'Can I buy a fag off yer?'
I shrug, and exhale slowly with my mouth closed, as if I wanted nothing better than to sell this young man a cigarette.
'Sorry mate I don't smoke.'
He turns away, I walk on around the corner and past the familiar old house which I recently discovered was where my mother grew up. Coming back around the house I see another 13 or 14 year old boy, on a bike, a Liverpool shirt on sporting 'Gerard' on his back. He spares me a glance and turns away.
'Vicky!' He shouts, a booming, possibly taunting, whisper affect in his voice. Then he disappears into the adjacent alley. I continue, now walking back towards the park I just came from. The boys are still there, possibly approaching me.
'Thought you didn't smoke,' mocked one as the others grinned.
'Just saw you with a fag' another joined, although he was cut off mid sentence from the lad that approached me before I rounded the corner just before,
'Where'd you get that lighter'?
I grinned what I thought was a charitable grin, then continued on my way into the park as the lads continued on their way. I of course don't smoke, they didn't see me smoking, and I wasn't carrying a lighter.
Going further a teenage girl is trying to squeeze through the children's playpark boundary bars but getting stuck in the process. A similar aged lad, possibly older, in a spurt of misplaced or distorted chivalry jumps over them just next to her. A third girl walks away from behind them. There's a makeshift rope swing hanging from a tree on my path just past the young 'gymnasts,' I push it and listen to it swing on the tree as I pass by. I continue, out of the back exit of the park and onto a main road where yet more, and slightly older, teenagers are parading.
I'm sure many would find this pastime a little odd, perhaps even offensive. But watching young people is life to me. Not so much that they inspire me, or make me envy what they have. I don't. I don't even want to watch their culture so I can learn to become more of a part of it in order to reach them. No. Placing myself among them renews in me the burden for them, as people who should be inheriting the Kingdom of Jesus Christ, the savior. Being around them, behind them, in their 'natural habitat' makes the burden in my mind, not more fresh, but more raw. Some burdens are not meant to remain fresh. Some burdens are meant to sting, to bite, to grip, and to cling. This is, for me, one of those burdens.
Another thing I observe and 'catalogue' so to speak in these times, is the similarities and differences; between me and them, them and me, them and Christ, me in Christ and the world, Christ and the world. When it comes to me and them, the differences flow too easy, whereas the similarities are so much harder to process and deal with. 'God make me strong.'
I love these young people, and a yearn for God to keep them close to His heart, I will battle them into His kingdom, and tear Satan from them with my teeth if I must. But I feel God needs me to be more 'me' with them. To be the counter culture -with- them. Not of their culture, not an imitation of their culture either. I've seen 14 year old lads crumble under the piercing stare and wise words of an 80 year old, and I've seen 16 year old girls sit riveted at the feet of a 50 year old professor. I long to be the real, firmly gentle, Christ-like presence in their life. To be an arm and a shoulder, to share footsteps with, and to counter their world with Christ...and see who stands. It is Jesus in these young people that attracts me so tenderly, and Jesus who calls from them. And it is to Him who I must respond.