Buddy Bench

Think back.  You are 13 years old in Middle School.  It’s Gym class and teams are being chosen.  The best athletes are chosen as team captains.  One be one they begin to choose who they want on their team.

You aren’t particularly fast or tall and your hand- eye coordination isn’t all that good.  You watch as your classmates are chosen and you hope (and pray) that you won’t be last.

Remember what that felt like?  If you were fortunate enough to be the one selecting or the one usually chosen first, you too remember the lesson: Don’t show weakness.  Don’t fall behind.  Don’t be chosen last.

Of course such feelings don’t end with a 7th grade gym class.  The longing to fit in, to not lose face, to be accepted by others persists.

This past weekend I watched as a group of middle and senior high youth built and painted a bench.  This bench is special.  They call it a ‘buddy bench’.

photo-buddy-bench

The buddy bench is being placed at several church camps.  The bench is for anyone who feels alone, struggling, sad, alienated.  It is intended to be a safe place. Where you can sit and draw strength from the words of love and encouragement that have been painted by your peers.

More than words, the buddy bench is an invitation for people to come and sit with you.  A place to sit and remind one another that in God’s eyes no one is chosen last.  In God’s eyes each of us is beautiful, strong, gifted, unique.

Why?  Because each of us is a child of God.

Ever felt like you didn’t fit in? Ever have someone break your trust?  Ever been cast aside?  Ever been picked last…or, not at all?

This buddy bench is more than a place to sit and rest.  It is a metaphor that calls us to reimagine our place in the world.  To see oneself and others as worthy too.

In this unusually nasty political season where our so-called leaders revert to bullying, shaming and blaming their opponents…it’s good to remember that it doesn’t have to be this way.

Good to remember that we each deserve to be treated with respect and kindness.  To know that there’s a place on the ‘buddy bench’ for you and me.

Note:  For directions to  see a Buddy Bench at Grotonwood or Oceanwood Camps  in Massachusetts and Maine,  go to: http://www.tabcom.org

 

How to Heal a Nation

We lament the loss of civility in our culture.   Our current political season offers many examples but is not an outlier.  In the early days of our nation John Adams and Thomas Jefferson were locked in a particularly nasty campaign for president.  Jefferson questioned Adams sanity and Adams raised a rumor of Jefferson fathering illegitimate children.

If mudslinging is part of our political and social psyche it isn’t the entire story.  A few days ago we remembered the 15th anniversary of the terrorist attack on September 11th.  We remembered our collective trauma in seeing so many innocent people murdered.  We remembered too the beauty that arose from the ashes,  as strangers and neighbors across this country reached out to one another with countless acts of kindness.

Cindy McGinty lost her husband on that day.  In the years that followed Cindy says: “My community loved me back to my feet. I think of the neighbor who mowed my lawn for eight years. The taxi driver who took me on countless errands and refused to take my money.”

We think of Jo Jo Esposito the Staten Island fireman whose battalion lost half of its members on 9/11 .  He’s become a surrogate father to the children of several firefighters, including his own family members who died that day.  ‘There’s no manual that prepares you for this”, he said, “you simply try your best to do the right thing.”  Over the course of 15 years this surrogate dad has walked brides down the aisle and attended graduations and birthday parties.   He did it out of love for his friends.

On the anniversary of 9/11 we remember the trauma and all that was lost.  We remember too how it also brought out the best in us.

photo-memorial

During this uncivil political season it serves us well to remember the positive lessons from 9/11. The antidote to fear and coarseness is simple kindness.  The reminder that we are all in this together.  That our strength as a nation is in the quality and depth of our character, our  capacity to take care of each other.