When something bad happens you manage to hold it together. You can be okay. You can be fine, until…
Until something tips over your tightly held self-control.
Until something reminds you of something in the past.
Until something makes you feel that pain all over again.
I see it again and again with the girls that I work with in Juvie.
They are fine. They're funny. They're fun. They're having a good time…and then something snaps. They are reminded of the pain.
I am the maven of saying “I'm fine.”
I always try as hard as I can to see the glass half full.
Regardless of what happens that’s bad, I always try to keep things positive and in perspective and move forward no matter how low I go.
I try desperately to teach this to the girls in Juvie, but the half empty glass that has happened in their life is really, really tough.
It is a half that is hard to ignore.
When we were playing with the puppets, we were all laughing and having a great time.
Then one of the girls suddenly got really sad.
It was very dramatic, unexplained, and unsettling.
When one of my girls in Juvie is sad or when they get mad or something triggers them, they completely, and totally, shut down. Maybe this is a defense mechanism their soul creates to protect them.
Getting through to them on a regular day is hard. So when they shut down, Fort Knox seems open compared to that.
“What happened?” I ask.
“What happened?” I ask again.
A shrug of the shoulders.
A third time, “What happened?”
“I don't want to do this anymore.”
“Is there a reason?” I ask.
“I don't have to tell you,” she spits out at me.
“That’s right,” I say calmly. “You don't have to tell me, but I'd like you to tell me, if that's possible.”
She shakes her head no.
“I want to go back to the dorm,” she says.
Whenever something is too hard, too painful, too annoying, they just want to leave.
That's the pattern. They never really face reality, face their stuff. They have no tools to do this and also that half empty glass is a deep, deep, deep hole of empty.
“Well, maybe you just want to stay and watch what we're doing,” I suggest.
“Fine,” she says in a kind of pissy voice to me.
When my parents died I held it together.
I was okay until I had to get up to say the mourner’s prayer that Jews traditionally say when someone in the family dies.
When a parent passes away, more observant Jews say it for a full year. The people who are present recite the prayer with you.
This is a really wise and beautiful practice. The whole community embraces your pain and acknowledges your loss.
Somehow that moment for me was my fine, until… moment.
No matter how composed and how together I was, whenever I stood up to say the mourner’s prayer, I would start crying and fall apart. The death of my parents became immediate and raw.
I watch this girl in Juvie and I wonder what happened with that little puppet that reminded her of something that threw her off course.
“I once had a doll like this.”
“Oh,” I said.
“Left it at my foster home.”
If you could hear my heart crack, this would be the moment it would be loud and clear.
This one has been in and out of foster care since she was eight months old.
EIGHT MONTHS OLD!
I can’t even wrap my mind around this.
She tells me her Mom died of an overdose.
“I see,” I say.
I get it.
She doesn’t want to talk about it.
She watches us as we play out scenes and scenarios. The girls who have the puppets do ridiculous things.
I want to give her the entire bag of puppets.
She slowly comes around.
I am reminded of a Carl Jung quote:
“I am not what happened to me. I am what I choose to become.”
How do you become anything when you have been moved from home to home?
How do you heal the hole in your heart when the half empty leaves you rootless and alone?
And I watch this young woman who pulled away slowly come back, but until when?
What will be the next thing that will bring her down?
I remember once standing in a synagogue that I was visiting thinking I don’t have to get up and say the mourner’s prayer. No one knows my story here. But I felt bad, and I felt like my dad might not approve. Amazing how even after he was gone, I was worried about what he would say!
So I stood up and said it.
Of course, I cried.
A woman standing next to me moved closer to me. She didn’t say anything at first.
She gave me a tissue and then said,
“This is an important chapter in your story. It will take over the whole book until you reach the next chapter. And I know you don’t feel like it right now, but a new chapter will begin and you will move on. That is how life is.”
I couldn’t speak. I was having a full-blown, nose-dripping, tear-flowing moment.
I look at this girl in front of me.
How can I, how can we, help her move to the next chapter?
How can I make the fine, until… be less devastating?
I walk over. I stand close to her.
“Did you buy these, Ms.?” she asks me.
“Yes,” I say. “I have really great people that support what I do here and they donated money so I could get these puppets.”
“Really?” She is amazed.
“Yes,” I say. “Really.”
“There are really, really good people out there.” I add.
“Are they expensive?” she asks me.
“Not really,” I say.
“When you get out I can give you one, if you want.
Whatever puppet you want.”
I thought she would fall to the floor.
“Why the hell would you do something like that?” she asked.
“Because I can,” I answered.
“And because I want to help you start a new chapter in your story.”
“I have a super fucked up story,” she says and looks down.
“No,” I say. “You HAD a super fucked up story. Now it’s time for it to change.”
I think the puppet might have smiled and winked at me, but that is a different story.