I wrote this for my blog back in October. During this season of Advent, I believe it is still important to remember and utilize the places that can bring us peace in the midst of chaos – whether it is in front of the Eucharist, in our home sharing a meal with others, or even on a basketball court. The big question for this liturgical season – will we be ready? Are we ready to say, “Amen”, “Bless us, O Lord”, or “Pass the ball?” Have we turned ourselves over to the Lord or are we more concerned with finding that perfect present? During this Advent season, I pray that we may remember “the reason for the season” we are preparing our hearts for.
This week, many people may be talking about the Blood Moon, the start of the NHL season, or the colors of fall. But for me, I will be talking about a moment that I experienced today that I will never forget. I was blessed with the opportunity to take a one-on-one walk with one of the boys who is now my fiancé after giving me a shirt instead of a ring. Back to the walk…we went on a walk to the park where we played one-on-one basketball. Now for all of you who just imagined a park with green grass, rocks or woodchips, and little kids, scratch that. There was no grass, no rocks or woodchips, and most of the kids were middle-school aged children. The sound of construction workers and the Long Island Railroad could be heard right there (not in the distance). After two games of one-on-one basketball, more teenagers were coming. And as there were only two basketball hoops, some of the boys joined forces and decided to play together.
I asked Jay (name changed for confidentiality) if he wanted to play with the other teenagers. He told me I had to ask them, but I insisted that he ask them. He did and we began a game of three-on-three basketball. Here I was, the only female, the only white-skinned person, playing basketball with Jay and four complete strangers. Even though my teammates and I lost by one, the game was still fun. I really enjoyed it.
Jay and I continued to play basketball for a little while longer and then took the long way back home. Jay is one of the boys who can always make me laugh and smile. He craves my attention. He gets upset when I give my attention to another boy. But at the end of the day, I’m his “best friend and lady” and he’s my “best friend and man.” As we were walking, I wanted to deepen our relationship. I was able to ask him serious questions amidst the laughter. It was important for me to remind him that these questions were not to make fun of his “disabilities” (or abilities as I like to call them). When he realized I was not there to make fun of him, he went back to his “wacky” (one of his nicknames, because he likes to call people “wack”) self.
Today’s experience was one that I just cannot describe to the amount of degree I want to. It was a moment that has no monetary value. Nobody can buy this on the streets, nor would I think someone would pay to play a basketball game with minority males. It was also a moment that made me realize the importance of parks in city neighborhoods. Among all the buildings and pollution, children of all ages need a place to go where they are safe, where they can be themselves. No matter what kind of trouble may be going on in their lives, no matter what kind of job their parents have (or do not have), the park is where anybody –regardless of skin color – can go to play basketball with complete strangers without being judged.
As a Midwest family girl who grew up playing basketball with my siblings, I was immersed into something I never thought I could do. But I felt safe because Jay had my back. I trust him. He trusts me. We know that we are not going to hurt each other. We know that if something bad were to happen, we would be right there to protect the other. But not everyone has their Jay or Miss Katherine. Not all parks can provide a safe environment for children. If Jay and I had gone to the other park nearby, gang related activities would be present. And that is no place for a child or even an adult to go.
So what can we directly do for our children? Encourage our children to play in the parks. Let them immerse themselves in something they may not be comfortable with. Now what can you indirectly do for our children? Go sit in a city park, even just for ten minutes. Watch the children playing basketball, running around the playground, climbing higher and higher on a swing. Immerse yourself in something you may not be comfortable with. Be that safe presence for them. And if you don’t want to look like a total creeper, bring a book. Put your phone on “silent” and really be present of your safe presence.
Katherine Mockler is a 1st year LV serving at Martin De Porres, Queens, NY. She is also a 2014 graduate of Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota.