One week, all of those administrative details were wrapped up and the fires were few and minor in nature. I had the chance to visit the upstairs gymnasium during the play time at the end of the night and simply hang out.
And I saw Carrie, one of the nicest kids who came—studious, obedient, shy, sitting alone in the corner. I asked if she was all right and she nodded. I asked if she wanted to play and she shook her head.
I thought of leaving her to her own devices, remembering the many days of my youth when I’d just as soon have been left alone.
Then I recalled Carrie walking into the church that night with her headphones on, bobbing to music before we asked her, like the rest of the kids, to put their electronics away.
I asked her what she had been listening to.
She mumbled that it was Michael Jackson.
Michael Jackson, who had died when she was all of three years old. Michael Jackson, who hadn’t cut a single in her lifetime. Not Drake or Miley Cyrus, or other popular choices among the kids I worked with, who presented proof of a generational gap.
I asked her what her favorite Michael Jackson song was.
She shrugged and looked straight ahead. “I like ‘Man in the Mirror.’”
And I sang. Not quite the comic falsetto I default to in karaoke settings, but still a little high and loudly. A lot of the kids looked, never having heard me sing a note.
Carrie smiled. She sang along.
I’m starting with the man in the mirror
I’m asking him to change his ways
And no message could have been any clearer
Carrie trailed off into “doo-doo-doos” while I carried on with the lyrics, “if you want to make the world a better place, take a look at yourself and make a change.”
She laughed. “I don’t really know all the words.”
This song transitioned to talk of others. Another girl joined us to talk about movies. And for the first time since I assumed my coordinating role, I lost track of time and called for gym time to end a minute later than I meant to. I remembered why I had chosen a job that focused on work with children, and I why I was spending a portion of my would-be leisure time with another program spent corralling and coaching and, yes, at times hollering at kids. I remembered why it was important and why it was fun, and why, at the best of times, those reasons weren't so different.