Maybe it was the blue skies and sunshine, or the barricades and posters with schedules of Mardi Gras parades as the new carnival season is about to begin. Or the signs at the MLK rally that said, “The time is always right to do what is right,” and “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is ‘What are you doing for others?’”
It could have been the people doing for others or all of the stories and examples of second chances. Ministries at churches resurrected by serving the way Jesus told us to serve. A veteran giving back after decades in prison and then living on the street. A band director lecturing her musicians after a disappointing performance and then offering a chance for redemption and encouraging them to take pride in themselves.
Whatever it was, I am filled with hope for Mobile.
The day started with Travis who called himself “the seventh son of a seventh son of a seventh son.” He wiped away tears as he told stories of snipers in Vietnam, rashes from agent orange, flatlining on heroin and playing in a band in Chicago that backed Buddy Guy and Muddy Waters. He lost his leg when a car hit him while crossing the street. The upside down American flag tucked in his boot is a protest against the government that he said let him down.
“Thank you for letting me tell these stories,” Travis says. “I never get to tell them anymore and it feels good to have someone listen.”
Bob was another Vietnam veteran. His college classes were canceled for the holiday so he served lunch at the Bread of Life Cafe at First Christian Church, the church that saved him from a life on the streets. In 37 months, he will have a degree in electrical engineering and then work toward his master’s degree. The little money he has goes to jobs for the homeless.
“I spent decades in prison for being a fool, and when I got out I didn’t have a place to go,” Bob says. “I started eating lunch here and helping and the next thing I know, I had a job as a maintenance man. The VA got me off the street and now I have a home and I am a full-time college student. I knew I was going to do something with my life, I just didn’t know what. I have my own car and a Harley Davidson but I always remember where I came from. The Lord has done so much for me and I make sure I give back. I want to open a business and employ some of the guys who are homeless who want to do something with their lives. They have to be willing to help themselves. It may take me five or 10 years to do this, but I want to give them a second chance like I had.”
Even houses of the Lord need second chances. It has been years since the large sanctuaries at First Christian Church and Forest Hills United Methodist were filled with people in their Sunday best and the two churches almost died as their congregations moved away. Both churches are now places to worship for people who don’t look alike. They are refuges for people in transition who need a hot meal, a lesson in finance, a new family who cares about them, or just a little decency. At the new Vision Center, youth cleaned out typewriters, chairs and sheet music and a little boy helped is dad “wreck” the rotten playground.
Before lunch at First Christian, Lisa Hixon, the pastor’s wife and music director, read a quote from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
“The richer we have become materially, the poorer we have become morally and spiritually,” she says. “We have learned to fly in the air like birds and swim in the sea like fish, but we have not learned the simple art of living together as brothers.
“As the Bible says, ‘We are our brothers’ keepers.”
Some people are also the keepers of children. La Derrell Bell directs the Magnolia Breeze Youth Band, an all-inclusive therapeutic group that accepts students with special needs and disabilities, but she was not happy with how the band played today in the walk. She called for a horn section rehearsal on Tuesday to give them a second chance to learn the songs they were supposed to know today.
“Do your job. Don’t depend on someone else to do it,” she says. “You need to dedicate yourself to what you want to be. It is an honor to be in this parade. If it wasn’t for this man, you wouldn’t get a good education and would never be able to march in these streets. Practice and take pride in yourself. Someday someone may write a book about you being a great musicians, dancer, doctor or teacher. Love what you do and be great at it. Mardi Gras season is here and you have to show up and show out.”
Churches. Veterans. Kids playing horns in a band. Today was a reminder that second chances are a time to do what is right, do for others, and to love what you do and be great at it.
We all need a second chance to show up and show out.