Thu 30 Jan 2014
A few years ago Marty discovered this local outfit that distributes donated tickets to shows and sports events to groups like ours on short notice, so long as we send back photos documenting that we took along neighborhood kids. Since then various members of our crew have seen NFL football, college basketball, major league baseball and—best of all by far—a couple of women’s roller derby matches at the old Cincinnati Gardens.
Last Saturday afternoon it was a Xavier basketball game, so in addition to Gina’s three sons (who relish any male-oriented escape from their very hands-on Mom and their very verbal younger sisters) and the two young men I invited to chaperone them, I reached out to my old friend Tre, who is a notorious crowd-hater but loves basketball. Then I cranked up my old minivan, which has a notorious transmission but still holds seven, and off we all went.
Everybody had a great time, but Tre especially. It wasn’t just the basketball, either. From the moment we picked him up, Tre was talking and laughing and teasing the little boys like a guy who had just been released from prison. Or, in Tre’s case, like an ex-felon who finally had a day off from the dead-end minimum wage job that is his only option, and a way out of the two-bedroom basement apartment he shares with his girlfriend and her four young adult children. Honestly, I’m sure I couldn’t handle his daily grind, especially knowing that it isn’t likely to change, no matter how many sandwiches he makes.
At the game, while the others concentrated on the action, Tre and I talked about all kinds of things – his job, my house getting robbed over the holiday, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – until, out of nowhere, he turned and looked me in the eye.
“You know what I love about the fellowship, Bart?” he asked. “I love it that some of us believe in God, and some of us believe this world is all there is, and some of us don’t even care, but we’re all just trying to, you know, appreciate this life and help each other out.”
I thought about that for the rest of the game and later, just before we arrived at Gina’s, I pulled over.
“In a few minutes we’re going to pull up in front of your house,” I told the boys, “and because I like you so much I’m going to tell you right now what I’ll need from you when we get there. What I’ll need is for each one of you to put on a big smile and say, really loud and with great enthusiasm, something like ‘Thanks a lot!’ or ‘Wow, that was super fun!’ or ‘We had a totally terrific time!’”
I explained that expressing their gratitude that way would make me and the other grown ups feel great, and that those great feelings would make us more likely to think of them next time. I told them it would be good for them too, because the more you give thanks, the more you enjoy and remember whatever it is you’re being thankful for. Then I made them practice being loud and enthusiastic, and only then did I take them home, where, to nobody’s surprise, all three boys exited nobly and with great fanfare.
Tre was right. I may never know what Gina or her boys believe. Heck, I’m not altogether sure what I believe most of the time. All I’m certain of is that I’m here, along with Tre and the rest, trying our best to help each other—and especially our kids—more fully appreciate this life.
Thank you—and I promise I am typing that loudly and with great enthusiasm—for your help with our mission and for your part in my life.