I’m not sure I know how to communicate all I want to say or how grateful I am for the past five years working at CCN. I’ve been able to do exactly what was in my heart to do. As a person in my mid-twenties, how lucky am I to be able to say that?
I wouldn’t trade it for any other job, any other mission, and certainly, no other students.
To walk with these kids as they grow, to see all the challenges they face, to witness their courage, creativity, and kindness while also some of their loss, fear, and pain… and then to try to foster a relationship where there can be relief and trust and joy… it’s…
It’s been an honor. Those places I’ve gotten to stand are holy ground.
This has nothing to do with me. There were far too many times I didn’t have the patience I needed or lost the mission under the demands of the to-do list or I simply dropped the ball.
It’s these kids. Their brilliance, their creativity, their moxy, their beauty.
I don’t just mean that they’re cute. Yes, their cuteness is off the scales, but it’s more than that. It’s their core… human… goodness. It’s the glory inside their very life.
It displays itself a million different ways: the maturity they show giving new volunteers a tour; the grace in forgiving another student after feeling betrayed; or the liberating joy they feel after finally learning a new math concept. But it goes beyond their successes. It’s also there when they won’t listen because they have so much energy, or when they don’t understand the world they find themselves in, or when life becomes too overwhelming to control their emotions.
I recently went to a motel to say goodbye to a couple families. I let them know the news about my departure and then just sat with the kids asking about their new teachers and how the first weeks of school have gone. They asked me about my future, but mostly, we just hung out like usual. We told jokes and laughed and I lectured them on the importance of homework.
At one point, I sat down at the top of the 4th floor steps looking west down Colfax Avenue with Denver and the front range spread behind it. An 11 year-old girl came and sat next to me while a few kids chased one of the boys down to the parking lot.
“Kelley, do you have a wife? How old are you? Yeah, you should really have a wife by now.”
“Oh, well thanks,” I said laughing. “I’ll get right on that.” She continued prodding me about the subject and eventually I asked, “Alright, well what do you think I should look for in a wife?”
She immediately shot back with two traits: physical attractiveness and wealth. “She should have a mansion,” she said.
I chuckled a bit, but also sensed what must be behind those answers.”Hmmm, well, I’m not sure those are most important. What else?”
Nothing came to the top of her mind. She thought for a while, swinging around on the railing. “She should have a nice… car?”
This is something kids do. When they don’t know the answer, they search for what they think you want to hear. She was trying to guess the “right” answer, but even after a moment of critically thinking through my question, this bright young girl could not conceive of the kinds of character one would want in a committed relationship.
In what was now a pretty glaringly important conversation, I attempted to help her process her thinking. “Kiddo, what if she was really pretty and had lots of money, but she was really mean to me all the time?”
“You could hit her.”
My mind did a double-take, too. She did not say this with an ounce of humor. In her mind, it was the reasonable and probable solution. I kept thinking my questions would turn the light on, but they just led us further into sobering space.
“Do you think that would work?”
“Sometimes it does.”
Much of this girl’s present and future are held in those two astounding statements. That’s what she knows, understands, and envisions.
There is much more to say about that situation, but I hope it shocks all of us into a different mental and emotional space right now. Because it’s not a television show or even a story on a blog. It’s her life.
So as I go, I want to encourage all of us – one more time – to not run away from the pain of this little girl. Instead, I wish we’d all step a bit closer toward her in compassion.
You don’t have to donate a million dollars (but if you’d like to!!) and you don’t have to come down to CCN with a bag of new fancy clothes to make her day. But maybe there’s a life connected to you right now that you can honor with compassion. Maybe look the cashier in the eye with a smile. Maybe apologize to someone. Maybe help the woman looking for her car. Maybe take that risk one more time. Or maybe just take a moment to breath and stop criticizing the person in the mirror. I don’t know, but you’ll know.
As one five year-old once somberly told me, life is hard. And it is… for everyone. Each life around us carries weights seen and unseen. Compassion will create the space to see the beauty – the glory – within each one of us.
I’m certainly no expert at this. My life is just a big a mess as everyone else’s. And I’m not that young to be naive that we’ll change the whole world or save anyone. But in this moment, you can change your world and I can change mine and maybe that will change the world of someone around us.
And moving forward think about these kids from time to time. Remember what they’re dealing with and trying to overcome. Remember that their parents were likely in very similarly traumatic childhoods not that long ago and are doing their best. Give, spread the word, and come be a part of this place that is uniquely special.
So, finally, to all who saw that glory in me:
Thank you for believing in me, teaching me (and reteaching me), and encouraging me along the way. I wouldn’t have been much in that classroom without all of you. I hope I made and continue to make good on your investment.
To each of the students I’ve had the pleasure of working with:
I’ve said it a hundred times and I’m saying it again – each of you is one of my favorite people on the whole planet. Thank you for keeping me accountable to my word and thank you for making me laugh. My life is forever better because of you. Oh, and do your homework.
To the CCN employees who will carry the torch:
Remove your shoes… you’re on holy ground.