Cathy and I were both adults when Al came into our lives, but we had only recently recommitted our lives to Jesus. Jesus had been Al’s Lord and Savior, and her best friend, for decades. When it came to faith, she was a grown up. We were still children.
We met Al when a fellow teacher at Martin Luther King Jr. School where I taught recommended her as a babysitter when we had TJ, our first child. Al became our family’s “nanny.” I don’t think Cathy or I were comfortable with the term “nanny” but that is what Al called herself, and Al usually got her way with us. Al was much more than a babysitter. We became family. Other than Cathy and me, the third loving adult TJ and then Will saw on a daily basis was Al.
Al had a very different life than me. Al didn’t graduate from high school. I don’t think she made it to high school. I would start on a doctoral degree a couple years after Al came into our lives. Cathy and I were raised by loving, middle class parents; Al was raised by her sharecropping aunt and uncle. Al faced difficulties of just about ever kind, some based on her race, some based on the circumstances of birth: where, when, and to whom she was born. I lived a fairly sheltered life. Al was abused growing up. I had a supportive spouse. Al was left by her husband with 9 children.
In 2000, when TJ was 5, he had difficulty understanding that there was a time Al couldn’t have sat with him on a bus. When we confirmed that, his response was “that’s not right!” Well said, son. We talked about how in 2000, Al, and his many classmates who were African-American, could sit anywhere on a bus and do so many other things they couldn’t do during the time of Rosa Parks.
One of the things I tell my sociology students is some people celebrate as if they hit a home run in life, when they were born on third base. Al started out life barely getting up to the plate to bat and yet lived one of the fullest lives I have ever witnessed.
I want to be like Al when I grow up.
I want to ask Al and watch how she would react to all that is going on in our country. Al knew firsthand the pain of discrimination and racism. She also knew the heartbreak of watching young boys and girls in her neighborhood make choices regarding relationships, drugs, and violence that hurt others and could destroy their own lives. I don’t know if Al would protest. She might. She might also be down at the soup kitchen getting it ready for people wanting a warm meal. Al certainly wouldn’t be on social media putting people down. If she was on social media, Cathy would have needed to help her learn how to use it! If Al was using social media she would probably be telling everyone the best thing to do is to turn to Jesus. One thing is for sure. Al would be talking to and about Jesus through all this.
I mostly want to be like Al when I grow up because I hope I can make a difference in someone’s life like she did in my life and the life of our family.
Miss you, Al. Can’t wait to talk with you again.