Ruby Bridges was six years old when she was the first African-American to integrate her school in New Orleans. The crowds were there, every day, teetering on the edge of being a mob, yelling hate. Ruby was escorted to school by federal marshals. The first grader showed up every day and so did the crowds.
Dr. Robert Coles, who has written about spirituality and morality in children, wanted to talk with her, so he sat with Ruby and her parents in their living room. "What do you think about when you walk into school every day, Ruby?"
"I pray for them."
"You do? Why?"
"Don't you think they need it?"
Being able to pray for others means believing there may be something more to them than what is on the surface. Don't you think they need it?
A man yesterday told me he'd been praying for a guy in his tank "who is just obnoxious." He didn't know why he was praying for him. He didn't like the other guy. It wasn't a part of his usual prayer to include anyone beyond his family and maybe his lawyer, on a good day. He was mystified by this summons to pray.
"But sometimes I think Jesus is telling me, 'It's okay. It won't hurt you to pray for him' and so I do. I suggested that maybe he was beginning to pray with Jesus, to feel the needs of the world in a small way. He was quiet for a long time.
Then I told him about Ruby.
"How old was she?"
Six. First grade.
"Thank you for telling me that. I'm going to be thinking about her for a long time."
So am I.
(Here's a link to Norman Rockwell's painting of Ruby.)