Jesse and Me

Jesse is becoming a friend of mine.  I hope I’m becoming a friend of his.  We meet for Bible Study every Friday at Rose Plaza.  Sometimes, other men in the community join us.  Sometimes, it’s just the two of us and we’re both fine with that.  However, we have very little in common.

Jesse is in his upper 50s.  He’s black.  He’s widowed.  He lost a leg to cancer at 14.  He loved to play baseball – and was pretty good at it, before he lost the leg.  He was an accomplished RN before various health problems, including prostate cance, took care of that.

I’m 32.  I’m white.  I’m married – happily.  I’ve got a lazy eye, but I can’t say I’ve suffered much in my lifetime.  I liked to play baseball growing up, but I liked basketball better.  I’ve had it pretty easy, all things considered.

I’m there every Friday to “teach” Jesse.  He and his girlfriend Iras call me “Pastor Brooks.” I feel rather inadequate about that.  In fact, most Fridays, Jesse teaches me.

Last week, I asked Jesse about growing up in the 1960s in Amarillo, Texas.  To be honest, I thought I’d hear a horror story or two.  I can’t imagine what it was like to be black, in the South, in the mid 20th century.  Unable to eat in certain restaurants or drink from certain water fountains because of the color of your skin.  Being called unmentionable names.  Thinking about it makes my skin crawl.

I asked the question, and he told me a story that really kind of suprised me.  Schools were segregated in Amarillo when he grew up, so he attend Carver with all the other African American teenagers.  He loved his school – he knew nothing else.  His junior year, Jesse was quite popular, was the MC of the prom, had a girlfriend, was a bright student.  He bought his “class of 1968 class ring” and was looking forward to his senior year. 

He never got to put the ring to use.  Before his senior year began, Amarillo made progress – the schools integrated. For Jesse’s Senior year of High School, his beloved Carver High was shut down and he had to go to Palo Duro High School.  And, he told me, he wasn’t very happy about it.  He was leaving the only school he knew and many of the friends he loved. 

That suprised me when I first heard him say that.  He wasn’t excited about integration?  What?  That was a huge, important step – one that changed life in America. 

But really, why would he be excited?  Jesse was a teenager who cared more about his friends and the immediate world around him than the big picture of a changing, improving world.  And his immediate world was being taken away from him against his will.

And that’s when it hit me – I could relate to Jesse.  I was a selfish teenager, too, once, who cared only about my immediate circle.  I cared more about where we were going on Friday night than anything else.  And Jesse felt the same way.  You probably did, too.  Regardless of color, age, background – we’re all not that different. 

Our thoughts, emotions, passions – they’re pretty much the same.  That’s why God told Samuel that “man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”  I so desire for the day man will look at the things the God looks at.  We’d sure avoid alot of the problems we’re have today.

By the way.  I told Jesse I bet his class ring is worth some money, since there was no class of ’68.  Does he know where it is?

“Naw.  I gave it to my girlfriend back then.”

Typical teenager. 

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