January 10, 2016
Bonnie A. Perry
“It’s hard when you don’t have anyone behind you. It’s easy to start something, but when you don’t have anyone supporting you, it’s easy to quit,” thus says the young man pictured on pages 402 and 403 of Brandon Stanton’s book, Humans of New York: Stories.
Some of you have probably heard of the Humans of New York Project and Blog. Brandon Stanton had the idea of photographing 10,000 of the people who live in New York City. Part of the way through the project it occurred to him to also add a quote or two from the person pictured. Soon he found himself doing 20 minute interviews of the men, women and children who agreed to participate. The project then morphed into telling the stories, or at least bits of the stories of the strangers on the streets. Humans of New York: Stories is the result. The photos convey an image of the person, a snapshot in time, their faces and quotes hinting at the icebergs of their incredibly intricate lives that lie below.
The young man I mentioned earlier, I’m going to call him motorcycle man is pictured wearing a heavy leather red and black Honda Jacket, standing next to a Honda Street bike, helmet in hand.
He says, “My mother abandoned us [me] when we were 16. She was a single mom raising four kids, and one day she just said, '______________you' and left.” He goes on to tell of how he supported himself with a job he had in the afternoon, going to school in the morning, living in abandoned buildings never telling anyone at school. He says, he barely got through high school and when he went to college, he had to take all remedial classes and pretty much do it all over again. But he is the first person in his family to get a college degree.
But he says, “If you don’t have anyone supporting you, its easy to quit. Because I think no matter what we say, the main reason we do things is because we are trying to please somebody. And when things get tough, that helps keep you going.” He continues, “I tried to take boxing lessons once. And every time I had a fight, there was nobody in the stands cheering for me. Whenever things were going well for my opponent, I could hear all of his friends and family encouraging him. Whenever things were going well for me, there was silence.”
“Will you who witness these vows do all in your power to support these persons in their life in Christ?”
Thus is the question asked of all of us, when we baptize Hattie, Henry and Baxter.
What’s your answer?
The prayer book indicates that all who are gathered, respond by saying, “We will.”
Which is polite and right and expected, but are our responses anything more than a pro forma answer?
Maybe. Maybe not.
What does an embodied, “We will,” look like?
Does it mean you have to be the boring church person? Sitting around discussing bible stories? Maybe—I for one would have enjoyed that, but by my own admission I’m a geek. And a priest.
That said, the Gospel story about the paralyzed man whose friends decide to put him on a stretcher and take him over to meet Jesus to see if Jesus can heal him—remember that one? Turns out the place where Jesus is preaching and teaching is packed, overflowing with people. But rather than turning away and giving up the paralyzed man’s friends dig a hole in the roof of the building and lower him down through the top so that his stretcher lands right in front of Jesus. I love that story—for me it’s literally and metaphorically about prayer. Sometimes I cannot get myself to Jesus. Sometimes I need help from my friends. Many times those friends do, as anyone of you would do, they go a step beyond. And because of their care, the man finds Jesus. He is healed. That story is at least as cool and compelling as Good Night Moon!
Does it mean, taking a week off from work and driving a young person whose mom was not well enough up and down the East Coast looking at and finding the perfect college? That may be a little extreme, but it happened here.
Does it mean, being the person who has a close enough relationship with a young person so that when they go to a party in high school and somehow wind up drinking too much, you get called to drive that young person home? Again a bit extreme—but it happened here.
Does it mean sitting down with a 16 year old and offering contextual appropriate dating advice? Happened here.
Does it mean, taking the time to learn the names of the children who sit next to, or walk by you? Talking to the young people who do such an amazing job in our pageant? Does it mean having appropriate conversations and interactions with them? Being the adult who takes them seriously? Happens here.
Do you remember the adults who took you seriously as a young person? Remember how incredibly important they were to you?
Will all of you who witness these vows do all in your power to support these persons in their life in Christ?
It’s easy to start something but when you don’t have someone supporting you its easy to quit, that absence of support is deafening.
In the midst of baptizing Hattie, Henry and Baxter we are promising to be there for them. May we do so. Amen.
Copyright Bonnie A. Perry January 2016