This experience was the type where life smacks you upside the head and says “Pay attention!” It happened a few years back when our kids were in their teens and our two middle ones had a rebellious streak that lasted a couple years (and aged Nancy and I about 20!) During this phase our kids chose to hang out with other teenagers who were not the best influence. Some were downright scary. Because of our fear as parents and all the emotional turmoil that comes with that, we tended to look down on those “other” kids.
One day I had gone to pick up Adam who was at a friend’s house. I drove up to the home, parked out front and proceeded to get out of the car. As I did a young man came out of the house. He was probably the most dirty, scraggly looking guy I had ever seen, complete with tattoos and piercings. He walked right up to me and said “Are you Mr. Rivers?” I said yes and he said “So Adam tells me you’re a singer.” I told him I was and we talked for a couple minutes about that. Then he said “I write songs myself. Would you like to hear the lyrics of one?” I told him sure I would. He pulled out a piece of flimsy, tattered paper from his wallet and began reading it out loud. The words were some of the most dark, vile things I had ever heard… about death and worse. As I was listening to this I was wondering how in the world I was going to respond positively to this kind of poetry.
He finished and I said “It looks like you’ve got some real talent. Though I personally write a little different. Most of what I write comes from a place of peace and hope”. He said “Oh I can write different stuff. I have another one you might like better.” He then got close to me and looking me directly in the eyes the entire time he recited from memory one of the most beautiful pieces of poetry I have ever heard. It brought tears to my eyes. I told him that the poem was beautiful and if he was interested he could write it down and give a copy to Adam and I would put some music to it. His eyes lit up and he said he would. We shook hands and then Adam came out.
Sometimes old sayings are around so long because of their inherent truth. That day I learned you most definitely cannot judge a book by its cover. In thinking about the event afterwards I realized how quickly we judge others by outward appearances and even by the things they do. I’m sure this young man had experienced things in his life I could never imagine and had been in many dark places. But his true heart was expressed to me in the last poem because that type of poetry could only come from there. How grateful I was to have taken the time to talk to him and get to that point and what a tremendous loss it would have been had I judged him solely by the first half of our meeting.
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