A couple retires and decides they want to give back. They chose to become a foster family and take in two little girls. They raise them for thirteen years and give them everything they need and want. The older girl is troubled and cannot let go of her demons. She decides to run away and takes the little one with her – drugs, alcohol.
They come back to rob the foster home, hurt the foster parents. They are thrown back into the system, sent from house to house. The oldest gets pregnant. The youngest joins the gang. She is now in jail.
The foster parents who love them are too old to deal with them anymore, yet they stay in touch. They write letters and try to be a constant in their life. I desperately want to believe in the power of love and good, but there are demons that even the strongest of love cannot slay.
When I walk into juvie today, the younger sister is sitting, tears rolling down her eyes.
“My sister is missing. She and her baby can’t be found.” I have not even put my bag down, and I can’t breathe.
“Sweetheart, I’m sorry,” I say.
I put my stuff on the chair and kneel down next to her. I whisper to her and listen to the story. I tell her we’ll talk about it in class and that she will be able to write her sister. She looks at me, and I say, “You’ll see. Come.”
A different girl comes to me and says, “I want to go to the box.” The box is solitude. “I need to be alone. I want to be in the box till I get out,” she adds.
“When’s that?” I ask.
“In May,” she shrugs.
“Sweetie, you can’t stay in the box till May.”
“Well I don’t want to see these people,” she answers dryly.
“What do you do in the box?” I ask.
“I can be,” she says.
“Well, pretend you are in the box and just ignore everyone.” She looks at me. “Do you understand what I am saying?” I ask.
“I think so,” she says.
“Be by yourself here. Just mind your own business.” She just looks through me. I put my arms around her. This kid has been in three fights in the past two days. She is so beautiful, but her demons are so deep, my sweet girl is crawling out of her skin.
Today we talk about love and write love letters. It is deep and intense. Meaningful and so incredibly hard. They pour their heart out and are ready to kill me when I ask them to read the letter out loud.
“What??” they say. “You didn’t tell us we would have to do that.”
“Well, I want you to share with us, talk about emotions. Let’s learn from each other,” I tell them.
Slowly after I ask, beg, make deals, one by one they share and read. It gets very quiet. The air is very thick but warm. Tears are rolling down my assistant’s and my cheeks. Frankly I am ready to fall apart. The letters are filled with pain and hurt and young love. These girls have been used and broken. Then there is a beautiful love letter to a mom. And then a heart wrenching letter to the older sister. This is a turning moment. This is where the group, regardless of color and gang affiliation, open, trust, and bond.
We end in a circle holding hands. I thank them for sharing. I thank them for reading the poems out loud. I tell them to be able to love is a gift. I tell them the letters are beautiful as them. And I get big stunning smiles. We hug long embraces, and I know from now it will be different because our hearts have been exposed and now are open to each other.
When I get into my car I listen to my messages and return a call to a friend who just got a new job. I say Mazal Tov and start to cry, crazy, a little uncontrolled crying. I try to explain. I apologize and then I start to laugh, “Omg.” I say, “I must sound crazy.” I say I am so happy for her and hang up. I smile knowing she’ll understand. She knows me and my work well.
How fortunate am I that this friend knows how to hold my heart.
You see this is the thing about our heart. When you open it, it can get hurt and it can break, but it can also sing and it can dance.
I believe that we actually need both to happen to truly live.
So, as you sit down at your Thanksgiving table this week, forgive the people who broke your heart. Embrace the people that made your heart dance. Let your demons rest. And above all be grateful for everything you have, because you have so, so much. More than you know.