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Jul 25, 2016 | The Rev. Cynthia Caruso

Fostering the Kingdom of God, One Child at a Time

I had just moved into my furnished studio apartment in Rutland, Vermont, next door to Trinity Episcopal Church. For two days I had gone to bed at 5 p.m. because in October the sun set that early—and the electricity had not been turned on. The new job would not start for three weeks, and I sat at the tiny kitchen table and wondered, in the dark, what in the world I was doing 1900 miles from everyone and everything I knew.


But later that week I woke up at 2 a.m. to a blaring TV next door. Lots of shouting, and a young voice yelling, “Yeah!! Go!” I banged on the wall connecting us, but the walls were plaster and I only hurt my hand. This happened for the next few nights, and I worried about what I would do when I started work and could not afford nights interrupted by noise.


The following week I decided to introduce myself to my noisy neighbor. I bought a large chocolate chip cookie at Rosie’s Coffee Shop, and walked over to meet the noisy young man. When he opened to my knock, I introduced myself, told him I’d just moved here from Texas, and if he ever wanted to talk, just knock on my door. He stared at me, then he took the cookie. I waved good-bye and left.


The next evening there was a knock on my door, and when I opened it, there was Jimmy. That was his name. He had two take-out containers of Chinese food in his hands and explained that his grandmother had taken him to dinner the previous night and he thought maybe I would like some Chinese. I invited him in, got two plates and two forks and we sat down and ate a meal.


Jimmy was 19. He had been in foster care all his life, really, and had been turned loose on the world a year prior, when he turned 18. In the year he had been on his own, roaming the streets of Rutland, surviving on SSI, he had found a 14-year-old girlfriend. Although the mother knew about her daughter’s consensual relationship with Jimmy, when Jimmy naively said “yes” to the caseworker’s question about sex with the girl, he was hauled in for sexual abuse and released on parole as a sex offender. I learned all this as we ate his Chinese food in my apartment.


We became unlikely friends. We did not “hang out” much, but Jimmy introduced me to the best pizza places in Rutland, and whenever I had extra money I would take him for pizza. I met his grandmother, the only stable influence in his life, when she came to visit him. Jimmy told me that his caseworker had asked him if he was having sex with me. We both laughed over that one, and once I realized this man worshiped at Trinity, I introduced myself to him and learned more about Jimmy, none of it happy.


In May I went home to Texas to close up my house and move my furniture to Vermont, and when I came back, Jimmy was not in his apartment. Silence all day and night. His grandmother knocked on my door a few days later and told me that Jimmy had had a “spell,” and been sent to a mental hospital in Bennington, and that there he had had a tantrum at one of the workers and had been sent to prison in Springfield. You may remember that Springfield, Vermont was the home of The Simpsons; it was also home of a state prison. She asked me if I would like to go with her to visit Jimmy on Saturday. She went every Saturday and would enjoy my company.


So for the next 8-12 weeks, Jimmy’s grandmother and I drove an hour to Springfield, to the prison. It was not easy. That first visit the guards at the entrance dithered a long time about letting me in because the underwire in my bra set off the metal detector. After wrangling among themselves for half an hour they let me in with a stern admonition to get another bra. I was making very little money then, so I simply removed the wire from one bra and used that one for prison visits.


In the visiting area there were many square tables where families could visit their loved one. All the prisoners (men) wore navy blue scrubs. Jimmy beamed when he saw us and asked his grandmother to bring cards next time. After that we always played hearts until time was up. Before we headed back, Jimmy’s grandmother would stop at Dunkin’ Donuts, in town, and buy us each a donut. We would sit on the curb chatting and looking at the mountains that were the backdrop to what had once been a thriving community as the sun set behind us. We talked about Jimmy, about life. She looked old for her age, and she smoked.


When Jimmy got out he had no money—and neither did I. He needed groceries, and I remembered seeing a food pantry as I rambled about Rutland. I drove him there where three well-dressed women explained the ropes—how often he could receive free food, how much of each type he could have. I could have kissed those women. They acted as if they enjoyed helping Jimmy. When he selected a huge cake with strawberries on it, they never suggested he get something healthier—and neither did I. We left with peanut butter, bread, some cans of soup, and that gigantic, festive strawberry cake.


I moved to New Mexico and forgot Jimmy. But this week another young man, a polite, open-faced young man, walked into our office needing rent help, or at least a motel for three nights until his rent got paid. He had just been released from foster care and sent into the world; and whoosh, I remembered my first Vermont neighbor, Jimmy. I am not very sentimental. I do a lot of tough love. But thinking of children living in violent or abusive homes, children enduring things no human should have to endure, children being bounced from foster home to foster home—this makes me cry, makes me see how far we have to go before God’s Kingdom will be present.


I suspect Jesus weeps, too.


Caruso is associate rector at All Saints, Austin.