He was living because he wasn’t dead.
Age 18: I don’t remember his name. I didn’t realize at the time how much meeting him would influence my life. The details of the conversation have faded, but the feelings have grown deeper and more powerful over the years. He was fighting against the odds. Though he had no physical pattern or model to follow, he explained how he was responding to his environment to try to hold his life together. As hard as he tried, he admitted he was struggling inside and not doing much better on the surface. With all of his accomplishments, he made no reference whatsoever to the future. He carefully avoided the topic.
I thought I’d break a barrier by asking what he thought he might be doing at age “twenty-five, thirty, or…” He looked at me and motioned with his hand to stop. “What?!” He couldn’t imagine that he would ever live to be twenty-five and that thirty, well, that was well beyond his comprehension. He was doubtful any of his friends would live that long either. Some of them were already dead or incarcerated. It seemed that he feared life more than he feared death.
Though not planned by anyone in particular, the architecture of his environment had evolved to completely control and limit his life, to blind him from possibilities. Though hope was ever present, it always is, it was invisible to him. He was conditioned to tolerate and accept the only reality he knew. He was living in a virtual prison.
He couldn’t see further than a just few blocks down the street, certainly no further than just around the corner. A world with options was as imaginary as fairy tales and space travel are to me. In the case of this eighteen-year-old, I could offer little more than a momentary nudge or a spark. His successes in holding his life together to that point could give him a sense of accomplishment and confidence if he could gain that perspective. He had the tools to start.
If he kept looking, another clue would materialize, then another. The secrets of the universe do reveal themselves step by step. If he could look up he would see clues. He may yet be inspired by the someone he doesn’t know or may never meet. His memory may recall hearing a piece of wisdom from his grandmother a some random teacher or some guy on the corner. Someone or something else will certainly appear in his life to both spark his curiosity and to bolster his confidence. But he has to look for those sparks of hope. If he is willing and takes courage to act on his impressions, he will catch a glimpse and another and his vision and confidence will continue to expand.
You are more resilient than you know.
1. Look into your own heart, deep inside.
What have you survived?
What have you overcome?
What have you learned?
Who has taught you?
2. Look outside.
Look at your environment and circumstances, no matter how rosy or gloomy. How can you best adapt to or change your environment?
3. Look beyond yourself and serve. You are needed.
Listen to others and learn together. You will all be enriched.
Support and bless others.
“When you are blessed by others, pay it forward.” -Sam Doan
The Choice of Freedom
Age 15: From a young age he had learned to fend for himself for his very survival. He was literally nothing more than a nuisance to his parents who were constantly drunk or strung out on drugs. Food in the house was not a regular fixture and parental supervision was sparse. Finding very little emotional or physical support in the house, he took the initiative to get out of the house, to find other environments.
With experience he gained confidence. With a positive countenance he developed remarkable people skills. His charisma came from watching for the positive examples of others. He learned to do odd jobs to get by. He eventually found work steady enough to support himself and get out of the poison environment of his parents’ house.
He said that he had convinced the courts to emancipate him and allow him to support himself since he was so much more responsible than his parents. He included in his argument to the judge that the drug infested house was a dangerous environment for a teenager.
He had taken himself through the process of looking inside. He then looked outside himself at his environment. He did more than adapt, he looked beyond himself and built his own environment. He became a light to others. They could feel his positive vibes and confidence. He became a mentor. Others admired him and sought his support, wisdom and advice. He began to pay it forward.