I have worked with teens my entire life. I have worked with some of the most violent and difficult teens. Who knew that inside me was hiding a woman who struggles to understand what to do with her own teenagers?
My children are wonderful, kind, sweet, beautiful girls. Who knew that hiding inside them were moody, judgmental teenage beings, who can bring down even the strongest of moms?
A woman I met when she was incarcerated, seemed to be the most gentle, soft-spoken, introverted human I have ever met. Hiding inside her was a hurt, violent, outraged, little girl who got into so much trouble that eventually she was sent to a psychiatric hospital.
We all have things we hide.
We all have things hiding inside us that we don’t even know about, things that will surprise us at the most unexpected moments—sometimes in a positive way and sometimes in a negative way.
We sat at the dinner table after a long day. I was tired, annoyed and definitely not feeling compassionate to my kids. An evening of me schlepping, cooking, and cleaning was followed by hearing them complaining, moaning, and fighting about silly stuff, in addition I had not slept enough the night before.
Who knew that in this very sorry start to the evening was hiding sisterly love, tender affection, and laughter that brings joy to your heart?
The dinner that started sour, turned around and ended being incredibly sweet.
He walked into my class wearing sunglasses.
I ask, “Are you hiding?”
He took the sunglasses off and his eyes were so sad I immediately knew that something terrible had happened. My heart sank.
After class as we walked to my car, he shared with me that he lost his sister to gang violence. He was shattered. They had just found each other, after years apart.
“You know, Ms. When I was in the gang, doing that stuff, people died left and right. I hid behind the violence. I hid in the hood. I hid with the drugs. Now, I have nowhere to hide and it hurts like a mother fucker.”
This man stood there and started to weep, long, hard sobs.He put his hands on his face. We sat down on the curb. He cried for a long time. I sat there with him quietly, my hand on his back. He cried. I cried, too. I looked at his arms covered in tattoos, as were his neck and face. When you look at this man you might just miss the sensitive being hiding underneath the tattoos.
“I am so sorry,” he said.
“Why?” I asked.
“No, I said, “you’re human.”
God works in crazy ways, and, somehow, I am given grace when I need it. On this particular day, I had time, something I usually don’t have any of. I share with him a random story about my sisters. He laughs. He tells me she was his baby sister. I tell him I am the baby sister. He tells me how much he loved her, and that he taught her how to tell time and tie her shoes. I tell him how much I love my brother, and that he, too, taught me to tell time and tie my shoes. He tells me he didn’t talk to her for years. I tell him I try to talk to my brother every day and I share that my world would collapse if, God forbid, I lost my brother.
I open my car and get him tissues and some chocolate covered almonds that are partially melted and a little gross but hit the spot anyway.
“Chocolate,” I tell him, “is magic.”
He tells me “So is heroin.”
We laugh so hard we start to cry.
You know, that deep uncontrollable laughter that has the power to be medicine when you are sad.
“Wow,” he says,
“I can’t believe hiding behind my tears was such a big laugh.”
“You’d be surprised what can happen when you allow yourself to feel,” I tell him.
He looks at me.
“This better fucking not happen again,” he says.
And we laugh out loud.
“It will,” I say, “and that’s okay. Now that it happened once, it will not be weird next time.”
“Who knew, Ms., that hiding inside me was such a softie?”
“I think there are a lot more things hiding inside you,” I say.
He tells me about his tattoos. We talk about art. We walk over to Starbucks and get a coffee. Turns out we drink our coffee the same way. Who knew that hiding in the vast differences between us there are so many similarities?
We say good-bye. I give him a hug. I don’t see him again. I hear that he got a job and he is okay. They tell me he is doing good, really good. Who knew hiding behind his past, was a wonderful future?
I invite you to believe in what you can’t see. Remember, that hiding behind what you see, are great things that you could never expect or dream of. So, believe…plain and simple. Well, maybe not so simple, but necessary.
I invite you to believe, especially when you don’t want to.
Friends and readers: Please join us in the ripple effect (Adva) fundraiser Sunday, September 22nd from 5PM-8PM @ the Catalina Jazz Club
For tickets or to make a donation go: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/join-us-to-celebrate-the-ripple-effect-tickets-69247476065