The Roots are a brilliant band. I know this song is several years old, but I still really like it. The music helps it masquerade as a good song for summertime, but the words tell a story– a regrettable, true story that I’m hearing and seeing a lot more often than I’d like to lately.
I recently had a conversation with a woman who comes over to my house once a week for dinner. She has an elementary school aged son, fathered by a man who she would call her first love. A man who has been in jail since his son was 3 years old. His time in jail has been fraught with heartbreak for her- hopes built up and then smashed by the unthinkable, over and over again. She has endured so much pain due to this man’s decisions, and yet– she loves him. Enough that she would likely forsake all others to be with him if he asked.
I had coffee with her right in the midst of his most recent post-incarceration bout of lies and philandering. And in our conversation, I learned that some other dude had wandered into her life. Someone who made her “happy”. Naturally, hoping for an improvement upon her last situation, I asked for details.
“So tell me about this new guy, what does he do?”
“Well, he’s kinda young. He’s 23 and he’s got two kids and he’s just– he’s a really good dude.”
The traditional answer to the question usually involves something regarding school or work.
A more appropriate answer to my question would have been. “He does women. And rather carelessly at that. He’s a disrespectful, irresponsible, little boy.”
I walked away from the conversation devastated by the cycle of madness that has enveloped at-risk urban communities. In what world is a 23 year old single guy with two children and no job or degree considered a “good dude”?! Someone who’s attention is coveted?! How did “good” ever become associated with such behavior? And if that’s good—what the hell is bad?! Sadly, I’ve already heard the answer.
Living in St. Louis, I’m overwhelmed by the amount of people who were born here (into poverty, fatherlessness, violence, and hard times), grew up here (as best they could, with direction from one (or two, if they were lucky) very young, drug-addled or three-job-working-and-therefore-rarely-present parent) went to school here (until they dropped out or graduated from an unaccredited public high school) and then just never left. Limited by lack of funding, faith, education or by responsibilities brought on by a lack of all three, they find themselves stomping the same ground they did at 6, 10 and 14 years old—and not in a quaint, small town, circle-of-life kind of way. They’re still running with the same crowd they’ve always known. They’ve all dated each other, hated each other, had kids together or been locked up together. They can’t seem to escape their present or forget the past and the grudges become more and more bitter with time and lack of distance from each other. The men keep vanishing, in one way or another– and not because they’re going off to school or traveling on business. The women, constantly enduring the loss of their men, get consumed with jealousy and petty competition. They (almost) inadvertently urge each other toward dimmer and dimmer situations. Trying to outdo one another, many seem to end up walking the same sad road, covered in tattoos of their exes’ nicknames, herding kids and struggling to make ends meet. In essence, the concepts of past and future becomes utterly muddled for this sect of people. It’s as if sometime after 15 or so, time stops marching on and just marches in place. People get older and have babies, other die and leave them behind—but nothing changes. More people just get added to the mess. It’s devastating.
I understand that the world is broken, and that will never resolve until Jesus comes back. But where do you even begin to hope to foster change a cycle like this? I know this story is present in every urban core– but now that I realize that, I can’t bring myself to just live in the middle of it and pretend it’s not happening.
“Someone has to care…”