This one’s for Sherri. Your hint was well-timed and much needed.
I first met Tania the night I met all the girls’ club girls and leaders. I volunteered to help out with clubs, because one of the things I care about while in school is that I don’t become a Dead Sea—taking in but not giving out. I don’t remember much of her that night. She was just one of the girls tearing around, holding puppies and waving burning marshmallows in the air.
I do recall that she was wearing her basketball outfit, a white sleeveless top and baggy black shorts. She had come straight from a game, which she’d won. Her lanky strut and devil-may-care toss of her head proclaimed that she believed herself to be the main reason for this victory. I could believe it, too, with her long arms and five foot six frame.
Her smooth chocolate skin and kinky ponytail no doubt draw the attention of the boys, which I imagine she snubs. An occasional dimple flashes in her cheek, but no smile sparkles in her dark eyes.
The next club night, I’d been assigned to watch out for two other girls who sat down at the same table as Tania for snack. We’d all gone through the food line, and I was at the end of the table farthest from the food when Tania, who had eaten the croissant role off of the outside of two wrapped hotdogs, decided that she was still hungry. She got up and proceeded to throw out the hotdogs, which she knew disobeyed girls’ club rules. We don’t throw out food. Then she went back for more. Hemmed in as I was, I caught the eye of a leader close to her and called as quietly as I could that Tania had already thrown out food and shouldn’t have more. This veteran leader corralled her food consumption and sent her back to the table without hotdogs.
In my head, I knew that I had done the right thing for Tania, but my heart wished I could have done it less conspicuously. All of Tania’s friends turned towards me and pointed, “She was the witness. She’s the one who saw you throw out the food.” I stood out at the table full of chocolate skin, and I began to wonder if I had committed a cardinal sin in black culture. Had I lost their respect forever?Yet, I couldn’t allow these girls to hurt themselves by disobeying authority.
I prayed about it and let it go.
The next club night brought a chilly wagon ride behind an old tractor. Most of the girls came inadequately dressed, so I walked around the straw bales tucking quilts and horse blankets around them and the leaders who were already seated. There didn’t seem to be a space for me to sit, when the main leader told me that she needed me to sit at the back. There was exactly half a seat left on that bale, and I took it. I didn’t know then why the leader insisted I sit there, propped between these girls and the bars around the hay wagon.
The two club girls beside me chattered together about how the one was grounded right now.Therefore, they couldn’t go to each other’s houses. The larger of the two had been suspended from her team because of disrespecting her teachers. As we got rolling, this girl complained of being cold, and she hunched over.
Then a battle came within me. For years, I’ve been scared of people getting into my space and rejecting what they see. I knew that she could be warmer and more comfortable if she leaned back against me, but what if she said “Ew, no. I don’t need you.”I knew these girls had no sense of tact. Still, I told myself, “You are offering her a favour. If she rejects it, she is not rejecting you.”
Out loud I said, “You may lean back against me if you want to” and opened my arm. She leaned back into me and I pulled the blanket up around her, tucking in the corners to keep out the draft. As we rolled along one of the leaders got us singing some songs,but the girls weren’t all that interested. Soon, the songs faded away to chatter and flashing of flash lights. Yet for some reason, I kept singing to this big girl in my arms. I sang favourite praise songs and some of our choir songs and some of my own songs, and I felt he relax into my arms, and she closed her eyes. In the stillness of a country night we rode through the woods and by a moon-glinting pond and she slept.
Dear child, what sort of home do you come from that you are so exhausted you’d fall asleep in a stranger’s arms? Why are you so defiant, saucing back to your teachers and getting in trouble?
I asked myself questions too. Why can’t I just sing like this in choir when Mr. Mullet asks me to try the solo? Why can’t I just offer what I have and not worry about the performance? This is really all I want, to sing to bring people peace.
I could have ridden like that for a long time, ignoring the numbness in my cold toes and the stiffness settling in from only half-sitting, but the lights of the house came into view and within seconds the girl in my arms had sprung to life and out unto the trampoline.
Later, the main leader sent out an e-mail and mentioned how Tania said, “It was so peaceful to ride and have that lady singing to me.” The leader went on to say that she had expected Tania to be a handful and that is why she had sent me to the back of that wagon. When I realized just who it was that I had rocked to sleep I could have cried. You see, it wasn’t until after the fact that I knew the girl I had “witnessed against” and the girl I had rocked to sleep—poor baby—were one and the same.
Tania’s still in trouble. I am still learning how to give and not take things personally. We both need Strong Arms to hold us and rock our world with peace, and He’s doing that one conversation, one admonition, one warm blanket at a time. I know that He’s got you too.