Breakfast together has become a Saturday morning tradition for me and Candy. Most Saturdays we enjoy a midmorning breakfast at a popular home style chain restaurant. As we were finishing up this morning, an adult and a child were seated directly behind us, the young man appeared to be nine or ten, and the adult female was who I assumed to be his grandmother. As we were finishing our meal we were startled by the commotion behind us. I looked up immediately to see the child banging the table with his fist and throwing his paper placemat at the adult woman sitting across from him. This child continued to make aggressive moves toward the adult. It was apparent that he was really unhappy. This behavior continued for few moments. As Candy and I quietly discussed if we should say or do anything, I noticed big tears begin to fall down the face of the woman. A nice young lady seated to my left, and to the right of the woman, got up and gave the woman a hug. An appropriate expression of solidarity and empathy for what this woman was enduring. For a moment the child stopped his aggressive behavior. Candy and I breathed a sigh of relief. But then the child’s aggressive behavior erupted once again. The woman continued to cry as the child banged the table with his fist. Candy and I, practically simultaneously, stood and turned to the woman. Candy hugged her and I took her hand and asked her if I could pray with her, she agreed, and we prayed together. The kind young woman who had given her a hug earlier joined us. We did not address the young man or his behavior. The woman quietly revealed to us that the child was a foster child with obvious behavior issues. We thanked her for serving this child with patience in such a difficult circumstance and left. The situation bothered us both all day.
Candy commented on the faithfulness of the kind woman and all foster parents like her who are willing to love children who exhibit problematic behavior as we observed in the restaurant. Candy also pointed out that we could not know what kind of life the child had experienced previous to his coming to the foster home. We speculated that the difficulty of his life certainly had to contribute to his aggressive behavior toward his caregiver.
But what bothered me the most was my indecision to intervene in this difficulty. It was obvious that the foster parent needed help. But I wasn’t sure what to do. I felt it would have been inappropriate of me to correct someone else’s child in public, although I certainly wanted to do so. As I was contemplating what to do, the young lady to our left answered the call and gave a hug to the object of the child’s ire. A beautifully appropriate expression that was welcomed by this foster parent in distress. As the child’s aggressive behavior continued, Candy and I did act, perhaps if only to distract the child for a moment and bring a prayer of comfort to the foster parent. But perhaps God in His grace blessed this woman with comfort and this child with peace. I don’t know if I did the right thing in not saying something to the child. My fear was that perhaps I may have unintentionally escalated the aggression. But my slowness to respond to an obviously emotional and volatile circumstance still bothers me. We live in a society that teaches us to “go along to get along” to “mind our own business” and “live and let live.” This morning I was living under this societal peer pressure that errs on the side of caution instead of compassion in most instances.
When I was eleven years old, I remember sitting in the back seat of my mother and father’s car. We were in the parking lot of a popular grocery store in the small southern town we frequented for Saturday business and errands. My dad had loaded the trunk and was seated in the driver’s seat as we prepared to leave. At that moment, we were startled by yelling and screaming coming from across the street. I looked up to see a young black man running. He was being chased by a white man. The white man was accusing the black man of looking “the wrong way” at his daughter, and was cursing the man as he peppered his remarks with the continual use of the n-word. The white man caught up to the young black man and landed a few blows, I saw blood. They black man broke away and continued to run. The white man continued to pursue. I can’t remember who spoke first in our automobile. Someone mentioned that we should do something to help. Someone else said we should mind our business as we didn’t know all the details. I remember how awful I felt witnessing that, and how much more awful I felt that we didn’t do or say anything. We quietly drove away.
I still don’t know what the appropriate action this morning in the restaurant would have been, or if any would have been more appropriate or helpful than offering words of comfort to the foster parent and praying for them both. But I do know that indecisive silence helps no one in distress. May God forgive my slowness to act when I see others suffering.
As I write this I heard the news of another mass shooting in our Nation.
God help us all. God move us to action.