Have you ever experienced one of those moments when the meaning of something you had been taking for granted just burst upon your soul? I had one of these recently that I’d like to share with you.
My wife and I were working with young adults in a poverty-ravaged Hispanic neighborhood in Santa Ana, CA a few years ago. That’s where we met Ramon (not his real name). He was a street rat. He’s a fun loving kid who enjoyed hanging out, skateboarding, mischief, music and soccer. He was the only boy in a family of seven that lived in a two-bedroom apartment. His three older sisters ran with the crowd that we had the most interaction with. His dad and mom worked hard. Dad wasn’t home much.
Last spring Ramon’s mother called. He had been transported from school to the emergency room at the hospital to have his stomach pumped. On a dare from someone, he had chugged a large quantity of bourbon. They treated him and released him to go home. His school had suspended him for a week and he was transferred to another school, within the same district. His mom asked me to come over and talk with him. I did. He acknowledged how “stupid I was” and exclaimed defiantly “never again!” He started at his new school a week later.
His mom called after he had been in his new school for 10 days. The school district had identified Ramon as a student they wanted to repeat the 8th grade again. Ramon was failing virtually all his classes. His mom asked me to accompany her to a meeting with the school officials to explain that neither Ramon nor his mom wanted him to repeat the grade again. I did. We made a deal. The deal was that Ramon would not miss school for the remainder of the year, wouldn’t get in any trouble and would pull his grades up to a ‘C’ level by the end of the school year. Ramon hated being in meetings with authority figures talking about him. After the meeting he muttered, “never again.”
Three weeks later I received a frantic phone call from Ramon’s mom. She claimed Ramon had been “arrested” and was being held by the Police at his school. I raced over to the school and met her in the lobby. Ramon was seated in the Assistant Principals Office with a huge Santa Ana School District Police Officer towering over him. Ramon had been picked up by the Police with a kid across the street from the school. The student he was with had pot in his pocket. Ramon had matches in his. At my insistence, Ramon identified the student was who sold the pot to the student he was with. He was suspended and told that he would not be allowed back into that school, and would likely be recommended for “bad actors school.” On the way home, from the backseat of the car, I heard, “man, not again.”
The next day, Ramon’s apartment was tagged by the gang the student belonged to: The one Ramon had named to the Police. Ramon’s mom was frantic, fearful for the life of her son. Ramon’s take on the tagging; “It’ll never happen mama.” I wondered about Ramon’s macho response. Just three months earlier, two blocks from Ramon’s apartment, a fourteen year old had shot a rival gang member in the face in broad daylight after school. He was killed instantly. My wife and I discussed the situation with Ramon and his family, along with a senior administrator of the school district who authorized a transfer of Ramon to the school district where we lived.
Ramon was now living with us; two white, middle-aged baby-boomers in a suburban neighborhood. All four of our kids were grown and out of the home. Heck, we even have three grandkids. Out of the blue, we found ourselves “second-nesting.” Everybody understood that the purpose of this arrangement was to attempt to interrupt the cycle of “over and over again.” Ramon attended summer school and pulled a 3.3 grade point average. He was graduated to the 9th grade. He attended summer soccer camp and began to grow again.
At the end of the summer, we decided to relocate to central Oregon. Ramon and his family surprised us with a request for him to join us. He began high school here and achieved a 3.2 GPA in his first trimester. He plays soccer on the high school freshman team. He has his own room for the first time in his life and sleeps in his own bed. He has a great group of friends. He saw snow fall here for the first time in his life.
A few weeks ago, I stood at the 9,000 foot summit of Mt. Bachelor in the central Oregon Cascades. I looked up and saw Ramon standing there with his snowboard. That’s when I snapped the picture that accompanies this article. He has translated his skateboarding skills into becoming an accomplished snowboarder. As I pondered this picture over the last couple of weeks, I kept hearing something inside me whisper, “the summit.”
There are approximately 75 million baby-boomers preparing to retire in the U.S. over the next 18 years. Almost all, I assume, are or are going to be, empty nesters. Many are going to relax in their homes and become bored with too much time on their hands. My prayer is that these folks will take advantage of “second-nesting” opportunities that underprivileged, young adults like Ramon represent. Yes, many baby boomers think of bringing young adults into their homes for a second time and exclaim, “never again.” When considering the thought of even our own children returning to live with us again, my wife and I have said the same thing to one another too. Yet, honestly, “second nesting” was not our idea.
Honestly, Ramon living with us was not our idea. It just seemed to happen. As I stood at the summit pondering this particular moment, I realized that “when we find that our cup runs over with the abundance of God’s goodness, it’s time to get ourselves a bigger cup.” 1 I can’t represent to you that I possess the ability to recognize when my cup needs to be bigger. Ramon expanded our cup. He wasn’t our idea. He wasn’t our choice. His entrance into our life has taught us that God’s desire for our lives is to confront us with the choice of bigger cups that will expand our hearts, change our posture, plans and perspectives.
It has been said that the aging Baby Boomer generation in the U.S. will create cataclysmic change that will endure in this society for decades. Ramon has taught us that, “Revolutionary change does not come as one cataclysmic moment (beware of such moments!) but as an endless succession of surprises, moving zigzag toward a more decent society. We don’t have to engage in grand, heroic actions to participate in the process of change. Small acts, when multiplied by millions of people, can transform the world.” 2
It has been said that, “It has become fashionable to bash Boomers – to dismiss the entire generation as self-centered and narcissistic. But this criticism sells the Boomer generation short.” 3 The extent to which this line of criticism shall become the actual legacy of the Boomers will, in my opinion, be determined by what they do or don’t do at the summit of their lives. Will Boomers opt for enjoying the small cups of espresso in the quiet confines of their retirement enclaves, aging gracefully and comfortably? Will they tire of drinking from the same old cup? Will they recognize that they have been blessed with a cup that they cannot take with them beyond this existence? Will they be stirred sufficiently to recognize the blessing of God’s overflowing abundance and share their cup with others less fortunate than they?
The reality is that Ramon has changed us. We have been blessed by the challenge and the adventure. He has taught us to adore the simple things that we have taken for granted for so long. He has required us to open our lives to learning new things that we would have avoided, ignored or overlooked. He has ingrained in us a deep appreciation for the fact that there is no summit to love, no matter what our circumstances or stage in life. He is a daily reminder to us that in this world of scrambling over one another for scarce resources, ours is The God of More.
Tonight, Ramon’s mother called. Ramon’s 13 year old sister in Santa Ana, CA is habitually truant and hanging out with the wrong people. Ramon’s mom is scared to death.
“Excuse me…would you like a bigger cup?”
1 Kushner, Harold The Lord is My Shepherd – Healing Wisdom of the 23rd Psalm, Anchor Books – Random House, Inc. © 2003 by Harold Kushner p. 153.
2 Rogat Loeb, Paul The Impossible Will Take A Little While, Basic Books – The Perseus Books Group – New York, Copyright © 2004 by Paul Rogat Loeb
3 Gillon, Steve Boomer Nation – The Largest and Richest Generation Ever and How It Changed America, Free Press-A Division of Simon & Schuster, New York, NY Copyright © 2004 by Steve Gillon P. 17