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Thursday, January 26, 2012

Livin' on a prayer

My children were 'tweens' and teens when the singer Jon Bon Jovi was all the rage.

Frankly, he scared the beejeesus out of me - probably in the same way Elvis and The Beatles rendered my parents apoplectic.

He looked like Jersey Trailer Park Trash - he was born in Perth Amboy, NJ - with that long, scraggly hair, torn, sleeveless T-shirt, tattered jeans, tattoos, and classic Jersey sneer on his face.

And wait. Is he wearing eye makeup?

The girls thought he was "soooOOOOoo cute".  He was a 'poser', they said.

The boys wanted to be Jon Bon Jovi.

I wanted him to just shut up, take that wild hair and his ripped abs and buff delts and go away. Besides, in my envy, I always feel there must be something 'inherently disordered' with people who have less than 0% body fat. I mean, get out of the gym! Eat a sandwich!

Here are some of the words to one of the songs that was a favorite:
Once upon a time not so long ago:
Tommy used to work on the docks
union's been on strike

He's down on his luck - It's tough
so tough.
Gina works the diner all day
working for her man

She brings home her pay for love
for love.

She says: We've got to hold on to what we've got
'Cause it doesn't make a difference if we make it or not.
We've got each other and that's a lot for love -
We'll give it a shot.

We're half way there - Livin' on a prayer

Take my hand and we'll make it
I swear - livin' on a prayer.
Oh, I liked the song well enough. Still do. It's always fun to sing at the top of your voice, "Whoooaaah - Oh, Livin' on a prayer," remembering the days when you were doing exactly that while you dance around like a maniac.

The words, however, are so 'teen love' they could almost be described as classic. Traditional, even.

Thinking that 'all you need is love'. All you need is each other. Living in the moment and for the moment. Unrealistic but boundless hope that you'll make it (I swear). Even if you have nothing and the future is uncertain but you're 'livin' on a prayer'.

Those sentiments are not confined by time. Change the words slightly, slow down the tempo, add a tinkling piano and an orchestra and you've got:

"I Can't Give You Anything But Love, Baby" . . . .
Gee, but it's tough to be broke, kid.
It's not a joke, kid, it's a curse.
My luck is changing, it's gotten from
simply rotten to something worse
Who knows, some day I will win too.
I'll begin to reach my prime.
Now though I see what our end is,
All I can spend is just my time.

I can't give you anything but love, baby.
That's the only thing I've plenty of, baby.
....... and...... "Let's Face The Music and Dance".
There may be trouble ahead
But while there's moonlight and music
And love and romance
Let's face the music and dance
Here's the thing: Some of us see the dark underside of these romantic songs.

"Just two kids in love" can look frighteningly unromantic when you have no permanent place to live. Not knowing where your next meal will come from. No health insurance and you become ill or have an accident. Not even a suitcase to schlep your clothes from wherever you are to wherever you may be going, so you use black plastic garbage bags.

And then, if (or when) a baby enters the picture, it's not so romantic anymore.

I've been working with a young couple who are really struggling. In their 20's. They met online. She left her home in the North to be with him in the South. He's in construction. The work dried up after a month. They moved to Delaware in search of a work. He found it, though it didn't last long so he got another job but not in construction. Right after Christmas, his hours went from 30-40 to 16. Per week. At $8.50 per hour.

She got pregnant. They lived with friends - a few weeks here, a few weeks there. She got food stamps. They applied for housing. She had a baby. Two weeks early. By C-section. Now, they need a place to live, no longer able to stay a few weeks with friends here and there.  She says she's not afraid to be homeless, but fears "they'll take my baby from me."

Yes, they should have thought of all of these things. Months ago. They didn't. Which happens. More often than we care to think about.  They're both adults with the choice to "live on a prayer". But now, there's the baby. Reality has set it and it is often a very rude visitor.

The thing about life in Lower, Slower Delaware is that there are shelters, I've discovered. Shelters for men. Shelters for women. Shelters for women and their children.

There are no shelters for families. Because, you know, the folks in power have "family values" but do not necessarily value families.

