awhile but he got there.  In 2014 he sold his boat Whiskey Jack so he could buy a sailing yacht and take his dad on a last cruise. I like the sound of that.  
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* I use pseudonyms for names in my 2018 blog posts and disguise places.  In the case of this particular story, I created conversations and timelines true to the situation.  It was impossible to remember every detail exactly.  The frame, however, is truthful.