Friday, September 18, 2009

The Kids Are All Right: Revenge of the Skateboard Nation

Adolescents often get a bad rap, such as they’re moody, loud, selfish, and lazy. And sometimes all those things are true. But other times we confuse the cover with the book and forget or completely miss their grace and deep humanity.

I personally witnessed some adolescent magic yesterday, and it happened at just the right time, thanks to one husky and intellectually curious student I am tutoring.

But let me digress. Adolescents have been on my mind a lot lately for two big reasons. One is because I have an adolescent roaming the halls of our home. He is not quite 12, and is a super delightful guy. But he has his challenging moments as well. A few months ago we were eating breakfast when I said, “Miguel, hurry up and eat.” Maya repeated me, as she loves to do, and Miguel responded that Maya was not his boss and then he promptly started crying.

He is also occasionally moody, has added the mantra “I am bored” to his lexicon, and sneaks watching TV even though he knows we don’t allow it during the school week. But Miguel is also the young guy that every single toddler and preschool-aged boy within 5 miles of our development wants to play with. Verna and I trust him enough to let him babysit for Maya for 1-2 hours. And our neighbor has him over as a mother’s helper with her three-year old son.

The other reason adolescents and adolescence occupy my mind is because we are dealing with some behavioral issues in our neighborhood. One of our neighbors has been complaining that the kids are too noisy during daylight hours, ride their bikes in the streets, and then leave them in the middle of common area walkways. I know all this because I am the president of the Homeowner’s Association, which isn’t at all like being POTUS, but I do feel under attack on some days.

Anyway, I think some people, including my neighbor, who has a 17-year old son, are too quick to judge adolescents as unruly and disruptive, or as unstable repositories for overflowing hormones. And at times they are just that, but more often than not, they are sweet, engaging, and fun to be around.

Now we return to yesterday and my tutoring encounter with one not quite teenager who was practicing prayers in anticipation of his January 2010 bar mitzvah ceremony. Our session was to start at four, but because we left the hospital late after Maya’s MRI, I was about fifteen minutes late. My student (fully aware of the reason for my tardiness) waited in the synagogue lobby and did his math homework.

He ran through all the prayers he knew, which is the entire service for which he is responsible before singing his portion from the Torah, the first section of the Bible. Just after he recited the Mi Shebeirach, the prayer for healing, he said, “For your daughter.”

I am sure he saw confusion plastered on my face before he continued, “The prayer for healing, because of her back.”

I was shocked, not because I have rarely experienced such pure grace from anyone, let alone someone who religiously uses his iPod Nano and ponders such metaphysical mysteries as acne and parental nagging. I was shocked because his comments seemingly came out of nowhere. Here we were just studying and chanting our way through 45 minutes of the Sabbath service when he interrupted our flow with heartfelt concern for my daughter by applying what he was learning to the real world and my life.

I finally said, “Awesome. That was great. I appreciate that very much.”

So I will conclude with the healing prayer’s words, secure that, yes, the kids are all right and adults better start paying more attention to their gifts:

Mi shebeirach avoteinu
M'kor habracha l'imoteinu
May the source of strength who blessed the ones before us,
Help us find the courage to make our lives a blessing
And let us say: Amen.

Mi shebeirach imoteinu
M'kor habracha l'avoteinu
Bless those in need of healing with refuah sh'leimah
The renewal of body, the renewal of spirit.
And let us say: Amen.

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