Whispers from the Side Door

She scuffs over sidewalks

toward heavy high school doors,

(always locked)

with dauntless steps that prick my heart.

And I wonder if she’s running towards something or away.

One thing I know:

Her feet will forever fall on roads in want of wear.1

Frost – he got to choose.

But not my girl.

Neurons woven together in secret places—

before she drew breath—

birthed a divergence that chose for her.

Not of two roads in life’s metaphorical wood,

but a biological one.

Then, now, and always—the road “less traveled by.”1


A thousand uphill roads.

Some rocky, some paved, always rough.

Mostly, she walks alone.

“You’ll never understand, Mom!”

(And she’s right.)


This scene,

I’ve seen

played out a thousand times.

From carpool lanes and school parking lots,

I peer through driver-side windows cloaked with dust and handprint smears,

into her world:


The neat line of five-year-olds

begins at a bolted door—

and breaks where she stands.

Bent against the brick wall, she drinks in its gradient and texture

brushing back rogue strands of black hair that quit a silver barrette;

oblivious to the girl that steps away from one who speaks geology

instead of Shopkins, new necklaces, and small talk.


Seven years of drop-offs.

Seven years of change, and somehow it’s all still the same:

Middle school crosswalks promise protection.

(We all know better.)

Her monologue on class structure hangs in the air

as she exits the safety of the car

for harsh realities hiding behind front doors.

She weaves around closed social circles brimming with chatter about weekends that she will never know,

and Tik-Toks she’ll never see,

and NOT economic theory.


They laugh with each other.

When she curses at the steel entryway, locked,

they laugh at her.


And I cry.


St. Vincent says, “It’s all about tension and release.”2

Where is life, I think, when there is only ever tension?

Where is life in a labyrinth of taunting, tightly-latched doors?


Jesus be near

are borrowed words3:

the only words I can muster with front-row seats to my child’s pain.


Be near.

When she weeps on a winter’s night

for the injustices that blanket this world in ice,

and linger like dirty snow that numbs us into complacency.

“How can you live with this wrong?” she anguishes.

(How can I?)


Be near.

When she grimaces in a gentle spring rain,

that inflicts pain on bare arms with every drop—

because I forgot the umbrella again:


Be near.

When the summer sun scorches skin with heat that feels 10 times hotter,

floods pupils with light 10 times brighter,

and summons finches’ songs that ring 10 times louder.


Be near.

In the autumn moonlight

as she watches friends (not hers) fitted for homecoming sparkle across parking lots in sequins and suits—

and asks the universe why she comes in a car with me instead.

High heels hit blacktop,

and her figure shimmers bold and beautiful,

as she slips into the crowd.

Jesus be near with this and every solitary step.

. . . when she questions the fearfully and wonderfully part of creation and its Creator.  When there is only ever tension and never release.

Be near when she (and I)

doubt that You are.

And remind us that you were:


In the eyes of the teacher who daily opened the kindergarten door,

and saw the one,

—fearfully and wonderfully made—

standing alone.

With a hug she welcomed her in.


In the heartbeat of a middle-school girl who left the inner-circle laughter

and patiently pointed the outsider in, through the open side door.


In the shouts of a high school student,

who strained over booming bass speakers,

and asked the sliver-dressed girl to dance.


You, Jesus, in these brief moments of exhale and release.

You, who stand at a thousand doors and knock—

as she wanders from a thousand bolted entryways—

will you meet her at the side door?

For THAT will make “all the difference.”1


1 Frost, Robert, Louis Untermeyer, and Robert Frost. 1991. The road not taken: a selection of Robert Frost’s poems. New York: H. Holt and Co.

2 With gratitude to author Katherine James for ascribing words to a wordless mother’s prayer.

3 Singer-songwriter/artist Annie Clark also known as St. Vincent.


Image Credit: Ronald Cuyan on Unsplash

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