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On the Corner

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BY ROBERT DOCTER – 

Once upon a time, many years ago, in a city by the sea, a family of eight –six children and two adults–rode in the same station wagon to church. The youngest, a four-year-old girl in the middle of the back seat of the noisy station wagon, recited her A-B-C’s. Ignoring the loud comments of her five brothers and sisters, she sang the little rhyme that children learn when encouraged by parents to say the alphabet.

Everything was going splendidly for the first half of the song–up through L-M-N-O-P. Her mother and father smiled. Her older adolescent brother slunk down further into the rear seat. Her older sisters listened–mouthing the letters as she sang. Another brother took it all in–interested but superior. He was eight.

She took a breath and continued. “Q-R-S-T-U and ME…”

“Did you hear that?” her father exclaimed with joy and enthusiasm from the front seat. “She said–‘Q-R-S-T-U and ME–She said ‘me’ instead of the letter V. What creativity.”

“I know,” the mother said, the only calm voice in the car. “I think it’s wonderful.” Then, turning to the little girl she said: “That’s beautiful, darling. Always remember, the “you” in your alphabet song involves all of us –the whole family–and with the word “me” in your song you’re talking about yourself. We all need each other to learn the alphabet, don’t we. Now do you remember how the song ends?”

The four-year-old quickly added– “W-X-Y-and Z–Now I’ve said my ABC’s–next time won’t you sing with me.”

The little girl’s three sisters immediately started singing the alphabet song. Her oldest brother poked his head above the back seat–and, miracle of miracles, started singing with them. Her eight-year-old brother looked around, his brow furrowed with questions, his eyes squinting to discern the mystery. He heard his parents’ voices from the front seat–and then–he, too, joined in as everyone got to the letter Q–he wanted to say “you and ME” at the top of his voice. Each time the singers got to the last line, they started over–even louder. Each time “me” replaced “V.”

That’s how the letter “V” disappeared from the alphabet of one family I know very well. That’s how the notion of “you and me” got underlined. That’s how a family learned they were all going through life together–relating–caring–helping each other through the dark days of the soul–celebrating together the bright light of joy–together yet autonomous–together yet individual.

That family of six children and two parents were on their way to a Salvation Army Sunday school– to a church service. It was always a long ride in a small space. Maybe that was the best part. For this family, like all others, had a difficult time finding time to relate–to simply talk and share. But going to the corps took an hour. It was always a time for conversation–for exploration–for testing ideas. It was a time to be together and discover the intricacies of personalities–the width of boundaries–the rules, unwritten, unstated, that guided the nature of the relationships.

When they got to church–to the Army–they found another family– a much larger one. A church family. Everyone at the church knew everyone else. Everyone at the church seemed to care about everyone else. They learned lessons that impacted their spiritual development. They saw Christian love modeled. The church family pulled for each other with oars of consistency and genuineness. They visited each other’s homes. Their children grew to adulthood together even when separated. Years later, often separated by miles, they remember their times together with words immersed in warmth from lips bent with smiles.

It sounds perfect. It wasn’t. Just almost.

That’s the important part. The people at the church seemed to know that life isn’t ever perfect. We all face tragedy. We all lose loved ones. We all find disappointment on our door-steps. We all experience dark days. What counts–and what keeps a family together–is what we do with those difficult times–those days of mystery and shadows. What we do in the hard times is stick together.

We must learn to recognize the growth opportunities in these days– to reframe the difficult times–with a new perception that includes thoughts as well as feelings. We need to remember that the shadows in our lives only occur because there’s a sun shining somewhere– and even the darkest night is defeated by the smallest light.

That family still makes its way to church on Sunday morning. They still enjoy each other. They still recognize that growth opportunities never stop at any age–they just change a little.

Anybody got a good, used station wagon?

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