today marks the one year anniversary of the death of trayvon martin who was shot and killed while walking home from the store late at night.
i know that the sentence you just read is an oversimplification of a very complicated story. but in some ways, it’s not. isn’t every story complicated? isn’t every sentence a simplification of sorts?
when my children faced into middle school they began the arduous task of figuring out their own appearances and stylistic tastes. at the same time they made efforts to get past the externals that their peers presented in order to forge relationships that were more than skin deep.
adolescence is not a pretty time. neither is it simple.
a good friend once told me, “teenagers try on identities like we try on shirts.” that phrase has stuck with me. it is so true.
at that aforementioned middle school period i took my kids to a large bookstore. as we walked slowly through each section i suggested that they pick up a book and start reading. while they were more than happy to oblige among the harry potter and calvin and hobbes books they were less than willing to do so in the romance, history, or business sections. for the life of me i could not get them to open one of these books.
it’s true i guess. we do judge the book by it’s cover. whether conscious or or not, our instinct tells us that there’s no way we’ll find something interesting to us in a book written by such and such, or covered in fleshy entwined bodies, or one that we find in the automotive section. we seem to be so sure of this.
the world of people and relationship are so different.
and yet we approach them in much the same way.
we rarely linger in the “section” where we aren’t already comfortable. we don’t push ourselves past our go-to favorites to see if we might actually like science fiction, or history, or sodoku, or economics. we don’t read life of pi because it’s in the young adult section. neither do we read the wisdom of other religious traditions because we can’t find it among the shelves of our own. we assume we already know...the book’s cover informs us.
and yet it doesn’t.
trayvon martin was wearing a hoodie and was out late at night. he might even have talked tough. who knows, maybe he was trying on an identity like a shirt. adolescents are so that way. all tough and talk one minute and wanting to be tucked in the next. presenting a cover and yet secretly (or not so secretly) hoping you’ll see beyond it to who they really are and what they really need. especially since they don’t always know those things themselves.
we all pull figurative triggers everyday. we judge the inside by what we see on the outside. we are put off by what is presented so we never reach in to the insides where true connection, respect, and valuing takes place.
so today i will take risks and be warm and welcoming with the adolescents i encounter. i will not judge them by their covers. i will give them spacious benefit of the doubt and assume that they may be trying on shirts. the one that they wear tomorrow may be drastically different than the one that they wear today. i will remember that the thing that remains the same is their humanity (which i share) underneath. their bold, messy, hormonal, out of control, beautiful, brave, scared, trying-to-figure-it-all-out humanity. and i will not pull the trigger...even if their humanity scares me. for perhaps there is something to be learned by opening a book with a different kind of cover.