This Is the Life I Chose or Rather the Life That Chose Me

As this posts, I’ll be at graduation.

I’ll be there with them. I’ll applaud and I’ll cheer. It’ll be one of the moments that makes the year worthwhile.

One of my favorite kids will leave school, be on his own. I’ll feel almost good about it and I’ll wish him well. In some ways, I’ll be glad he’s finally rid of school, rid of feeling like a kid, rid of childish bullshit he’s had to put up with for the last few years.

But mostly, I’ll be scared to death.

One of my kids, a a kid of 15, a kid in 8th grade, was shot three times this weekend. Luckily, he was shot in the leg. Luckily, he’ll live. Luckily, I might see him again, talk to him again, yell at him again, piss him off again, play ball with him again. I say that like I’d be the lucky one.

Just today, before we got word, I stood in a hallway talking with a co-worker about the way these kids don’t know what success is. These kids see failure all around them and they’re so terrified of it that they don’t even try. Where folks like us — and I mean pretty much every person reading a blog like this at noon on a Wednesday — see ourselves as failures in various ways, we also know that we’re successes. We had to work hard and risk failure to get here. But some folks exist in places that are so bogged down by failure, that to even try seems a waste of time.

These six kids that are graduating are good kids. One of them makes an omelet that people have lined up ten deep for. They are shining examples of what hard work and perseverance can get you. They have worked hard, discovered things they’re passionate about and things they’ll never do. They’re like any high school graduate. They think they know exactly how the world works, and they’re going to put the stick in that stops it spinning that way.

My boy who got shot is not a great kid. I mean, he’s a good kid with ideas in his head about who he is and how the world works, but I wish I could say today’s news was a surprise. He only wants to deal. He came into school for the free food. He came to hang with friends who were in the same boat, who knew what it was like to have few options. He came to laugh at folks who told him he had promise, even if some of those who were saying it maybe didn’t believe it.

In a world where middle-class is a dream, what’s the nightmare? I suppose few of us have had to honestly grapple with that. There’s always been something that pulled us toward our goals, knowing they’re attainable, if only plausibly. We’ve had something there to push us, as well; something there that told us our dreams were possible if only we carried the dream with us.

But what if the dream dies young? What if everything around you tells you — screams at you — to stop? To give up? And not in some bullshit “emo” sense, but in the honest-to-fucking-Christ turn-around-now one? Before you know what you want, you know it’s not there. Imagine a dream so distant it exists like someone walking a block ahead of you, hitting every green light while you get the red. You know it’s there for some people, but not for you.

It makes me want to appreciate the incomprehensibly hard work of the kids graduating tomorrow even more than I did this morning. But it mostly makes we want to mourn for all the dreams that lie buried before their time. Dreams so simple we’d look down on them. Dreams so waking, we wouldn’t even notice them as such. Dreams so bare, we might consider them nightmares.

There’s a kid tonight, in my city and in yours, laying in a hospital bed, not just because he made bad decisions, but because good decisions didn’t seem like they’d result in anything worthwhile. And it’s that thought that doesn’t let me sleep at night.

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