The substitute teacher, she calls them over. They gather, bodies squirming, on the story rug with squares. Row upon row, they “criss-cross applesauce,” eager for the story to come.
I sit in the back, looking over those heads. Sixteen boys, seven girls. That teacher, she’s got her hands full.
She opens the book. The children, they’re listening. Some jeans are sitting still, and other bottoms, they’re wriggling. I’m watching them on their squares on the rug. And I remember the message that came.
Standing at the counter, I hear it hit. It’s College Kid in a text. “Did you hear about Danzele? Shot and killed today.”
Oh, goodness. Oh, my. Him, 21. Mine, 22. Him, sprinting. Mine running, teammates in red and black.
I dial him up. “What happened?” I say. “Wrong crowd,” he says, sober. Burglary by daylight. A homeowner, armed. One shot and he’s dead. No running, not now.
I’m looking at the melting pot on the story rug. Hispanic. Black. White. Blonds mixed with browns mixed with blacks. And I think of Danzele. Who sat on a rug once, too. Ran at recess. Played ball. Worked on papers. Ate lunch.
How could one know what the future would hold? How these kids would turn out? What choices they’d make? If there on a square sat another ‘Danzele?’ What could I do, just one little mother? All this, I am thinking as the teacher reads on.
After lunch, he leads me to recess and hops on a swing. I give him a push. He pumps high, legs reaching, back and forth. Back and forth.
Those children, they come. “Who’s mama are you?”
“His,” I say proud, pointing to him there on the swing. They ask for a push. Need a hand getting up. Need help with a zipper. Need…love.
They circle around me, those love-hungry children, and I talk to them sweet. These lambs of the Shepherd need love.
What if here on the playground, another ‘Danzele’ ran, needing care and attention? A kind word and a smile? A touch from a mother who, though not his own, said “you’re special to me” and “I think you’re great?”
What if love-seeds sown freely on playgrounds at recess were sowing redemption? That altered paths. That changed a course. That led to the Shepherd. What if that?
I leave for home, heart full, feeling helpless. I cannot do much, just one smallish mother. But I can sow love-seeds and pray for redemption. I can whisper a plea. I can take them to Him. That’s what this one mother can do.