Last week, I stumbled upon three teen boys with time on their hands.
I’d like to think I was prepared, because my own three sons are 15, 18 and 19, and they frequently appear to be in a big hurry to go nowhere. But this was different.
It was Friday night, and my work week was ending later than I’d planned. I was darting out the door into darkness, thinking about supper and what Olympic events I’d watch on TV.
A couple of steps from the parking deck, a teenager was standing in my way. He was as big as a middle linebacker, and I asked him what was up. He was drinking out of a tall Styrofoam cup.
He didn’t return my pleasantries, which surprised me. He didn’t even smile. Glancing sideways, he mumbled something I couldn’t understand.
Then two other guys stepped out of the shadows. The big teen pointed to the building and asked me if I worked there. I said yeah, and made a quick assessment: They were bigger and stronger than me, they had time on their hands, and they didn’t seem to like me very much. I haven’t felt that way since my first day of junior high school.
I wished them a good evening, pushed past and headed down the stairs to the lower level of the deck. A couple of steps from the bottom I felt a cold blast hit me in the back, then heard startled laughter from the sidekicks followed by the rushing of three sets of arms and legs.
I stood there for just a second. The big white cup rocked at the bottom of the steps. My shirt was soaked from my neckline down to my belt. Pink lemonade.
I headed across the empty lot to my car, tossed my computer bag in the passenger seat and drove up the ramp. Then I stopped and put the car in park. The deck had been closed for the weekend, and I was going to have to get out and unlock the gate. When I opened the door, I heard whispering and saw the boys on the ground-level parking lot, hiding behind a car.
I closed the door and sat there. Did I really want to get out of the car and open the gate? I did another quick assessment. They were young enough to be my sons. They were also old enough to shoot me and steal my car.
But you know what? I’d already turned my back on them once, and they’d done nothing but throw lemonade on me. Really, that wasn’t so bad.
I opened the door, left the car running and walked to the chain. The boys leaped up and ran down the street.
And that was that. Let the weekend begin.
A week later, I went to watch my youngest son compete in the annual oratorical contest hosted by the local Optimist Club. Naturally, the topic was optimism.
In addition to six girls, seven teenage boys gave speeches. They didn’t look much different from the fellows I’d encountered on Friday night, but they were wearing neckties and sharing some big ideas. It was one of those events where you leave feeling better about the future.
My pastor likes to say that with every choice we make and thing we do we’re either taking a step forward or a step backward.
After the contest, several of the boys said they’d entered for the same reason: a teacher had asked them to write a speech and show up to deliver it. They figured they had nothing better to do.
As quick as it took to throw lemonade on an unsuspecting adult, they’d said yes.
I’d call that a step forward.