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Sunday Reflections: Empty Bellies, Starving Hearts – What happens when teens see compassion die

sundayreflections1A teen looks up from a project she is working on and realizes that she has been working too long, she has missed it. She comes to our Teen MakerSpace every day after school and stays until closing. But she leaves every night around 6:00 PM to go to the local dinner. You see poverty is so high in our town that a different church hosts a community dinner every week night – and she realizes that she has just missed it.

I have some candy in my office so I give it to her. I’ve also given teens the remains of my pizza, cookies, and whatever else I can scrounge up in from my office. Today I’m coming up empty. Later today I will, in fact, go use my bank card to try and buy something and it will be declined. It turns out I only have $5.00 in my bank account until payday. Thankfully, payday is tomorrow.

This teen, however, has no payday. She is a teenager, but just barely.

Another barely a teen teen delivers newspapers to help make sure her family eats. The library staff bought her a hat and gloves as we watched her deliver newspapers in the falling snow and in subzero temperatures. We remind her to wear her coat. If she gets done with her route early enough, she’ll stop into the Teen MakerSpace to make something, stashing her newspaper pouch under a table while she pretends for a moment that the weight of the world doesn’t rest on her shoulder and she’s just hanging out and making stuff.

Recently a young teen boy expressed his rage about poverty. Not that he lives in poverty, that is common place around here. But he knows what people think of him for being poor, he reads the news. And as I asked him to be compassionate about a girl at school who was a cutter, he startled me as he began to rage against the idea of compassion. “Why,” he asked as he stood and began pointing, “should he show compassion to others when the world showed him no compassion.”

This moment was startling to me. Not because I thought the world showed him compassion, I know that we don’t, but because this teen not only knew it and it was effecting the way he thought about having compassion for others. It was here that the ripple effect was clearly made known to me. His rage was palpable and clear, because no one was showing him compassion he did not feel the need to show compassion to others.

It is Easter morning and I have just brought my children home from church. We made dinner and sat around the table. We searched for eggs full of chocolate. We played games. Thankfully, my check when in on Friday. I was able to go out on Saturday and get a little bit of candy and a decent dinner for my kids. We live paycheck to paycheck and struggle to make ends meet, but I know that the lives of my biological kids – the ones I gave birth to – are different then the lives of my library teens.

During this past election there was a lot of talk about rural poverty and how it influenced the election. I drove every day past Trump signs in yards of falling down houses where I knew teens that would later go to the community dinner lived. Free lunch, financial aid, healthcare, these are just a few of the things that effect their daily lives that many people just voted against.

Tomorrow the library will open and we will once again see our teens. Teens coming in for books and movies. Teens coming in to user the Wifi or Internet because they don’t have access at home. Teens who come daily into our Teen MakerSpace for a safe space where they can learn, grown, and be social with their peers. Teens who parents come to the library to apply for jobs or file their taxes or to check their kid’s school grades. If the president defunds the IMLS as he has proposed in his upcoming budget, these families struggling to survive will be hurt once again.

As I write this post my youngest is pouring a box of Nerds into her mouth and watching Project Mc2 on a Netflix account that someone else generously pays for. Her belly is full, her mind is engaged, her heart is full of love.

But I know that for many kids across our country, their Easter looks nothing like this. Nothing. Those are my teens. Their bellies are growling, their hearts are screaming out for love, and we are failing them. Every time we speak in anger or judgment against those living in poverty, we are twisting the knife in their heart deeper and deeper. If we plunge it too far, they may never recover.

Because I am a Christian, I pray. And I pray this Easter is that we will prove that young man wrong and rediscover our compassion for the poor. And maybe, just maybe, we will start a chain reaction of compassion that will change his heart, and all of our futures.

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