Better Safe than Sorry

Chicago Public Schools had no school on Friday, so it was an excellent chance to start my day by having breakfast with one of my junior high students.

We decided to meet at a diner near her house; it’s convenient, and they give large helpings of tasty food. What more could you ask for?

I got to the diner pretty early, and had plenty of time to sit just inside, get to know the waitress a little bit, and take a closer look at the decor. Lots of framed photos all around; clever sayings written on chalkboards in inconspicuous places; a neon sign designating which area was non-smoking only (I thought Chicago didn’t let anyone smoke inside anymore?).

The student and her mom finally come in, and we chitchat by the entrance for a couple minutes before her mom leaves. The girl and I decide to grab a booth by the window so we have a nice view of the street outside.

We chat for a bit as we wait for our food. I’m still pretty new as the youth pastor, and I have a good twenty or so kids in my youth group, so right now my agenda while meeting 1-on-1 involves a lot more getting to know students, before I even start thinking about solving all their life problems. So we talk about school, sports, teachers, youth group, and so on. And then, out of the corner of my eye, I see the guy in the blue uniform walking towards this end of the diner.

My mind does a quick rundown of the scene at hand. I’m a slightly older guy (only in my mid-twenties, but the somewhat scraggly beard adds a couple of years), sitting with a young girl who, though in junior high, could pass for a 10 or 11-year-old. She’s pretty mature, but still looks young enough that the waitress brought her crayons and asked which menu she wanted.

Point is, I’m an adult male eating alone with a young lady who has crayons. And it’s not too hard to tell I’m not her father.

“Sir, can I talk to you for moment?”

I nod and stand up and follow him a couple feet away.

“How do you know this girl?” the officer asks. He’s suspicious, but thankfully far from hostile.

“She’s in my youth group, I’m the youth pastor at my church.” I’m suprisingly calm, considering what I know the cop is getting at.

“Did her mother bring her here?” Yup, the waitress should have seen her.

“What’s her mother’s name?” Oh, her name is…my mind goes blank. “Um… what’s your mom’s…” I start to ask the student, but luckily her name comes back to me before it gets too awkward.

Finally I remember that I essentially have a get-out-of-jail free card in my pocket. I pull out my cell phone and offer it to the officer. “I have her mom’s cell and home number in here. Would you like to talk to her?” I offer a couple of times, and that seems to convince the cop.

The police officer apologizes for the intrusion, comments that a couple of people had called in about our “situation,” and headed out the door.

I sit down, not really sure what to think.  It was handled well, the cop was cool, and my student didn’t seem too weirded out by it all.   I was also skeptical about the “couple of people” who called.  The waitress came over and apologized, commenting that she couldn’t imagine what would have brought that on.   Still, she said, it’s better to be cautious about that sort of thing.

Which is frustrating, but true.  There are a lot of girls in my youth group.  It’s important for me to spend time 1-on-1 or with small groups of them, and I can’t avoid the fact that sometimes, it’ll look suspicious.  Everything is done in public, with their parents knowing what’s going on, but there will always be some people who think of (and perhaps hope for?) the worst situations, and feel that they have to act “just in case.”  I fully expected this to be a potential issue when I took the job, and I’m usually paying attention to appearances like that.

So how should I feel about it?  Annoyed that it happened, perhaps a little bitter towards the suspicious buggers who made the first assumptions?  Most certainly, angry at a world where crap happens often enough that we need to be paying attention.  Overall though… I suppose I’m grateful that, whatever their motivation, there are people concerned enough about a young girl’s well-being to check it out, and that the cop to checked on us was clear-headed enough not to make a big deal out of nothing.   In a city where too many people ignore each other, and where accusations against our police abound, it’s nice to see people act prove these stereotypes wrong.

And if the situation were different… if she had been with a different guy, with different intentions, I would have been incredibly grateful for whoever raised the alarm, despite however innocent it may have seemed.

So as the waitress said – better safe than sorry.

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~ by Peter on November 2, 2007.

One Response to “Better Safe than Sorry”

  1. as i read through your story, i began to get angry at the policeman and the “concerned others” , and chastised them in my head to keep quiet, but when i got to the end, i was levelheaded again, and was proud of you for not letting Satan get you worked up and frustrated over this happening so much that you never want to do anything like this again.
    Yeay for you, and yeay for Jesus in you.

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