How Well Do We Really Know Someone?

17 05 2020

She was easily noticeable when she came to school. It was clear she didn’t have many Rock _nclothes so she wore about same three outfits where most girls had a different outfit to don everyday of the week; for some, probably two weeks. And where most seemed to wear new clothing, I would guess hers were 2nd hand, possibly hand-me-downs. But that wasn’t what stood out when Joann entered the classroom; it was that one precious possession which she wore proudly every day–the biggest brightest smile you ever saw. Joann had such a wonderful attitude that everyone liked her, students and teachers alike. She was positive in her attitude and my goodness, she was funny. She could do cartoon voices and act out skits that left your side hurting from laughing. It was no wonder when we chose up teams for a project or even a game at recess, this silly ragamuffin would be one of the first selected. I liked her also; living in the same neighborhood on the lower east side (which was looked at as the poor section of town), we’d occasionally walk back and forth to school. All that I’ve said of Joann was true, but there was another side that only a few of us knew about, and as I remember that situation, it brings sadness to my heart.

Joanne lived a street over from me in an old house that had seen its better days. It had been converted into two apartments and she lived in a rather small area with three younger siblings and her parents. Her mom was a rather hard person that I never saw smile. Her dad, well, let’s just say he left much to be desired. When Joanne was home, it was her job to take care of the younger children. Once she was at home that rosy demeanor of hers seemed to withdraw and she became very serious in nature. There were times you could hear yelling coming from inside the house as we approached from school that day, and her facial expression would switch from happy to dark. But the next day at school, the happy switch would come on and no one would be the wiser. That was Joann.

One day I came out of the house to see smoke billowing in the direction of Joann’s house. I jumped on my bike and rode over to find firetrucks blocking the street. The other apartment in the house she lived in had a fire in the kitchen and everybody had to evacuate. Joann saw me with a group of the other neighborhood kids across the street so she walked over to us. When we asked what happened she didn’t know, only that all of them were going to have to find some place different to live. She was mostly concerned with the children from the other apartment; they were crying and I could tell this broke her heart. But before she could say anything else her dad bellowed out with a few explicits mixed in for her to get back over where he and the rest of the family were. Compliant as always, she walked away from us and back to her family. I went back to my house and figured she’d have quite a story to tell at school. But when the time came, she was the same Joann everyone there knew and little was said about the incident. To me, it just didn’t make sense.

In reading Charles Spurgeon, I came upon this quote, “We are too prone to engrave our trials in marble and write our blessings in sand.”  As I pondered those words, I realized how true that was in human nature, how easy it is tell of the bad things that have happened and overlook the good that is there also. Yes, I’m as guilty as anyone. But then there was little Joann. Her life was not easy, one that would make many of us miserable. But once she was at school with friends and an environment that made her happy; she was not going to let misery ruin it for her. The problems were still there, but this child refused to let it dominate her and rob her from the joy she was experiencing. Wow!

When I think of Joann, I’m reminded that the Christian life is not always an easy course to follow especially when it feels like the world is crashing in on you. Perhaps that’s why Paul wrote in Romans, “Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” And again, in James where we read, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” We can’t always decide the situations we find ourselves in, but we can decide if it’s going to rule over us and rob us of joy that comes in other sources.

It’s now been some 55 years since a little ragamuffin “Traveler of the Rock Road” crossed my path. After the fire her family moved, and she ended up at another school and I never saw her again. But I pray she’s well, happy, and still beaming with that beautiful smile. Something jus tells me, she is.

Thank you for what you taught me,  Joann.

See ya next time.


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