September 4, 2012
Category: Caring Adult

Sam, I Failed You.

Let me tell you a story. It’s one I’m not proud of.

This summer, I missed the mark. I failed a child.

My husband, John, Tom, our son, and I were in the middle of the Sherman Lake YMCA forest. It was, of course, on this evening, during what has been a painfully dry summer that the sky chose to forgo her stingy behavior and instead, threw down her wet offerings upon this “Family Night.” Unperturbed by the rain, our seven year-old was showing off his excessively modest archery skills. As the rain fell, my husband and I watched, huddled under a small umbrella, swatting away mosquitoes.

Zavier, our son’s camp counselor, shrouded in a beach towel to keep himself dry (it wasn’t working well) had just introduced himself to us and offered Tom some tips on shooting. Tom had taken the advice to heart and was steadily improving. With varying degrees of success, his arrows were now hitting the target positioned in the distance.

Zavier moved on to the next child. “Sam, can I help you with that?”

An emphatic “no” came from the little boy who appeared to be Tom’s age. Zavierpersisted but Sam was adamant. So Zavier continued on to another section of the course and began helping other children in need of his support.

The child who had refused Zavier’s help was floundering. Every time he lifted arrow to bow and released it, the arrow fell to the ground at his feet. I had to give it to this kid. Despite the frustration on his face, he wasn’t giving up. But it was obvious, without intervention, the arrows would continue to litter the ground around his feet. It was only a matter of time before he gave up.

A child was in need and I didn’t help. Why? Well, because it was raining. Because I was cold and tired and annoyed that mosquitoes were snacking on me. The kid, I told myself, refused the counselor’s help, why would he want mine? Anyways, the boy’s parents should stop chatting it up with the couple next to them and help their child. Be a parent. It was Family Night at Sherman Lake YMCA Camp after all. Did I mention it was raining?

My only action? To turn around and fling psychic arrows at the boy’s parents. “Yoohoo! Hello, people!” my eyes screamed at them. “It’s Family Night and you are his parents. Get your indolent selves moving and help your kid!” My sharp looks missed the intended mark, hurling harmlessly past the oblivious parents. My plan—to stare hard enough that I could shame them into helping—wasn’t working. These kind of inept, lazy plans rarely do.

And then, my husband abandoned me. Before I could utter my dismay, he and the umbrella, were over at the upset child’s side. He walked the boy through the steps, occasionally positioning the boy’s arm. He stepped back. The boy took aim and released the two fingers holding his arrow. The arrow ripped through the rain and landed on the target, a few inches from the bull’s eye.

My husband (but more importantly, the umbrella) came back to me.

The boy’s face lit up. “Did you see that mom? Dad? I did it! I did it all by myself!” Sam’s dad managed a thumbs up.

Sam got back to the business of archery and it was clear that his new found knowledge had not yet taken hold. After four failed attempts, the boy turned to my husband, his eyes pleading for help. John again went to him, but not before I snatched the umbrella away. I watched as my husband patiently talked him through the steps. Sam pulled the bow back and released the arrow. It shot through the rain and, for the second time, hit the target.

“I did it! I did it again!” Sam shouted, jumping up and down. He had already forgotten about my husband, the caring adult who took the time to help him in some small way. That was fine with us. We three had had enough of the rain. As we left the range, Sam’s joyful whoops ricocheted off trees, hailing down upon us.

I still see Sam dancing in the forest, his face shining with a mix of rain and pride.

And, even though I’ve stopped beating myself up about my inaction, nonetheless, I feel a twinge of guilt when that memory washes over me.

It serves as a reminder to me, and perhaps will to you as well, of this simple truth. There is always among us, a child in need. Often, the child who needs help most will shun the hand that extends itself. There is and always will be reasons not to help and yet, no excuse is worthy enough to make it okay not to come to the aid of a child.

I expect more of myself. As the Director of Community Relations for Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo, I regularly see our CIS staff, the KPS teachers, principals, administrators, our partners, and volunteers doing all they can to help the thousands of Sams in Kalamazoo. Are you doing all you can with your time, your talent and/or your money? I realize I’m not.