I don’t know how to introduce Gabriel. He is a paradox. He is one of the most interesting teens, yet has no particular interest in anything. He doesn’t like to draw. He is illiterate but never shown any interest in learning how to read. The only thing he wants to do is play Uno. On his birthday, we got him a deck of cards. He thanked us for it and then asked us to keep it for him. He was afraid that he might lose it. Then he never asked for it again. I have been wanting to share about this young man for a long time. However, I was afraid that my description of him might make you think that Gabriel is just an unmotivated and apathetic teenager. This would be a false impression of this fascinating young boy. Despite his lack of interest in almost everything, there is something in him that made us connect with him almost immediately when we first met him three years ago. I had to wait for the right moment to share about young Gabriel and it finally came.
Our children and teens are like stain glass windows in God’s eternal church. Some windows are located in places where the rays of sun shines through it first thing in the morning. Others reveal their beauty in the later part of the day. There are some windows that are hidden in obscure corners. Their colors and beauty are not seen easily. You have to wait for the right time of the day to capture their true glory. The sun has to shine at a perfect position and it does so only for a brief moment. It is easy to miss this opportunity if you are not attentive. These windows are often overlooked and even considered as dull and uninteresting. However, they are God’s windows. Therefore, they cannot but contain the beauty of the divine Artist. Perhaps, their exquisiteness is not obvious to the casual transient but through the grace of God, some of us are privileged to be present at the right place and right time to gaze upon this beauty. With Gabriel, the precise moment came when he had a problem with his foot.
No one likes to go the free clinics here, especially the homeless. There are only handful of places in society where the homeless are treated with dignity. Government agencies are rarely part of this handful. Despite this fact, Gabriel went to a clinic on his own. He had plantar warts on the sole of his foot. He mentioned it to me once and I offered to take him to the clinic but he refused. This time the pain must have been unbearable for him to face the condescending attitudes of the staff in these clinics. He got an appointment for a treatment but he missed it. It wasn’t deliberate. He could not find anyone to go with him and did not feel confident to go alone. He wanted to reschedule another appointment and asked us to accompany him. The administrative staff at the clinic was not interested in making things easy for him. He wanted Gabriel to provide some paperwork first which was not previously necessary. At this point, it is pointless for me to go on about the convoluted process. The end result was that Gabriel almost gave up getting any treatment for his problem. Fortunately, in Brazil, there are licensed alternative medicine. They are private and cheaper than the regular private doctors and they tend to treat people more like human beings. We asked Gabriel if he wanted to go to these specialists. We told him that we would take care of the expense. He did not expect this and did know how to react. He just smiled and thanked us quietly. The other children and teens heard this too. We could see that they were pleased with our offer. The normal envious reactions were absent in this case. They must be aware of the pain that Gabriel was suffering with his foot and so did not demonstrate any form of jealousy.
The appointment was on a Wednesday. Gabriel was wearing the best clothes he could find and waiting anxiously for us. In the initial consultation, the podiatrist told us that his problem was treatable but it has advanced and required several sessions. Thus began our weekly excursion to the specialist center. It became our personal one-on-one time with Gabriel. On our first trip, Gabriel started talking about his family. He has ten brothers and sisters. Not everyone has the same father, he said. On another occasion, he told us that he has never met his father. He also revealed that he was not able to read because he needed glasses. Unfortunately, his mother never provided them. As he began to share bits and pieces of his life with us it became obvious that Gabriel was neglected from a very young age. He suppressed his interest in things because he knew that no one would be concerned and help him to develop them. It was his defense mechanism. He also asked us about the letters from Florida. He had never shown any interest in them previously. He wanted to know how we received the letters. It never occurred to us that the postal system was a mystery to him and perhaps the other children too.
With each trip to the podiatrist, we saw that Gabriel was not really a teenager without any interests but one who was afraid to express them. He asked me to read a letter that he received from someone in the States. I had kept this letter with me for months and suddenly now, he was ready for me to read to him. The person who wrote the letter talked about working as a volunteer with seafarers. This perked his interest. He asked if I could help him write a reply immediately. He asked her if she knew stories about the seafarers’ experiences in the high seas. He wanted to know if the writer of the letter has ever travelled to different countries. He confessed that he always interested in foreign countries and what they were like. He started asking me about the countries I visited. We sat on the floor of the church square and talked about traveling. He wondered if he could do it one day. I assured him that it was not something impossible or absurd but was within his reach.
A simple trip to the podiatrist has given this young teenager to courage to show his interests again. Perhaps he realized that they won’t fall on deaf ears. He has already asked my help to write two letters. He expressed an interest in learning how to read and write and wants Mary to teach him. All the sudden our apparently unmotivated teenager has been given a new surge of energy. All because he realized that he is not going to be ignored. This is perhaps something new in his life and consequently it has caused a fresh reaction in his outlook of life.
When we met Gabriel for the first time, we wondered why his parents never came looking for him. He was such a sweet and kind young boy. I am glad that we have our Wednesdays with him. They have given us a vision of this stained glass window of God and to capture its beauty was worth the wait.