I was walking from the local library to the adjacent recreation center when a ten year-old boy and his friend came into my path. They were headed in the opposite direction. One of them, who I’ll call Daniel, said something to me as we crossed. My attention was on my cell phone and his comment mumbled, but it seemed juvenile and I managed to give him a quick look that communicated what I felt:
Why are you talking to me? Peasant child!
A short while later, I returned to the library from the rec center with my freshly-vended soda in hand. Daniel and his friend had also decided to retrace their steps, and we again found ourselves on approach. I smirked. This time I they had my undivided attention.
As we neared each other, I saw that Daniel had something in his hand. When the gap between us closed to a few steps, he held it ahead of himself, dangling the small, dark object in a way you might handle a dead rodent.
“You want a rat?!” he laughed, nearing me with it held in the air between us.
I stopped; unresponsive. It was a piece of bark. It had some kind of vine attached to it that made it look something like a rat. The normal, adult response would have looked like me rolling my eyes or saying something dismissive. But not that day.
Instead, I snatched the object and with a snap of my elbow threw it like I was skipping a rock. Then I looked into the eyes at the surprised boy standing in front of me, beside his accomplice.
Your move, young sir.
For a moment, I got a glimpse of a look that seemed to say, ‘Hmph, didn’t see that coming.’ But that quickly transformed into a little dance that mocked my authority.
“Ooooo,” Daniel mocked.
I shook my head and walked past him, continuing on my way, neither embarrassed or satisfied. I envisioned an epic moment in which my presumed authority abruptly changed the course of this kid’s life for the better. Instead, I got a laugh. Oh well.
As I walked on, I could sense the two early adolescents following me. Daniel’s mockery continued, and after a few steps, I turned, faced the both of them, and (being the grown man that I am), confronted the child:
“You got a problem, kid?”
I don’t remember what he said. He wasn’t trying fight me, but it still seemed important to him that he hold his ground, even if sheepishly. I guess I kind of appreciated that. I asked him where his parents were. Mom was at home, he replied.
He didn’t know. I got the impression he never knew.
“Why are you acting like this?” I asked him.
He shrugged. He knew he was being an asshole, but I don’t think he cared. My frustration with him quickly turned into a frustration with the world I imagined being around him; one in which walking up to grown man with a snotty comment probably made a lot of sense. Because why not?
I told him that I understood the temptation to act like a fool, but that he should cut it out, because he was better than that.
“You’re a man,” I declared. “Act like it.”
That statement might not have meant a damn thing to Daniel, but it should, and it bothers me to think that I might be the only person, and quite possibly the only man to tell him this truth in a way that hopefully doesn’t pressure him to build muscle mass or consume women, but to act right. To act wise. To respect, and in so doing, be respectable.
Daniel isn’t the only man that needs to hear this message. As I write this, I realize how appropriate it might have been for Daniel to repeat my own words right back to me.
Just the same, I hope it meant something to him. It meant something to me. Maybe, brother, you need to be reminded of the same.
“Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong.” (1 Cor 16:13)