By: Kate Wallin
I have seen the Windex commercial in real life repeat itself three times. You know, the one where the birds – on perches high above – sit marveling at the clean streak-free shine, until one bird attempts to fly into the living room but ends up smashing his fowl feathered pride. Now instead of charcoal-colored crows, imagine squirrely, somewhat stinky middle school boys crashing face first into the clear pane between our church’s open, glass double-doors. Three times over. Literally flying into the glass with their horizontal face plant. A loud THUD! echos down the hall, while a few spit stains are all that remain of their blunders.
The reason I get a front row seat to this spectacle every week is because I’m working for a youth organization hosting service trips for middle school and high school students. We sleep on the cement floor of a Methodist church, eat more hot dogs in a week than is healthy, and hear too many Hunger Games quotes with the hope that youth will return to their own communities with hearts for service. And I thought I came here for them. To serve them. To love them. To teach them. But I’m realizing it’s they who have something to teach me.
Middle schoolers get a bad rap. But as my new thirteen-year-old friend Joey put it, “We aren’t old but we’re not afraid.” I think the thirteen-year-olds of the world know something we adults have forgotten: courage. Growing up takes a heavy dose of courage. Surviving the days of public showers, Algebra, and identity crises takes an extraordinary amount of guts.
Growing up takes a heavy dose of courage. Surviving the days of
public showers and Algebra and identity crises takes an extraordinary amount of guts.
I watched “We Bought a Zoo” on DVD a few weeks back and while I was hesitant about Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) in a children’s movie, I decided to suspend my
disbelief. And I am so glad I did. Damon’s character and his middle school son, after a rocky relationship for most of the movie, have a heart to heart about girl problems. The cliché stops there as Damon says to his son, “You know, sometimes all you need is 20 seconds of insane courage. Just literally 20 seconds of embarrassing bravery and I promise you something great will come of it.” It struck something deep inside me.
20 seconds? It takes more than 20 seconds to do almost anything else. And that got me thinking: what could I spare 20 seconds of courage for?
What if that “hello” was the start to an incredible friendship? What if you sat next to him when he was alone and it saved him from another dark thought of giving up? What if you paid her a compliment and she stopped selling her body so cheaply and started valuing her soul? What if that date became your spouse? Or that stranger became your family? What if that conversation with that homeless man became the story that renewed your passions, or that class became the remedy to your quarter-life crisis or that trip opened your eyes to a new world that needed your specific set of talents and gifts?
I see my middle school students take a step closer to courage every day. They mess up, they run into glass walls, they leave spit-smears. But they don’t give up. They’re young, under-qualified, and inexperienced, but they don’t let it stop them. And they make me think about what I’m going to do with my 20 seconds of insane, embarrassing bravery.
So do it. Say hello. Sit down and ask his story. Pay them the compliment. Ask her out. Find out their name; tell them yours. Sign up for that class. Take the trip. Whatever it is, do it with insane courage. Here’s to 20 small seconds that lead to big and brave things.