Last night, as Little Jeffy was getting ready for bed, he asked me a peculiar question.
“Mom, when you were a little girl, what did you want to be when you grew up?”
I found his question peculiar due to its timing. Because it coincides with this reading of Make the Impossible Possible that I have been doing with the Higher Calling book club. This book that has brought back, like a flood, all the hopelessness bred from growing up in poverty.
How to explain?
“I didn’t want…” I began, uncertainly. “I didn’t know that I could be anything.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, no one in my family had been to college. My mom didn’t graduate from high school. I didn’t know that…life could be…better.”
As Bill Strickland says in the second chapter of Make the Impossible Possible, “I simply didn’t know any different.”
This chapter is called Growing Up, and in it we learn about the challenges Mr. Strickland faced growing up in an inner city neighborhood, and where he found the hope to make a meaningful life.
He describes the landscape of life in his neighborhood as “mean”.
See, Bill Strickland didn’t just grow up poor, he grew up facing the danger of a subculture of drug dealers, predators, scam artists, and hookers; people, Strickland says, that “You had to give…a wide berth or they’d find a way to get a piece of your life.”
Reading about bleak prospects, about the many impossibilities of this life, about how easy it is to “…fall through one of the ghetto’s trapdoors”…I felt hope seeping out of me.
And hope, Mr. Strickland says, “…is the one thing, the only thing that inoculates you from the madness, wherever you live.”
Where did this amazing man find his hope?
He tells us about his remarkable mother, who taught her children self-respect and discipline. She worked hard to make sure the dangers of the streets did not touch her boys—even though their own father had fallen victim to the ways of the neighborhood.
Mr. Strickland’s discussion about his mother’s determination and steely fortitude whispered to me about the impact my behavior has on my own children. We all need someone to show us the way. Someone to encourage and see something special in us.
Without that role model, it would be difficult to see oneself as special. It would be difficult to grab onto hope.
Never underestimate the legacy you leave in parenting.
But a true reversal of destiny was in store for young Bill Strickland when, one day in his senior year, he wandered into an art classroom (lured by the smell of coffee—a man after my own heart) and discovered a passion that would change the course of his life.
He describes his first experience at the potter’s wheel:
“…Under my clumsy touch it bulged and swelled into comical shapes, wobbled, leaned…But I didn’t care. I knew the moment I started that there was magic in the clay…Looking back, I know that something in the feel of the clay was feeding a deep hunger in my soul. But I wasn’t thinking that way then; I was only caught up in the thrill of the experience. I didn’t want that feeling to end.”
Isn’t this why we make the choices we make as young people? We don’t want this feeling to end. So many mistakes have been made, so many wrong choices…because we don’t want this feeling to end.
Doesn’t every young person deserve the opportunity to find thissehnsucht in beauty? In hope?
Beauty and hope are not readily available to all. They certainly aren’t easily accessible to a young black man from the ghetto.
The teacher who held these things out to a young Bill Strickland is a true hero. Frank Ross is a hero.
In Bill’s own words, “There are so many disappointments along the way, but then one day, out of mud and imagination, you create something lovely and worthwhile, and it feels like nothing less than a miracle. That’s what Frank Ross taught me: Miracles happen. You can mold them with your hands.”
Miracles do happen. And God may be calling you to be a part of them.
I may not have founded a hugely successful community arts program, but my life rubs up against people that need hope every day.
Lord, don’t let me fail them.
I am excited to be participating in a book club every Monday, through the Higher Calling blogs. I recently joined the Higher Calling online community and have been overwhelmed by the talent I’ve found there. So many wonderful poets and writers all in one place! If you’ve visited my friend L.L. Barkat over at Seedlings in Stone, you will have an idea of the quality of writing at Higher Calling. Stop by and give them a read, and join up if you like what you see!
I’m a morning person and happiest in a place with no walls. Give me a bed of grass and a blanket-sky and I will dream deep in wonder. But a good story takes me to this place too. And a poem? Even better. You can always find me here. Or connect with me on on facebook, twitter, or pinterest.