Beneath the Hoodie

July 11, 2017 | Dick Duerksen

Let’s call him Isaac because that’s not his name. He lives in a sweatshirt, a hoodie that hides his eyes so he can feel invisible. But, he’s not invisible; he’s just hiding. It’s rather like putting on a mask and pretending to be blind, deaf, unable to speak and broke. All at once.

It keeps folks from talking to you.

All except one.

She’s a teacher, a Christ-following teacher who believes that compassion is God’s gift to be shared. Without limit.

The judge’s note was all she knew. “I am granting Isaac a special leave before his next court date and assigning him to attend your school. This young man is trying to decide whether to plea innocent or guilty, and the decision is very difficult for him.”

She sat beside Isaac — he in his hoodie, she in her place as his teacher, his “learning coordinator.” She knew he didn’t want to be taught or coordinated, just left alone. That’s why she chose this moment, while the other students were captive to a game of nouns and verbs.

No one noticed. Except Isaac.

He turned away.

“What’s under your hoodie, Isaac?”

The question was soft, like a fresh cinnamon roll, frosted with compassion.

“Nothing I want to talk about.”

“I’m a safe listener.”


She tried again the next day. And the next. Each time hoping that the hoodie might slip aside — just a bit.

“Mrs. Teacher?”

The after-school conversation flowed with pain and terror.

“I was with the gang that night, right there in the middle, but I didn’t have the gun, my brother had it, and he’s nearly 20 and will be treated like an adult if he says he’s guilty of the shooting. They’ll put him up for 20 years or more because it’s not his first time and attempted murder is bad. Real bad.

"My brother’s got a job and brings home money so Mom and Dad can pay rent and so the other kids in the house can eat. He’s really important to the family, and he’s sorry for what he did."

She reached out and lightly touched a shoulder of Isaac’s hoodie. He turned, brushed the hood back and looked straight into her eyes, his tears matching hers.

“My dad has asked me to plead guilty to shooting the gun so my brother can go free. I’m still a kid, and they’ll only put me away for a couple years, maybe even let me come back to school soon. I’m sort of OK with that, but I’m afraid of lying and afraid of prison and even more afraid of my dad. Please help me.”

What would you do if Isaac was in your classroom? Compassionate listening relieves the pain that often clouds perception, and when people feel heard, validated and understood, they are better able to discover solutions.

Compassion is sometimes defined as "co-suffering." It's a process Christ followers understand well. It's the first gift that comes with a new Christ-filled life.