The picture gallery on the hallway wall caught my eye. Dozens of pictures of young men, usually smiling, were scattered in an organized manner on the two walls extending past the kitchen area. I was a member of a mission team helping to repair a room in this house that served as a boys’ home for 14 residents. Someone earlier had shared with me that these boys ended up at the house because they were abandoned by their ‘parents’, or their caregivers simply could not take care of them. My mind immediately categorized these residents as ‘unconnected’.
We can argue as to whether or not these young lives were unconnected or disconnected. ‘Unconnected’ could imply they were never really a part of a family or some other base that served as a life foundation; ‘disconnected’ might lead us to believe they were a part of something bigger, but were ‘unplugged’ at some point. A conversation, even a brief one, with any of these residents, would be a sharp and stinging reminder that our vocabulary concerns are meaningless. Either we are connected in this world or not.
If you pay a little more attention than usual, you can find clues that serve as small windows into the lives of others. When you genuinely reflect on the clues you can at least gain an understanding on the value and need to be connected. During my half dozen or so trips in and out of the house carrying paint brushes, buckets, and tools, I found my eyes gathering puzzle pieces that would help my mind reveal just a little bit about what life in the house must be like. I needed to see a ‘big picture’ of these lives, regardless of how out of focus my conclusions might be.
One of the residents that walked past me wore an airbrushed shirt with much of the space filled with an ornate black and purple cross. A girl’s name was written in script across the front-in memory. The date on the shirt told me she must have died recently. Since the artwork on the shirt looked like it could have been the spray paint ‘tag’ artwork found on some inner city building, I was led to speculate how she died. I know next to nothing about gangs, but I couldn’t rule out this resident lost someone important and meaningful in a not so ordinary way.
The graffiti-like murals scattered throughout the house seemed to support my conclusion that some of these residents were not too far from gang-life. Words related to character traits had been artfully and purposefully ‘tagged’ on the walls throughout the house. It seemed like such an odd mix: Artwork that sparks many of us to think ‘gang life’ was being used to display words such as ‘integrity’, ‘discipline’, and ‘caring’. One of the group photos on the wall was electronically enhanced so the colors were faded to a reddish color with gold highlights. The artistic result of this alteration caused my mind to sprint: Leaving these boys drifting and unconnected in this boys’ facility would serve to wash the color from their lives. The lack of meaningful, reliable, consistent, rewarding, fulfilling, and ‘fill-in-the-blank’ (with your own word) connections was changing the appearance of their young lives. It is our connections to family and meaningful relationships that provide a variety of colors, shades, and crisp outlines to our lives. These lives seemed ‘blurry’ to me.
A single persistent question in my mind served as both a compass and a destination: “What do these boys think about?”
My eyes scanned the kitchen as I filled a small bucket with water in the sink. “I bet a resident looks around this kitchen and is reminded that this place isn’t really his- that he’s just a temporary visitor”, I told myself. I encountered another group photo on the wall near the edge of the kitchen doorway. The imaginary resident in my mind told himself, “I don’t know any of these guys. I don’t really know anybody.”
Throughout the two days that I worked at the house I reluctantly noticed how many of the residents drifted through the house during the day. They would walk into a room look around for a moment then move to the next room. Some would go outside and fish in the pond with a makeshift fishing rod consisting of a segment of fishing line and small hook; their hand served as the fishing rod. Frustration or lack of patience prevented them from ‘fishing’ for more than two or three minutes. These residents did not realize that they were searching for something: a purpose. They didn’t know they were seeking for something to latch on to.
I once removed a bee’s nest from underneath a camping trailer we parked in our driveway. We moved the camper the next day, but the bees continued to return to the location of their former nest. There was no physical object there anymore. It was almost sad to watch the bees hover around in mid-air as though their persistence would make the nest reappear. I bet the residents of the boys’ home could tell us a lot about why the bees were so persistent in their search.