Thankfully, a consortium of churches in the Lewes-Rehoboth area have pooled resources to begin a community resource center which provides families with hotel rooms while the family works with the State to find employment and permanent homes. Which can take up to 24 months.

These kids are the very definition of "living on a prayer". Which is often hard to distinguish from "magical thinking". Which is a short hop, skip and a jump from looking positively delusional. Or, opportunistic. Or, manipulative. Or, religious. Or, all of the above.

I've done what I can. Bought pampers and formula and some high protein, basic groceries - cheese, eggs, milk, peanut butter, sliced turkey, ham, bread. Connected them with community services which is working on finding them permanent housing while paying for a hotel room. I paid for a night's say in a hotel before community services kicked in. Helped to do some problem-solving and reality-checking.

I've drawn some pretty clear and firm boundaries: I won't provide transportation.  Can't. I won't give them money directly. I am not a source of financial assistance or housing but I will put them in touch with agencies that can provide those services.

Need money to take the bus? It's $2 round trip? Try turning over the coach pillows and search for change. I've gotten as much as $3.00 that way. But, the bus stop is about a mile walk? Thank God the weather has been so mild, right? Check the bus schedule. Bundle up the baby, get out the stroller or, better yet, the snuggli, and leave yourself enough time to pace yourself. Women and their babies have been doing this for centuries.

The question I keep wrestling with is: Where is the boundary between Christian charity and enabling dependent behavior and how will I know when I've crossed it?

I don't have an answer. Yet. I think it just means I evaluate each situation as it arises and deal with it as it comes, continuing to stress the boundaries I have set with each encounter. Let the professionals in the community with resources and knowledge take the lead. Advocate where I can.

The thing of it is that neither of these two young people have a mother. Both have died. I think they look to me for advice and counsel and guidance more than anything else.

But there are times when they try to push the boundaries. Because it's scary. And, everyone wants mommy to just fix it.

Oh, they'll do okay. Eventually. She has a job at a local fast food place. Work will pick up again for him. Oh, there will be issues with child care. Juggling schedules. They'll be okay.

I'm living on that prayer.

Okay, they won't do as well as Jon Bon Jovi who has not only done well, he's doing much good.

His band was declared the second richest band for 2011, behind U2, earning an approximate $125 million income. In addition, Jon Bon Jovi is one of the majority-owners of the Philadelphia Soul, a team playing in the Arena Football League. In 2010, President Barack Obama named Jon Bon Jovi to the White House Council for Community Solutions.

A Democrat, he campaigned for Al Gore in the 2000 Presidential election, John Kerry in the 2004 Presidential election, and Barack Obama in the 2008 Presidential election.

He's also given back to the community, starting something called 'JBJ Kitchen' in Red Bank, NJ, which allows people who are homeless or unemployed to order their food restaurant style and pay whatever ever they can. Or, not.

He's also teamed up with Habitat for Humanity to build homes in NJ cities like Perth Amboy, Red Bank, and Newark that have long been hard-scrabble places.

He married his high school sweetheart, Dorothea Hurley in 1989. Together they have four children. And, look at him now: clean shaven, well dressed, handsome.

Still got the tattoos, no doubt, but no eye makeup. And, look, Ma, no Jersey sneer.

Who knew?

Who ever knows?

Especially when you are livin' on a prayer.

And then, you may just find yourself living your prayer.

And the the question becomes: What will you do with your prayer?

How will you help someone else who is livin' on a prayer?


Prairie Soul said...

Such a good post. That fine distinction between compassion and enabling is a tricky one that I've puzzled over many times. Thanks for your wise example here. By the way, I love the journey between JBJ, the young couple, and back to JBJ again. Who would have imagined a road that could make that loop?!

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Thanks, Prairie Soul. I think there are many who make that journey - perhaps not as successfully or with as much $ but giving back to the community.

Anonymous said...

This is my favorite song sung by my favorite rock star. I have been a young mother who worked the diner all day. Tommy didn't last, but he grew up to be a successful man who pays child support and participates daily in his son's life. I became a teacher. It was naive and unrealistic to live on a prayer. Eventually it crumbled under the harsh reality that love doesn't conquer all. I still love the song, and I still route for Tommy and Gina to make it, even though I know it is a very long shot.