Here in the season of giving, it’s a good time to consider a certain set of gifts — the kind we never wanted and would have said “No, thanks,” if anyone had asked.
People who have endured various trials of life (some life-threatening) will often explain that as awful as the circumstance or disease might be, it became a gift, a source of strength and character.
I used to hear such tales and assume it was just a way of coping with the unthinkable. But with a little reflection I can recall many times that my life has been enriched by “gifts’ in the guise of problems and setbacks.
For example, I considered myself a writer long before I’d ever written anything other than self-indulgent ramblings in my journals. Then I met Judge Clyde Wells.
I was 19 years old when I got my first call for jury duty and I was frankly excited for the experience. I was living in the country and didn’t keep a calendar, so I pinned the letter next to my door where I wouldn’t forget the date. One day as I walked out I noticed that it WAS “the date.” I was already about an hour late for my time at the county courthouse, so I naïvely called to tell them I was on my way. The clerk informed me that when I arrived I would not be on the jury, but would be on trial. I was in contempt of court for failing to comply with an order (not a request) to appear.
Clyde Wells was a circuit court judge who had seen it all, but he seemed amused at my situation as I met with him in his chambers. Rather than fine me, he sentenced me to write a 3,000 word essay on “the evolution of the circuit court system in America.” It seemed like a brutal assignment, and a dull topic, but I learned more from researching and writing that story than from dozens of school classes I had slept through. And when Judge Wells told me he really enjoyed the paper I turned in, I felt a genuine pride enhanced by a personal revelation: “Hey, maybe I actually CAN write.”
To young people who live on society’s margins — immigrants, the poor, the homeless — encounters with the law are usually avoided or even feared. This emotion is dramatically enhanced by recent stories of regrettable examples of police encounters gone bad. But the untold story is that, for each of those newsworthy tragedies, there are countless times where officers of the law have quietly changed lives for the better, set kids on the right track, inspired them to reach for something better than the options they thought were all they had.
Too often, the first meaningful interaction between a cop and a kid takes place in a stressful situation, an arrest or a domestic dispute. What a gift it would be to have a place where such relationships could be formed in an atmosphere of fun, healthful activity with the coaching coming without threats of detainment or penalties.
This gift already exists in the Queen City in the form of the Manchester Police Athletic League in the Michael Briggs Community Center on Beech Street. See our feature story to learn more about they work they do and about a much-needed, and eagerly sought, gift of hope coming their way next year.