Vignette II

Definition of VIGNETTE

1:  a running ornament (as of vine leaves, tendrils, and grapes) put on or just before a title page or at the beginning or end of a chapter; also :  a small decorative design or picture so placed

What ornamentation might we imagine in our lives? If our lives are indeed the stuff of novels and stories then what are the ornaments of those stories? For this series of short stories our Vignette might be something dark – perhaps a gargoyle atop weathered stone backlit by a bolt of lightning. It creates a sense of foreboding-that is the prologue (last issue). Yet, the prologue is not a book is it? We have gleaned a new chapter or two and the adornment of these chapters remind us of the great Cathedrals of Europe rising to touch the heavens. Wondrous in design and craftsmanship they speak to the heart about what greatness can be found. Our first vignette is perhaps simply a flower growing out of stone work with a shaft of light shining upon it.

William is an excellent and well trained voice who has sung with European Opera, he has added his voice to St. Anna’s Church, and he is sublime having taught choir in a few private schools and offering his voice in many settings. He lives in the Tremé at Dodwell House and works with the children of Anna’s Place which is an after school program that takes upon itself children very much at risk. William often walks the children home as well as teaching them voice. William like all of the staff that are at Anna’s Place loves the children deeply. But they are a hard lot to love sometimes.

Asha is age 7 and one of the younger ones of a large family. They live in the Tremé and luckily the family has enrolled Asha into the Anna’s Place Program. She is a sweet looking child with a broad smile when she is not angry or throwing a fit. She lives with an Aunt and several brothers and sisters. Asha, at age 7, is still learning colors, the alphabet, and basic numbers a long education future to walk for her.

William’s story –

During our second week of this Fall term on my second stop [while walking children home] I took Asha with me to keep her out of trouble. As you know she can be a handful, and in a moment when I was distracted she threw a rock and hit a man’s car. I jumped all over her. I took her kicking and screaming over to the man’s driver side window and made her apologize. He was a kind, gentle grandfatherly type gentleman who didn’t even raise his voice. He told her to say her prayers before bed, and told her to be the good girl God meant for her to be. Several times since then he greets us and we say hello.

And then yesterday it happened…

As Asha and I walked toward the school, I saw his car. I said, “There’s the man in the car, we should wave hello.” She waved, and then with a very serious countenance looking down at her feet, said, “I shouldn’t have thrown the rock at his car.” You guessed it, I started crying immediately, and she said, “Why are you crying Mr. William?”

All I could do was hug her and say, “Because I love you. Don’t ever forget that.”

This story is given with permission of William Parsons a most excellent and undiscovered voice who sings like an angel. It is the small things that are big. In a culture that says, “Stay strong let no one admit to anything let alone poor judgment” this is a break through moment. Just another example of what impact a community within communities can have and our vignette begins to take shape as something with beauty and life. A caring and thoughtful stranger in a car; a loving and passionate vocal teacher (who happens to be gay) and a chance at grace on a neighborhood walk. Your financial support helps to adorn our life stories. These are vignettes that begin to illustrate possibilities.

We have a family of three siblings we’ll call them the Davis family. The children are Mary age 10, Maria age 11, and Roger age 12. Their daddy who is only home sometimes is a drug dealer. Their mother has been incarcerated a few times and moves in and out of the world of drug dealing. Grandma used to raise the kids but she died. They have been in Anna’s Place programs for about five years now. You may remember an article about two years ago about a child that was very concerned with the death of another child near her age, the child was Arabian Gayle about to be age 10. Arabian was shot days before her 10th birthday. It was Mary who hounded me asking if Arabian would be put on the “Murder Board” as some way to remember the little girl.

When I first met Roger he was sullen belligerent and uncooperative. He did not trust me or anyone at St. Anna’s he was there because his Aunt made him come. Now five years later I want to say the girls are still in the program. Roger, now a bit older, is mentoring and caring for the younger ones. I was leaving the Parish Hall where the kids get dinner and there was Roger, in his lap was a 6 year old, she was clutching on to him and cuddling. It was her safe place. He gently put his arm around her and smiled and gave her the comfort and “safe place” that she needed. Not only was that a gentle moment but it was in public amongst the other children. The “street face and attitude” is fading and in its place is the birthing of caring and respecting those who are vulnerable. It was just a moment and just a kid with another kid in his lap. But it was big really big. And the vignette begins to have those colors of gold and blue and is turning into a lovely masterpiece of care.

James! By another name is well known to the people of St. Anna’s! If there is a scuffle or trouble odds are its James. He is a handsome kid about 10 years old. He is one of the more gifted in learning to play the trumpet taught by our partners, the LPO. But there is a darkness in his spirit and indeed in his family. Both he and his younger sister Tisha age 7 push back and literally throw fits when things don’t go their way. James has threatened other children and is likely responsible for at least two adult volunteers quitting. James is just that bad. He is the kid that develops a track record in our schools of first detentions, then suspensions, and eventually expulsions’ and eventually drops out and the rest of the story is predictable. He has already threatened another child and the adult that reprimanded him. High risk stuff with some of these children.

To date we too have sent him away; but never totally. If we do not intervene in his life and adopt some degree of tenacity who will? The answer is plain – no one. Recently his parents went without water for going on two weeks now. The children presented un-bathed and smelling of urine. His father, we suspect, abuses his mother and so James who admires his father repeats this learned behavior; at least that is what we suspect. The adornment here, the vignette if you will, is this: we haven’t given up. We, and with your support, have agreed to let James back into the program once his family starts family counseling with a professional social worker. His family will have available resources to work out utilities and budgeting. James’ mother so desperately asked us to keep James in the program that she is willing to cooperate with the program of interventions. Yes, there is still hope. So when we say that we will take the “least of these”, the kid no one wants to deal with, we do. Now the outcome won’t be known for a while and this may not have a happy ending. We will see how this plays out. But we can rejoice in the fact that in a real way we are saying, as a community within communities, no one is disposable.

Despite that darkness that claws its way through some of our neighborhoods and manifests its tendrils into our own safe places there is much to be Thankful for. We give THANKS that God has seen fit to present us with an opportunity to help children become well grounded and prosperous adults. We give THANKS that members in this community are starting to support the work that affords hope to the more vulnerable. We give THANKS to our partners in the LGBT community who know what abuse looks like and also knows what love looks like. We give THANKS that each of us can, if we choose, adorn the Book of Life as a delightful vignette.