I saw it again yesterday.
Across the years I've seen it time after time, appearing in different forms and shapes.
Heaven standing at the gate of hell.
The context for my latest experience was routine enough, at least for a sweltering hot July afternoon in Dallas. I dropped in on one of the delivery sites for our mobile summer lunch delivery program. The innovative effort teams CitySquare (through our AmeriCorps members and our Nurture, Knowledge and Nutrition initiative) with PepsiCo. Over the past two summers, thanks to this unique partnership, we've doubled the number of children served these important meals during the months when school is not in session. Those are the details, the set up, if you will.
As I watched our AmeriCorps leaders playing with a good sized group of precious children, I somehow stepped across a line. Somewhere between vision and overwhelming realization, I looked into hell itself from the edge of heaven.
The children were beautiful and playful, in spite of the terribly oppressive heat. By the time I left the site my clothing was soaked. They all seemed unaffected!
The meals were served as usual. Everyone sat down on the ground and ate picnic style under the only shade I could see in the aging, multi-family apartment complex. Living conditions were crowded here. The people felt packed into a very limited and limiting space. I met one mother who shared that two families lived in her rather small apartment, extended family members sharing a home.
In spite of all the negatives and the discomfort, the children smiled, expressed gratitude and genuinely enjoyed being together and interacting with those of us who showed up on their turf.
I stood in heaven with these sweet kids, but I also had a front row seat at the edge of an advancing hell.
I thought of what would happen with these children over the coming 5 to 10 years. I wondered about their education, their health, their employment options, their success or failure and what that would mean for the kind of future they would experience. I wondered how long the sweetness could endure the poverty and the obvious struggle I could see reflected in the eyes of their parents.
Among those wonderful little ones, children just like my grand kids, I realized as never before what a challenge we face in the cities of this nation. Dread rolled over me like a summer storm. So much work to do. So little national understanding of what's up among the urban poor and their children. So few leaders from any sector who really "get it."
Yesterday I experienced the horrible "thinness" hanging between heaven and hell.
In the heat with the children and our partners I had to wonder if we're up to the challenge of the present and coming battle.