On the Way to School this Morning

school bus

When my mom left my dad we moved into a huge old house downtown. My older brother and I did not want to switch schools, so we split our time: dad’s country home through the week and weekends with mom and our siblings in town. This could get complicated, as mom did not always have reliable transportation and her new status as working mother did not always allow the flexibility of making other arrangements. Usually, on Friday we would take a different school bus to get as close to town as possible and then walk the remaining several miles to mom’s. I was in the seventh grade—a skinny, timid kind of girl. I carried my clothes in a navy blue duffel bag and struggled to keep up with my brother’s much longer legs. He didn’t often slow down for me.
Monday morning, we would do the same in reverse—run to the bus rendezvous and end up at school. Often, we were late and made it on only adrenaline. I still remember that sense of urgency about getting to school. Sometimes I wonder what we must have looked like to the passersby—these two kids running up the street, clutching school books and the remains of the weekend in our arms.
Two kids left to fend for themselves.
This morning, on the way home from dropping the boys at school, I see them: two young boys, hurrying up the sidewalk. It is the way the shorter one walks—with a sense of urgency—that makes me take a second glance. They are only about a mile from the grade school, but these boys look much too old for grade school. If they are walking to the middle school—where I have just dropped my own boys—it is a pretty good hike—over three or four miles. They most certainly will be late.
I look at their figures in my rear-view mirror as I pass by and feel something stir. When I reach our neighborhood I make a u-turn and head back out on to Teays Valley Road. I pass the boys and pull into the Farmer’s Market, loop around and wait for them to catch up with me. When they reach the market, they cross in front of me without a glance. I can see that the short one is especially earnest to hurry along.
I roll down my window.
Are you boys going to the middle school?
The tall one looks at me.
Yes, he says.
Do you want a ride?
They do not hesitate.
As they climb in the back seat I fleetingly think of my own two who had just sat there a short while ago. We pull out on the road and I glance at them in the mirror.
What’re your names?
J, the short one offers.
W, says the other.
I try to make small talk. J is in the sixth grade and W the eighth. Just like my boys. They tell me that they are brothers, that they missed the bus this morning, that they live in the housing project up the road. I tell them who my boys are. They don’t know them. They just moved here from Charleston.
We have another friend who was with us, says J, and he looks up the street to see if the kid is anywhere to be found.
I don’t see him, I said.
I ask if they are going to the talent show at school today, tell them my Jeffrey will be playing the drums. They don’t have the two dollars the school is collecting for attendance. I kick myself for not bringing my purse with me.
I’d like to play the guitar, says W. W has a speech impediment. He is cute as can be.
 It’s really super-cool-awesome, he adds, grinning at me in the mirror. I smile back.
How come you moved from Charleston? I ask, after a minute.
My mom wanted to get away from the West side, J says. It was getting really bad there.
Was it dangerous?
Yeah, she thought so.
Do you like Hurricane?
Yeah. It’s ok.
Do you have other brothers and sisters?
My mom has four…five…no six kids.
Six kids? That’s a big family.
Some are cousins.
Your mom takes care of your cousins?
Does she have anyone to help her?
No. Just her.
We fall silent. I begin to pray. Again.
What does one say in the span of a fifteen minute drive that can make a difference? I want to ask them if they go to church. I want to ask if they know their dads. I want to ask if they are hurting, what they need–if anything–and why don’t they have backpacks, anyway? I can’t find the words.
So I just ask, Do you boys like school?
Yeah, says J.
W says nothing.
You need to stay in school, I say. Stay in school and do well. That’s one way to get out of the bad stuff.
I know.
J looks out the window.
I struggle for words, keep praying silently. I don’t know these kids. I don’t know what their life is like.
What to say, Lord?
And then we are at school and they are gone.
I start to cry right away.
What just happened, Lord? I ask. I regret not saying anything meaningful. I regret letting them go so easily. Lord? Will you give me another chance? If I see them again, will you give me the words?
That’s when I see him. He is walking up the sidewalk towards me, arms pulled in the sleeves of his t-shirt to defend against the morning cold. He doesn’t have a backpack either.
I pull over at the next opportunity and turn around. When I catch up with him, I pull in the turn lane and roll down my window. He stops walking.
Are you going to the middle school?
I yell over gobs of oncoming traffic.
I repeat and he nods, yes, he would like a ride. I caution  him to be careful crossing over to me and he hops in the van safely.
Do you know W and J?
Yea, they’re my cousins, he says.
What’s your name?
Well, S, you’re going to be a little late, I say, and I smile at him in the rearview mirror as I head toward the middle school for the third time this morning…
photo by floridagizzi, via flickr Creative Commons.


  1. says

    You are wonderful!! Thank you for being Love to those precious young men. I am praying right now that those seeds you sowed will take root, not necessarily the words, but the seeds of Love. Lord, please give them Hope. Help them to know how much You love them. Please make a way.

    And, of course, I’m weeping again. 🙂

  2. says

    Laura, I love this! I feel like I know these kids–not only because you record them so well but because I’ve known kids exactly like these. Oh, the part where he can’t remember how many kids in the family! I’ve had that conversation in my car with one of my son’s friends.

    Bless you for driving three times to the middle school. Go get your gold star!

  3. says

    For being the one who watches, and stops, and acts, and cries, and hopes for another shot at it all over again, I thank you, Laura.

    This is a beautiful, beautiful thing.

  4. says

    Well now I’m crying….good to listen to the prompting of the Lord….and sometimes a smile and a ride are more than enough for now. Praying He waters your kindness and opens more doors to love on them from someone.

  5. says

    Thank you. For this, for driving to the middle school three times, for listening to the quiet voice that told you to turn around, for keeping your eyes and heart open.

    God touched those boys today through you, and that gives me hope that He intends to keep reaching into their lives with His grace. We never know the full extent of what He will accomplish in the ripples.

  6. says

    Somehow I was relieved when I read the line about you starting to cry. I was crying too living the experience through your words. We sure can’t do everything, but to open your door and time, put your hand to the steering wheel and your feet to the pedal and your words to their ears and hearts. . . that was Jesus in a beautiful way. And now I imagine those of us reading your words will also say a prayer on those dear boys’ behalf. I just read (and loved) Brody’s Story, so the weaving of your story, that story, and today’s story is certainly a cord of strength.

  7. says

    Even here in the USA we can discover a mix of different cultures. Your kindness will not go unnoticed! Perhaps you will have another opportunity to share with these young men. The kind mother caring for her brood might need some help or at least a visit. You are a hopeless love addict! Bless your darling heart!

  8. says

    You are beautiful. I remember my “Gail” encounter from the last couple of years. After sharing a sandwich with her in a parking lot, I drove away asking the Lord to please give me an occasion to meet her again. He did. Two other times.

    Beautiful moments of grace. Thank you for being the heart and hands of Jesus to these young boys. I believe you’ll see them again.


  9. says

    how blessed you were to have an opportunity to use your childhood past experience, to bless children in need. That is what we are here for… you have once again blessed me!

  10. says

    I think your touch will have an amazing impact on those boys lives and you will see and speak with them again. God is faithful. What a wonderful gift you gave each oen that morning.

  11. says

    Your heart. So moved by this. . .

    How many times to I get the urge to do something, be involved, or turn around, and I just ignore it.

    Thankful for you and thank you listen.

  12. says

    I just love your heart. 🙂

    Thanks for sharing this in our cross-cultural project, Laura, but more than that, thanks for being “God with skin on” to those kids. Bless you!

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