Like most New Yorkers, I live in a village. No matter that the village is called an apartment building. The numbers are similar, and sometimes when one has lived in the village for a number of years, or in times when crises hit one of its residents, the sense of community flourishes.
This Christmas will be more real to me because of what happened on my street (no matter that it is called a floor) in one such village…..
“Once upon a time”……In the simplest possible terms: a child was born. But it didn’t happen in the simplest possible terms. Instead it happened in the context of a brilliant, complex bachelor.
Because he is a very private person and because he tends to wrap his kindnesses in understatement, if not complete anonymity, I’ll call him Joseph, after another good man who also, at great cost to himself, became the parent of an often-misunderstood little boy.
The Joseph of my story had for years found time in his life as the senior editor at a prestigious publishing house to give the most valuable donation of all to a well-known program to help the city’s helpless. He gave his time, generously and personally, to encourage and to counsel young people at odds with the law and with themselves.
It was through one of these contacts that he first came to know the little boy. A mutual friend tells of how a special bond was recognizable from the moment Joseph first saw the child. While the boy’s mother fought an often-losing battle with drugs and the sometime companion of the two drifted away, Joseph kept watch and never gave up on either of them. He was quietly determined that the little boy would not be pulled into a cycle of hopelessness without knowing that there can be choices in life.
So, the little boy first began to visit the village on weekends. It was a chance for his mother to get a brief respite from the demands of two tiny children growing up, first in a shelter and then in a cramped apartment. And mostly it was a chance for the little boy to do what is largely missing from the lives of the city’s poorest children: to play.
In Joseph’s company, he visited the local firehouse and the firefighters let him sit on the big, red truck. He ran and tumbled and tired himself and Joseph in Central Park. Neighbors saw him go from grasping to giving as the reassurance of Joseph’s presence taught him that a boy needn’t grab for things in the constant fear that they will be taken away.
Then one day the boy’s mother left him with Joseph and didn’t return. But instead of becoming swallowed up in the system, ricocheting from foster home to foster home, the boy came to live in the village full time. Joseph battled the dragon of bureaucracy for him and made it possible for the boy to have the one bit of continuity and stability his young life has had.
Joseph never tells the boy placating lies when the child asks why his mother went away, or if she will come back. But neither does he tell him truths which are designed to frighten. Mostly, I suspect, he simply stands by this little boy.
Joseph tells of how he arranges for the little boy to spend Sundays at the home of one of his teachers so the boy can have positive experiences of a mother and a loving family. He does not seem to take it for granted that the little boy can stay with him in the long term.
Joseph’s dream would be for the boy to become a part of a family that is full of warmth and support and nurturing. As he describes the scenario, he adds that he would hope that the family might allow him to continue to have “some role” in the boy’s life.
And so it began, “Once upon a time……”
Perhaps you who read these words today have been, or have known “Joseph” or “the Boy.” And even if you have not, may you hear in this story new reasons for hope. Happy Christmas.
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