This morning, I brought my two children to a large playground that is in a more urban setting than most of the playgrounds by our home. Okay, it’s not like it was in the middle of downtown, but it’s right next to a large, busy intersection bordered on one side by a very upscale neighborhood and on the other side by less-than-upscale apartments. It’s a playground that is frequented by families with children, people of various ages and races, runners and bikers, and…….the people who make you nervous.
You know what I mean when I say that. And, I don’t say it to be mean, rude, or unloving. It’s a reality that all of us are familiar with, especially if you have children. Sometimes in public areas, there are people who put you a little on edge, who cause you to watch your children a little closer, who’s movements you watch out of the corner of your eye.
It happened twice today.
First, there was an older gentleman with a tiny little dog who I have seen around the park before. He seems very harmless and didn’t approach me and the children too closely. But, he did address the kids directly, trying to engage them with his pup. I’m sure he was just being nice, but we kept our distance and continued on into the fenced off playground area.
Second, there was a young guy, probably in his late teens/early 20s, who came stomping across the playground, right through the middle of all the kids, dressed in black, wearing headphones and walking in a very odd manner. He stormed through the area a few times before eventually settling on a swing. After watching all of us for a little while, he stomped out of the playground.
I struggled very much in my assessment of these two gentlemen as I sat there on the playground, my son running around freely with other children and my daughter next to me in the stroller. Neither had done anything to make me feel threatened. Neither had approached me nor any other adult or child. They didn’t do anything violent or say anything inappropriate. There was just something about them and their actions that were erratic and put me on edge.
During our remaining time there, I pondered both of them and my thoughts about them, and I felt very confused and conflicted.
I try very hard not to judge people based on appearances or presumed stereotypes. I am human, though, and I struggle with passing quick judgement. I obviously didn’t feel any sort of hate or dislike towards these two people – they are children of God, made in his image, bearing His imprint on their very souls. I know that, I respect that, and I have a love for them as brothers in Christ because of that.
But, I made no effort to talk to either, to reach out, to be Christ to them. Though there wasn’t exactly an opportunity to engage (maybe a little bit more with the older man than the young guy), was I wrong to go with my gut as a parent to keep my children safe and keep my distance from them?
Like I said, I am feeling conflicted. I don’t want to treat anyone poorly or avoid people just because they might do something unexpected that could be upsetting or dangerous. I want to be Christ-like and bring actions of love to strangers or outcasts. But, my first responsibility is to the two little souls who are entrusted to my care – keeping them safe and free from harm.
How do I model love and kindness for my children to see in a world that sometimes makes me nervous? Pope Francis recently said, “Negative feelings choke the Lord’s word in us.” I don’t want to be negative, allowing the Lord’s Word to be choked in my throat. However, I don’t want to be negligent or make poor decisions when it comes to the safety of my children.
Again, I am conflicted and confused.
As we left the park, I noticed those very two gentlemen talking together on a bench. “Do not be afraid to go and to bring Christ into every area of life, to the fringes of society, even to those who seem farthest away, most indifferent,” Pope Francis told the young people in Rio last week.
Today, not only do I pray for those two men in particular and all the marginalized of society, but I pray that I would not miss the opportunities to bring Christ to the fringes of society. I pray that I will not be afraid.