It was such a mundane miracle that nobody thought to take a picture: a handful of straw by a 2” cottonwood sapling at the bottom of a dry arroyo. Hope in shades of brown.
The straw had not randomly blown against the sapling. Larry McEvoy thought hard enough to place the straw precisely to protect its young roots from the hot afternoon sun. The dirt took years more thought and a lot more sweat. The arroyo had once been a creek until a bulldozer turned it a county road that quickly degraded into an impassable rocky sluice. The other five square miles was variations on the same short-term idiocy. Larry and Ankie bought the broken ranch a quarter century ago with young sons. Who else could look at it and imagine Elk sipping out of the creeks that used to be there. They brought in their healing bulldozer wielded like a scalpel to build check-dams in the arroyo to catch enough run-off silt. Cottonwood became imaginable, plantable and now worth protecting against the summer blaze. Here stands a sapling, someday a tree that will protect the creek yet to come.
TC and I don’t live on a ranch, but think the five square miles of lost children of Winston-Salem with streets like dry ravines with little soil for young roots. But they once grew healthy children and can again if some grown-ups would see them like Larry saw the Cottonwood. Some see the run-off from COVID recovery funds as a chance to do the right thing. So it might happen.
Kids don’t grow any quicker than Cottonwood. They need vaccinations, books, safe places to study and oatmeal just as saplings a handful of straw against the sun. Kids need grown-ups to pay taxes to pay teachers and businesses to pay a living wage to their parents.
Tears for what is lost. And a few decades of thoughtful sweat.
Last night we had dinner with two grown-ups who still have tears for the children: Ray Chamberlain was the UMC Bishop of Virginia, now the cook, and Martha, an author who has played many roles around the world. They were celebrating God And the People: Prayers for a Newer New Awakening. Martha’s favorite prayer: For Children Old Too Soon:
God on the run, of parents who ran to safety when the soldiers came. Fled the garage as the shepherds left. Crossed the desert wastes to give your life a chance.
Your mother without a husband,
your father without a story, refugees against an empire.
You knew early and at every step along the way how fragile and fraught the journey without help.
You must weep for others even less likely to find one.
Be with the children on their own.
They listen in the silence for the next blow to fall. Listen for the cold weight of anger from one supposed to protect, they wait for the punch on the way. Listen for the scurry of the vermin and the scatter in the dark. Listen for the parent who is working instead of tending. Listen to the names of shame and stigma. Listen for someone to say their name in kindness.
They are watching for a crack and the slight light. Watch the flow of the day and what comes next. Watch for kind eyes and an open hand. Watch for something to eat and drink. Watch for a safe place to wash.
Child God, the human one, bring us to the children on their own. May we listen and watch for them. You know their lives; teach us as would be with them. Each child a savior of us all.
Give us eyes to see the child old too soon. And eyes for pattern of the ten, hundred, thousand and million as clear as one child’s cry. Strengthen our hearts and sharpen our eyes to see the utterly predictable processes and places bereft of justice, even the shreds of mercy.
How do You stand it, God? What holds back your wrath and vengeance on all of us who care so little?
Tear away the hiding place from the ugly shadow of our lazy charity, of kindness held small. Give us no mercy and make us fear justice.
As a child, come to us and wake us up.
God and the People: Prayers for a Newer New Awakening, published by Stakeholder Press. Available on Amazon here.
Larry McEvoy’s book, Epidemic Leadership: How to Lead Infectiously in the Era of Big Problems, is here.