I was tucked into a good book, after sunset and a long hot shower, when our son popped in the room.
"Dad, one of my friends is cleaning out the basement and he has a set of weights he wants to give me. Can I go pick them up down the street?"
"Sure son, just make sure you take your hooded sweatshirt off your head."
Off he went with the delayed response of our exchange yet to fully engage. Our dark skinned child was entering a neighbor's house to remove equipment at night, wearing a hooded sweatshirt. The child offering the weights mentored our son when he skipped a grade and needed a friend in the new classroom. I've been a student in the father's golf academy and the moms text carpooling plans regulary.
By the time I put the book down, sat up and realized the historic underbelly of his coming out of a house at night, without verified homeowner approval, he was already down the block. Racing to put shoes on, I hit the sidewalk as he was returning from the errand. His look was an unspoken, "Hey Dad, what's up? We just talked and I'm following through. Is everything alright?" He may have asked but he just looked because he was on a call.
Because he said nothing to me, I said nothing to him and instead waived him toward the house with a goofy smile. How could I tell him of my fear of his being pranked by peers making a video of him coming out of a house with something on his shoulder? What foolishness was my agreeing to the inquiry without connecting with the gift-giver's parent? Why should his perfectly harmless exchange with a neighbor be hijacked by my demons?
Demons whisper and they told me the had no business going into white folks' houses at night with a hoody. They reminded me of the quick turn of my own interracial friendships: best buds in kindergarten and nemeses by middle school. "Ahmaud Arbery was shot on a subdivision street in broad daylight," they whispered.
Many of our neighbors defend their homes with firearms. Police response times in this community are measured in seconds, not minutes. A "see something, say something," neighborhood watch kind-of-neighbor could spark police lights, sirens and handcuffs faster than it takes to say, "Wait, wait. There must be some mistake." All of these truths played in my mind as I teetered on the fulcrum between parenthood and paranoia. I write now, really, as a therapeutic intervention. Getting this out, through my fingertips, puts the sting outside my members. Keystrokes lower the respiration rate and number of heart beats per minute. I am, still, an urban Black male in the suburbs.
Apparently I'm scared of more than the cops.
It is to the boil of tonight's fear that the poultice of sanctification is held. Thomas Merton described sanctification - the passive and active work of fleeing sin - as a spiral. When we successfully avoid yesterday's temptations, today, we spiral upward. My paraphrased regurgitation of Merton leaves room for downward spirals too. Tonight's urgency was a nosediving, circular descent.
Sin can be defined as missing the mark and tonight I missed the mark. Receiving the gift of a quiet evening in a recliner was closer to the bullseye than squinting into an autumnal night, looking for something that was not there. There were no pranksters, no cell phone video, no breaking and entering claim leveled at our son. Rather two friends were texting. One's parents were emptying the basement and the other was trying to build muscle for high school athletics. Admitting that I jumped to conclusions, pulled from an anachronistic playbook and assumed the worse is a form of godliness.
Spiraling upward reconnects us with God. A short, "Help me Lord," while walking down the block stopped my downward spiral. Calling the adults in the house our son entered, to get the full story, leveled me off. An uptick began in finding them watching the game and hearing, "We're cleaning out our basement and our son said your son could use the weights. We said "Sure!" Is everything OK Alex? You look a little shaky." Walking home in the dark, with assurances the Lord heard and answered my prayer, was a spiral upward.
I blog in the same chair from which I sprang forty minutes ago. The weight set is banging contentedly in the basement. Our son in still on the telephone and I am higher in a sanctification spiral than I was a day ago. Our son's hood still has to come down when he leaves the house and I still prefer connecting with parents rather than approving teenagers' plans.
The Lord has however given us the gift of an unassuming child with long-lasting friendships and neighbors who bless our children while we're not looking.
There are worse ways to spend an evening than in active flight from my shortcomings. Forgetting what is behind, I press toward the mark of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.