A Perfect Son



    He is the perfect young man.

    
I can say that without hesitation. For two reasons.

    
First, he isn’t mine.




    Second, he isn’t actually perfect.




    But then that makes him more perfect, still.




    He’s made his share of bad choices. He’s done things for which I am sure he is not proud. Some of them not quite legal. But he always comes back around to who he always was.




    In kindergarten, when the teacher allowed circle time to be about the children’s requests to Santa, his peers were likely asking for Furbies and Beanies, games and gadgets. He had bigger needs. 

    
Perhaps he already had a sense of how the world worked. In his little kid view, Santa must have loomed large as the go-to guy. Santa had connections.




    So when it was his turn, he had a simple request. He didn’t want a toy or a game. He didn’t want anything. The gift he wanted wasn’t even for himself –it was for his friend.

    
He must have figured Santa was high in rank on God’s payroll because he had a favor to ask of the big G. He wanted Santa to ask God to give his friend one chance, one moment, a single phone call –to the boy’s dad.  More than anything he wanted for himself, he wanted his friend to have the chance to talk to his father, a man whom the boy had never met, who had died just before he was born.

    
Santa didn’t come through. Neither did God.

    
Apparently he forgave them both. He still prays. He still believes in a higher power.

    
He and his faith have been often tested –too many times for someone so young. 

    
The college at which I work doesn’t have too many hard-knock-life stories. And most of the kids seem to get it that they’ve got it pretty easy. But I find that even here, it’s those who are asked to shoulder the most who seem most able to gather the strength to handle the weight –same holds true for the adults I know. It’s the sentiment of a saying my mom hates –that God only gives you what you can handle.

    
I understand why she takes umbrage at it. Doesn’t seem fair to me either that a benevolent God would punish you for being strong. My mom’s pretty strong; she’s be duly punished.




    My young man is also pretty strong and he’s again being tested, being asked to step up.

    
Mother Teresa was quoted as saying, “I know God will not give me anything I can’t handle.  I just wish that He didn’t trust me so much.”

    
The boy who is now an adult is too well trusted.



    By powers beyond here and by those of us who know him well. We know he will meet this next challenge as he has met so many in the past –with inner strength, quiet grace.




    I just wish he didn’t have to. It isn’t fair. And he shouldn’t be punished for being a good person.





Team Spirit


    I play softball.


    Not often, or well. But I still play.


    Which means I’m part of a team.


    At this point in my life, that means something much different from what it once did.


    It’s also something different from the kind of teams to which my kids and neighbor’s kids have belonged over the years.


    For the obvious reasons, sure.


    My team likes to win, but we’re not too upset when we lose. This isn’t a competitive league. We’ve got no umps, we don’t keep stats.


    And an injury (or even the threat of one) pretty much trumps athletic effort. We don’t so much give it our all as we do just give it a go.


    But we play games, keep score, do try to round the bases. We have opponents we like to best, and others we cheer on with the same enthusiasm we offer to our own teammates.


    It’s touted as a friendly league. And it is.


    At one point or another, both my kids have been members of teams. They have been part of something bigger than just themselves, and have contributed. In very different ways, both have had an impact on their teams.


    And their teams have had an impact upon them. And for the good and bad of it, so have their coaches.


    The best of those coaches taught, supported, encouraged  -and still demanded. They loved the game and wanted to share their passion. They sent messages about camaraderie and sportsmanship, about how to treat one another and their opponents and about how to handle winning and losing, as a team.


    The worst of them also sent some pretty powerful messages. Like the good guys, they demanded a certain level of play from the kids, but their means were often warped. They taught the basics of the game –but just barely, assuming that the “real” players already knew the fundamentals- and worked more on strategies and tricks. Win-at-any cost attitudes filtered through to little kids feeling big pressure.
 
    Some of those coaches scolded, ranted, belittled. Some cheated. I saw coaches ignore any sense of fairness, keeping  “good” players in long past their due, then demean them when they didn’t perform as expected. They scouted their baby opponents and then gave their own team members a heads-up on weak links. These were big guys coaching little kids to beat their buddies, at whatever cost. I remember hearing one coach advise a 12-year old pitcher barely in control of his blazing fast ball to “brush ‘im off the plate.” And hearing another coach greet his top player as he stepped onto the game field by asking “Are you going to strike out again?”


