I asked him what he meant? He responded in telling me that people are generally good and change is possible. It just takes time…
365 was growing to be a big part of my life as I transitioned into the second week of the project. Its impact taking root in all aspects of my family, professional, and personal life; it was rapidly becoming apparent just how big the commitment was. I fact brought to my attention when on a Wednesday end-of-day car ride with my wife (a little ritual we regularly do as a private time to talk), I sucked her into my daily routine of meeting new people.
Warner Center Park, just a couple of miles from our home. A six block square area where, other than its Summer outdoor concerts, occasional movie nights, and a killer 4th of July fireworks show, is a hidden community secret. A little park to the side of busy Topanga Canyon Boulevard that drew a most eclectic mix of persons and culture—from India to Europe, it’s all at Warner.
The evening was cool and calm, youth were playing soccer to the left of us, a mother with son in private Karate lessons were to the right, and straight ahead, two young men were sitting in the grass. At first glance from the distance it looked as if they were holding a giant yellow garden hose in their laps. Seemed a little strange to bring a hose to a park. Immediately we were curious and the Sherlock Holmes quickly came out in me. I had to get a closer view, so we set path towards them. The nearer we approached more detail came into clarity as almost in speaking distance the hose moved on its own. Our first reaction was to dismiss it, thinking that it was some sort of practical joke. I couple teens trying to get a rise out of anyone thinking that there was a huge cat-eating snake on park grounds. We bought in. We’re always open to a little laugh, we thought, as we stepped within feet of the two young men and their fake snake.
“Hello,” we reached out, beginning an explanation of who we were and what I was doing with my project, but CHOW!! It was a snake! We stood back as we watched a 30-pound Burmese Python wrapping itself around the shoulders of one of the two young men. I’m sure in our eyes a bit of fear was recognized as the smaller of the two you men, then one with the snake looking as if it was about to choke him to death shared, “Don’t worry, he’s my pet!” Our nerves settled as fear became calm. I reached out my hand to resume our introduction.
Turned out they were students at Canoga Park High School just a couple blocks up the street for Warner Park. My wife’s Alma Mater and a topic of conversation as she asked a few questions only a graduate of the school would know. Now I won’t date my sweetheart, but it was obvious that none of her teachers were still there. Yet the bridge was made and two bright young men had we met.
Their names, Izzy and Jerahmia, and it was hard to not be wholly impressed by how articulately they were. Izzy being a recent relocate to the USA from Turkey, Jerahmia of Greek heritage and upbringing; in each a global depth of experience that was far beyond their years. I was easy to see why these two kids hung out together.
Izzy had spent time schooling in South Africa, and by the maturity he demonstrated in what he shared with us, it was apparent he had seen a thing or two of the darker side of how humans can treat humans. A topic that was very impressive for a 17-year-old to communicate in the manner he did. What he said was this, (a very simple statement, but one with great depth), “The World is the World.”
I asked him what he means? He responded in telling me that people are generally good and change is possible. It just takes time. We have to do the work and be patient. OK, at the time of the interview I was 50 (now you know), and I’ve seen and experienced a lot of things since I was seventeen. But I’m telling you, at 17 I would have never made a statement like the one Izzy shared that meaningful day in 2011.
We talked of goals and entrepreneurial perspectives. Izzy saw business opportunity in breeding snakes. Something that was out of my wheelhouse, so later I did a little research. He was on point. The reptile business was a gigantic market that spends premium dollars for the exotic pets. Jerahmia spoke of following in his father’s footsteps in wanting to build an electrical business. Smart kid; we all know how much we pay our electricians.
Grateful for the opportunity to meet Izzy and Jerahmia that day, my wife and I realized that, in a way, we had been schooled. Taught a peace-giving lesson that the future quite possibly is in good hands. Not so much by the current social and political conditions, but in the works of the youth that are coming up through these troubled times. A statement I found on the fact that in the days of streaming downloads and digital relationships, that in the middle of an unban landscape gathered two remarkable young men and a peaceful snake. No ear buds, no looking away from meaningful face-to-face conversation, and both with rich histories and plans for the future. Evidence grown over the remaining years of project 365, and continuing to come forward through Sidewalk Ghosts, that there are countless young men and women of great manners and intelligence. A rising generation, who I pray will make sound decisions as per what’s to come.
As we sat talking, we finished with a witty line of conversation. My two favorites:
One: Izzy supports the ban on domestically owned Pythons in Florida. They grow huge there in that climate, untrained they eat dogs, cats and can harm children. He went on to state, “On the other hand, they should allow domestic Pythons inNew York City and San Francisco.”I laughed loudly, as he explained his reasoning, which was not a bag on the cities or their people. The reasoning was something that I would have never considered, basically this: the cold climate limits their growth. He felt it would give a whole lot of people the opportunity to have snakes as pets. Pretty cool!
Two: I had no idea that a 17-year-old could leg press 1000 pounds. Jerahmia can! Considering myself somewhat fit, I decided to ask a few weight lifting questions, thinking I could get a pointer or two. I stopped at hearing he can chest fly 305. Lifters, humble up, you know how strong this kid is. I’m fine with sticking with my forty-five pounders.
Oh Yeah! Forgot to introduce you to the Python, “Say ‘Hi’ to Goliath.”
I’m off to hibernate now.
Talk tomorrow my good friends,
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