I went over to the Brandywine YMCA to swim some laps this morning (you can only run so far when its 8 degrees outside) and I noticed a sign on the wall that read “Be Awesome Today!” It occurred to me that better advice might actually be “SEE Awesome Today!”
I know lots of stuff sucks in our country these days. (I think I'm safe with this statement no matter which side of the political spectrum you call home!) I've shared quite a few songs documenting my personal takes on much of what transpired in 2017. But despite the disagreeable trolls, bots and seemingly ceaseless fusilade of outrageous tweets and soul-concussing news, I am more and more knocked out by the spirit of the people I see around me each and every day.
As Father Greg Boyle, founder of Homeboy Industries and author of “Tatoos on the Heart” points out, we should stand in awe that the poor and marginalized manage to carry the burdens they do, rather than stand in judgment of how they carry them. This is a lesson brought home again and again in my work with New Beginnings and New Beginning-Next Step.
Just a small illustration. Elliott*, a long time member of our Gander Hill Prison group, is being transferred to another facility this week. In his final session with New Beginnings he looked across the circle at a man named Claude* who'd only been attending our meetings for a few months. Claude had come to us with more than the normal share of inmate challenges (and I remember wondering if we'd be able to help him much) but week by week, we'd seen him grow in confidence and self awareness. He was visibly buoyed by the trust and affection he experienced in group, and instead of continuing to be held captive by a long list of anxieties about the future, Claude had begun to “eat the elephant one bite at a time'”, breaking down big, seemingly insurmountable problems into smaller, more manageable portions. Each week, Claude would confide in the group, discussing troubling issues, weighing advice, and ultimately making simple, reasonable decisions. As a result of this Claude was seeing, maybe be for the first time in his life, some things starting to turn around and go his way. He was experiencing what psychologists call agency; the realization that he had the power to affect his own life in positive productive ways.
Elliott addressed Claude saying, “Brother, before I leave here I want you to know how proud I am of you, and how far I've watched you come in a short time. I know you have many doubts about yourself, but I've been privileged to see you grow so much!” At this point Elliott unstrapped a large rugged black digital watch from his wrist. (Being paid 32 cents an hour, if they're fortunate enough to have jobs, very few inmates can save enough money to purchase watches from the prison commissary.) Elliott presented the watch to Claude and said, “I want you to have this. You told me once how much you admired it. So please accept it as a gift from me, and every time you look at it, remember how much I believe in you". Claude's eyes brimmed with tears as he struggled to find and give voice to words of the most profound gratitude you can imagine. Other guys in the group saw him losing the fight for composure and said, "It's ok, man... tears are ok.... let 'em come.” They did. (I personally hadn’t waited for permission.)
In a place where men have next to nothing, I witnessed one of the most beautiful acts of kindness I've ever seen.
So bring on the nightly news, I can handle it! I saw a hell of a lot of awesome today!
*not real names