    And that was the “coaching” offered to the good players.


    But on the sidelines, the worst of those coaches were praised. Parents jockeyed to get their kids under the tutelage of the guy with the winning record.


    Seriously?


    Why?


    We live in a small town. Think big fish-small pond analogy. I always wondered about the parents who couldn’t see what I thought was so obvious.


    Easy stuff, like –it’s supposed to be fun. And that winning really isn’t EVERYTHING.


    And that their kids weren’t going to make it to the pros.


    Turns out I didn’t really have to tell them that their kids weren’t getting athletic scholarships; a lot of those kids didn’t even make the high school cut.


    But I do wish someone had said something to a few of the raving lunatics on the sidelines and in the dugouts. Because too many kids were losing, for the sake of winning. In the name of hollow victory, they were missing all the good stuff that being part of a team can teach.


    Michael had a pair of coaches who believed pretty whole-heartedly that the kids on their team had to respect the game and one another. They coached and taught the kids to play with a sense of equity. Everyone played; no one was stuck in right field for the season.


    Funny thing about that team –they won. A lot.


    I like my team. We win, too. On and off the field. Because I measure the true success of our team by who we’ve become over a lot of years batting a ball around and playing a bit of catch.


    I only wish my kids and their friends had had the same opportunity as me to learn a bit more about what it can really mean to be part of a team.

A Not Guilty Jury


    The thing is –she’s guilty.


    But I get it, I really do.


    The jury foreman said that the State didn’t prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt. Juror number two further insisted that even though she and her fellow jurors didn’t put much credence in the defense counterarguments, the ultimate verdict wasn’t at all about the defense. It was about a lack of prosecutorial evidence.


    And so they had no choice but to acquit.


    A few years ago, I was on a jury.


    Before you offer your condolences or tips on how to evade service next time, I should be upfront: when I was tapped, I actually wanted to serve.


    Save your groans –my opinion has changed.


    However, back then I bought into the notion of jury duty as civic obligation. In that pre-jury service world I inhabited, it was a chance for me to be a real participant in the legal system, to see its inner workings, to contribute, hands-on.


    But jury duty jaded me –big time.


    First, our guy was guilty. Absolutely, no doubt in my mind -he not only raped her, but was damned sure he’d get away with it. He and his victim were in the country illegally and he probably figured she’d be too fearful of deportation to point a finger. He figured wrong. She pointed. He ran -out of country.


    Eleven years later, as a legal U.S. resident, she spotted her attacker back on a city street and yelled rape –again. This time, he couldn’t run. She demanded justice.


    Instead, she got us.


    I wish she hadn’t.


    At one point or another during deliberations, six or seven of us voted to convict.


    And then we deadlocked.


    The judge urged us to try again to render a verdict.


    In her entreaty to us, what struck a particular chord with me was the notion that if we were unable to do our job, somebody else would have to do it. Another set of twelve would go through what we were going through. Witnesses would be recalled, the defendant would likely be held while he awaited a new trial. And the victim would relive her ordeal yet again. None of that was okay.


    The underlying point that kept surfacing throughout our deliberations was that the State hadn’t fully proven its case.


    I didn’t care.


    We garnered quite a bit of backstory during our week of jury service and all that stuff we were supposed to ignore –I couldn’t. He did it and I didn’t care that the State hadn’t done its job well.


    I’ve always believed in the overall integrity of our judicial system. And in the principle that it’s better to let a guilty defendant go free than to imprison an innocent one.


    In theory.


    But then I was confronted with the reality of a young girl, new to the country, scared and alone. And all the black and white tenets of our legal system muddled to gray and seemed just an impediment to the truth. I wanted justice for this girl, punishment for her attacker.


    Our foreman kept reminding us that a not guilty verdict shouldn’t be construed as a finding of innocence.


    I’m sure that would have been of little solace to the victim.


    I wasn’t in the room during the Casey Anthony trial, but I can relate to the frustration the jurors must have felt. Still, I look to the sweet picture of a little girl and want justice for her –and punishment. I don’t blame the jury and I could never align myself with the nuts now threatening their lives. They had a job to do and I am certain they took seriously their obligations. But I, for one, would have quickly forgiven them had they ignored the letter-of-the-law and chosen, with that angel’s face in mind, to follow their hearts instead of their heads.