The photo of you was exquisitely beautiful, an oasis in a week of horror.
In what should have been your first week of kindergarten, you were hiding from the hurricane in an attic with your grandmother as she cared for an elderly woman. As you escaped from the house you found yourselves refugees in your own city. The eye of the storm is passed, though the ordeal is far from over, and here you are walking alongside Mrs. LaGarde’s wheelchair. Holding her hand.
Your face has haunted me all week. There was something calm in your expression, steely almost. Resolute and brave. I wanted to make stories about your friendship with this old woman whose head sagged beneath the glare of the cameras. But then I saw the caption that showed her to be 105 years old! At 105, this elder is probably not, even on her best days, skipping rope with you. Is her mind still able to communicate with you? Yet here you are, in midst of unconscionable squalor, horror really, holding this elderly hand. You, so in need of comfort, comforting.
As I return to your face for the millionth time this week, I realize that my sorrow is laced with contrition. You are too young and too innocent to have seen what has no doubt been thrust before you in these past ten days. Life is tenuous enough for those who give their lives as caregivers to the elderly, and your grandmother is one of these important people. She receives a paycheck that barely stretches for food and shelter. But not enough to fl y north when the hurricane alarms sounded. Yet despite all of the injustices thrust upon your grandmother, she kept you and Mrs. LaGarde safe in a nightmare beyond my imagining.
Contrition haunts my sorrow because I received one of the much-touted "tax refund checks." It arrived during an election year. I knew I didn’t deserve it and I spoke out loudly, at least among my friends. But I cashed it. Now I know that it was blood money gained at the cost of stalled levee projects and reduced FEMA funds.
And here you are, calm and steady. Putting one foot in front of the other, the vulnerable being strong for the even more vulnerable. And I am filled with dread knowing that I deserve the hate that should be emanating from your eyes. But it isn’t. There is no hate, only compassion and determination.
And now I recognize you. You are Immanuel, God with us. In my faith tradition, we would call you the Christ. You ask for neither pity nor shame, only commitment. I will remember you when I enter the voting both next fall. Your face will push me beyond my safe circle of friends to work for the justice that belongs to you and to your grandmother. In the meantime, I will send my check today when I finish bagging clothes.
And all the while your face will remind me why my choices matter. Thank you, Tanisha.
The Rev. Katherine Hawker is pastor of Evangelical UCC in Webster Groves, Mo.