10
Feb
22

High School Heroes

Following a longer-than-normal walk with the dogs, Joan and I decided to reward them with a trip to our neighborhood Sonic Drive-In. She ordered her customary lemonberry slush while I favored the cold brew iced coffee. The dogs, naturally, snacked on pup cups.

This Sonic is located right next to the local high school. As it happened, we arrived just as school was dismissing for the day.

While we chatted about the topic du jour, I watched the students walk by us. Some walked in pairs. Some in groups of three or four, while others walked by themselves. 

And as I watched them, my heart stirred. 

Some laughed. Some smiled. Some seemed as if they were a thousand miles away, lost in thought. All of them seemed to demonstrate joy at the fact that they were walking away from school for the day.

At first glance, it seemed like an utterly unremarkable, quotidian scene. It is a ritual repeated in towns of all sizes, every day between September and May at 3:30 p.m., Monday through Friday, come rain or come shine.

As I looked on, I realized that the students walking there – some wearing logoed outerwear, some in shorts in 36-degree weather, some with blue streaks in their hair and nose rings – each represented a younger, brighter, livelier version of me. 

They are probably worried about who likes them and who doesn’t. They aren’t sure how they are going to juggle everything they have on their plates right now. They absolutely cannot understand how their parents can be so lame and clueless. They wonder what kind of world they are about to enter… where it is headed, and what their place in that world is going to be. 

But for all those similarities, I also know that the kids I am watching as I sip my iced coffee face pressures 1969 Russell couldn’t conceive of in his wildest imagination.

For starters, they were born into an “always on” world of electronic voyeurism… constantly watching and being watched… measuring their worth in bytes, likes, follows, and views. This world is as prying as it is relentless, wedging its fat, judgmental eye into every waking moment of their lives.

These kids today have also been forced to consider the possibility that the hallway they travel between third period Algebra and fourth period History might suddenly erupt into random bursts of gunfire, blood, and screams. 

How in the name of God do you factor THAT into your daily psychic toolbox?

Hell, back in the day, pop-up fistfights between rival “greaser” gangs used to scare the snot out of me. But at least I knew they were fighting because they hated each other. Today there are no breadcrumbs to follow that might offer clues about the rage boiling up inside the kids who shoot up schools. 

And then, when those hopeful high schoolers lift their eyes for a moment to see how we – the mature, seasoned, arbitrator adults – handle our spats, all they see is pettiness, vitriol, and a willful blindness to any notion of “the common good.”

 And I pray; God help them. 

God, help us help them. 

But then, when my heart is almost overloaded with sadness and pity for these young adults, they make a sharp, unexpected turn. Suddenly they erupt with a joy, a generosity, a lightness, and a compassion that just blows me away. 

Abruptly and unexpectedly, they become my teachers. THEY show me how to love and include all those who were “born this way,” to flagrantly steal Lady Gaga’s phrase. THEY passionately appeal to me to take care of the ONE planet we occupy. THEY remind me that I don’t have to be enslaved to my stuff. THEY insist on learning a version of history bereft of whitewashing, coverups, or race-based distortions. THEY don’t hesitate to demand that JUSTICE serve every man, woman, and child ever born.

And so, as I keep watching, my prayer expands. 

It still asks God to help them, but now also asks God to help me LEARN from them.

God bless them…

… and YOU, too.


6 Responses to “High School Heroes”


  1. February 11, 2022 at 1:15 pm

    Russell, this brought tears to my eyes. We have another bond over Sonic. I visit my Sonic too often. My diet strawberry limeade awaits at happy hour. Some of my former students work there. The thoughts you mentioned are exactly how I feel about the generation behind me. Probably as you felt about MY generation (although I’m a bit more aligned with older generations). Thank you for sharing what you’ve learned from them. Rather than become cynical, I hope to stay curious and kind! God’s blessings to you and Joan! PS~Finley loves pup cups too!

    • February 12, 2022 at 12:06 am

      Thank you so much for your kind comments, Karla. I am hopeful that I have moved through my “grumpy old man” stage into a place of greater compassion for the struggles of today’s youth. I will confess, I am still occasionally tempted to shake my fist and yell, “Get off my lawn!” At them, but much less often than before.

      • February 12, 2022 at 2:16 pm

        You’re welcome, Russell. I love this response (the “Get off my lawn” temptation made me think of a childhood neighbor). And I definitely “feel” you’re not the grumpy old man! Thank you!

    • February 12, 2022 at 12:07 am

      Thank you so much for your kind comments, Karla. I am hopeful that I have moved through my “grumpy old man” stage into a place of greater compassion for the struggles of today’s youth. I will confess, I am still occasionally tempted to shake my fist and yell, “Get off my lawn!” At them, but much less often than befor

      On Fri, Feb 11, 2022 at 6:15 AM Russellings of the Spirit wrote:

      >

  2. February 21, 2022 at 4:10 pm

    How we need the younger generation to teach us how much they must contend with today. Funny how there is more depression in a country that offers everything then in a country where the people live in remote villages in the jungle. I am glad I grew up in the era did and that my kids grew up in their era. More thankful that God’s love does not change no matter the era. These young ones need us older ones filled with wisdom and compassion for them. Good post.


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