At 2:30 this morning I was awakened by shouting in the street. I peeked out the curtain to see six black-clad older teenagers standing in the middle of the intersection in front of my house under the street light. They were yelling obscenities and taking turns with a glowing object that looked from that distance to be a bottle but which I assume was a glass pipe or bong. One looked especially wobbly on his legs and kept bending over to grasp his knees as if he were going to be sick. For a half an hour of racket, I vacillated between asking the police to do a drive-by to break them up and just waiting for the cold temperature to drive them away. Finally a taxi appeared and took them off. Poor taxi driver.
I couldn't help but contrast that with the way I had spent the previous evening. A youth group from our church, including my son, is putting on a musical, and we have spent every Saturday evening for months at rehearsals. I drive the carpool, and the distance is such that I don't want to drive all the way home again, only to return to pick them up at 9 p.m. So I hang out at the church during practices. I spend hours sitting and crocheting while watching these lively, clean-cut, healthy-looking kids learn dance routines and songs, ham it up on stage, and fiddle with microphones and costumes. It's all coming neatly together -- performances in two weeks -- and I am continually impressed with their talent and their friendliness toward each other. I am overwhelmed with a sense of how unique these people are. I mean, how often do you see a bunch of teenage boys, arms linked at the elbow, walking out into the parking lot singing show tunes at the tops of their lungs? The costumes are modest and brilliant, the kids are polite and genuinely seem to enjoy each other's company, and the noisy herd is slowly transforming into a theatrical troupe. These aren't professional actors or kids who even have an ambition to go into acting or singing, necessarily. But they are all joined in a common cause for the sheer fun of it. The directors are looking a bit frazzled at the edges, but the kids come away from rehearsals pumped with excitement and enthusiasm. You don't see them walking away from nine hours of school with that kind of energy.
In all these months I have not overheard a single swear word or unkind comment. I have seen a lot of people encouraging and helping each other, sharing, draping of arms around shoulders, and some good-natured teasing. How have these kids managed to keep themselves relatively unspotted from their drug-using, directionless peers? How have they maintained such undying cheerfulness in such a bleak world as modern high school? Because it isn't an act -- they really are this good. I look at the row of handsome faces and broad smiles and the word that comes to mind is pure.
I wish my son lived closer to some of these kids and could attend the same school. I think it's valuable to get them together, to let them form friendships, to show them they are not alone in the world in their beliefs. How do we maintain that once the show is over? I fret at the thought that some of these great kids could slip into the flow of depression and hopelessness of ordinary teen life and forget that they truly are extraordinary. And I fear that we adults too often take one glance and plop kids into the general category of "Oh. Teenagers" without taking the time to really look at them and see how remarkable they are.
The price to put on this show? Thousands of dollars and thousands of hours. The admission cost? Free of charge. Having faith and hope in the rising generation? Priceless.