Monday, June 28, 2010

But She’s So Young

The young lady sullenly and defiantly leaning against the counter, instead of cooperating in our activity, seemed to be trying to connect with me. “Looks like you’re having a rough day.” I say. This is our approach. Instead of “why aren’t you participating?” or lecturing about her attitude, we ask them to let us see them as they are, in that moment, and she was not having a hard time doing so. This girl needed to have her pain seen and validated.
 She informs me that she is about to go into rehab for drugs and alcoholism - at 15 years old. Later I would find out that this is her second stint in rehab. She is scared…of failing again…of not liking the place they are putting her…of not being able to cope with the pain without her best friends – tequila and meth…of finding out that life has no answers for her. 
We talk. I encourage. She seems to feel a little relief from the connection and goes back to her mentor, with whom it seems she really has created a bond.

I go back to the group. The session is about trust and support and I decide to risk taking it a little deeper. I call on the memory of my now deceased friend, Tony Hernandez, and tell his story to the group. Ex gang banger and heroin addict, Tony had a gift for reaching young people. He would tell his story and their broken places would relate to his. It works. The room takes on a gravitas that tells me that something powerful can happen. I call on Tony’s spirit to guide us. His nickname was “Crow”, which is the animal in native lore that leads spirits between the two worlds.
We have discussion and then do an exercise called Trust Walk where mentors and mentees guide each other around the field outside the room – those being guided are asked to keep their eyes closed. In the middle of the exercise a police helicopter shows up circling the park, loudspeaker blasting out instructions that we can’t quite make out. They aren’t intended for us. They have some perp in their sights. This is such a common scene in the hood that the soccer teams continue playing as if it were just a bird circling the field. There is even a slang term for it: "ghetto bird".  Kids on the swings and jungle gyms continue their activities, seemingly unaffected. However, we have 22 kids to worry about as well as their mentors who are not from this neighborhood. So, we take the group back inside. We are able to continue the program indoors where we increase the stakes by doing Trust Falls. Small groups challenge individuals to allow themselves to fall backwards into their waiting arms.
 When it’s all finished we circle up to debrief. After several people speak about their experiences, my young alcoholic friend steps forward with a smile on her face and tears in her eyes. “This feels better than any high I have ever had.” The conversation changes to people sharing the things that they do that make them “high on life”. We hear of people’s music, meditation, sky diving, just being with friends, dancing, art, sports, etc.
 She waits with her mentor until everyone else is gone, approaches me to talk some more. The mentor stays back, but I can tell that our young lady is keenly aware of her mentors presence and receives a strong sense of security from this woman. This 15 year old girl, about to go into rehab for the second time, who hasn’t stopped crying nor smiling, softly tells me that “The only thing keeping me alive is my poetry and this family”. She gestures to make sure I know that she means our little instant community of mentors and mentees - her YMC family. Her eyes go directly to her mentor. I’ve seen this look of gratitude and genuine love a hundred times. It is a blessing and a privilege. It is the paycheck that only my heart can cash.



PS Our young lady’s mentor has agreed to bring her to the Open Mic next Sunday hosted by our friends, a soulful organization called “Street Poets” so she can share some of this poetry that is keeping her alive. Maybe that will be my next blog entry.

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