Thursday, March 27, 2008

Exercising Love with Belief, Not Money

It must have been one of my student's extended feet, stretched into my walking path, that yesterday brought back a memorable Christmas Eve. Christmas Eve is usually noted by its simplicity in our family tradition. My typical childhood memories of Christmas Eve include a church service followed by sleepy-eyed staring at the ceiling, a tell-tale sign of a mind that is excitedly anticipating the thrill of the following day. However, the Christmas Eve that came to my mind yesterday did not fit the usual picture.

I was about ten years old and our Christmas Eve was a little abnormal because Dad had some cases pending at a local court that evening. Keeping with the familial holiday theme, I decided to go to court with him. There was a man before the judge who was facing a DUI charge and his release was set at five dollars bail. My dad was standing with the defendant, and I was sitting in the front of the courtroom close to my dad.

I remember that the judge kept saying, "Does anyone have five dollars bail for this man? It's Christmas Eve and he would like to spend it with his family."

I had no money. If I had five dollars, I certainly would have given it to the fellow because I thought that everyone should spend Christmas Eve with their family. However, I was sure that Dad had money, and so I sat in the front of the courtroom and started kicking my dad, the lawyer. This is quite embarrassing to me now, but at the time, I thought that kicking my dad (I believed it was a discreet sort of kicking) would be a subtle hint that I thought that he should post the five dollar bail.

I remember leaving the courtroom, that Christmas Eve, so sad because no one ever posted the five dollar bail for the man with the DUI charge. As we left, Dad asked, "Sarah, why were you kicking me?" But I asked Dad, "Why didn't you post the bail?" I was so confused; it was Christmas Eve and the bail was only five dollars.

I actually don't remember Dad's response to my question, but with my adult mind I can understand that lawyers don't post bail for their clients; it's not proper protocol. As a child, love always seemed to be the thing that brought the most gratification and satisfaction in the moment. Letting someone spend Christmas Eve in prison was not loving to my ten-year-old mind. But as I look back on this memory, with the perspective of time, I realize that love, like anything else in this life, demands that it be exercised with wisdom. To a child that doesn't make too much sense.

I am readily discovering in my adulthood, that exercising love with wisdom is an amazing challenge. Surprisingly, to my ten-year-old self, I don't give money to someone every time that I am asked. Actually, I think I am learning that dispensing money is sometimes an easy way out of doing something much harder.

What is harder? Believing in someone enough to help them change. That is what makes me so proud of the kind of love that my dad gives. I know, for a fact, that many of his clients come back and say, "Mr. Angell, you were the first person who ever believed in me. You fought for me and told me not to give up. That made all the difference. I just wanted to come back and thank you." Yes, this kind of love is hard.