“If you don’t take hold of the light, the darkness will take ahold of you.” Dave Brickey
People don’t typically gravitate toward teenagers. They’re seen as “the least” of society. Selfish. Egotistical. Moody. Lazy. I can think of a dozen more titles flippantly cast at the age. Mostly, it’s true, or it can be. So for the past few years, I’ve done a research project that asks my students to chose a charity to study, advocate for, and represent to the class. It has been an amazing journey of seeing teenagers learn to care about something bigger than their day, and invest in something that isn’t self-serving. While the initial draw is the $100.00 I promise to donate to the winner’s charity, there are always countless examples during presentations that prove it is so much more than a competition. This year was no different.
In the beginning of the unit, I tell the students that they may chose any charity, but to get my approval, they must first convince me that they are the right person to be an ambassador for this cause. They need to make a connection. I don’t always anticipate just how deep a chord this will strike. A few days ago, near the end of a week of feel-good presentations, it was her turn. Her. The beautiful girl who doesn’t know she’s beautiful … who hides behind the hair that falls in her face … who wears only black, or grey … who smiles, but speaks only in whispers. Her.
I tell the students that they need to dress up to present, and that hoodies and jeans aren’t allowed. She stood simply, removing her ever-present grey hoodie at the last minute to reveal a plain white t-shirt. Quietly, she walked to the front of the room, not choosing the digital format of a website or powerpoint, but an old fashioned poster to display her information. It was hand-written, but neatly … and there were only a few pictures. To Write Love on Her Arms was the name of her charity, and I remember being struck when she chose it, at the beauty in the name, and the beauty in the girl who found the charity dedicated to helping those who suffer from: depression, addiction, and self-harm. She’d told me, when she picked it, that a friend of hers needed support, and she was glad there were places, “like this,” to help her.
She began with the facts, displayed the mission and the purpose, and then paused. She was breathing heavily, placing her arms on her legs like someone who’d just run very far and needed a moment to compose themselves. Then she raised her arms, those hidden, secret arms concealed daily in a hoodie, and shared her faint, criss-cross scars with the world. She exposed what was left of her dark choices, and went on to bravely implore her fellow classmates to get help, and offer help. She said she was better, but explained why she, and so many like her, hide. With tears shed and shared, I could not have been more proud of her … and for that moment … she was the class hero.
Lately I’ve heard so many, many problems others have been facing. Students I know, kids of friends, acquaintances, grown and child alike … they are hurting, or scared, or confused. And they are literally waiting for any ear open enough to hear their call. I’ve always been attracted to the passage in the Bible from Matthew 25:40 which says, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” If that’s true … we cannot possibly be confused about our calling.
This poem is for them. All of them who need us … whoever they are. Please share it.
Least of These
You are far from the least of these,
that harbor troubled hearts,
entangled with troubled minds.
You are not simply one in a million voices,
but rather one voice that is quiet …
What I have come to realize,
is that skating on eggshell thin self-esteem
cannot get you far enough,
from where you’ve been traveling.
You’ve become a fragile creature,
too accustomed to the dark to remember how to feel comfortable in the light.
But you are not lost,
because the truly lost have none reaching out to them –
and I’m still reaching.
You need to trust that different
really can be,
and that there is such a place
Leave worse to the shadows it came from.
Remember that no one gets it right all the time,
and that even those of us on the upside of down –
We’ve just been in the light long enough to know
that it’s always strong enough to pull us back.
So if you’re not there yet … if you’re not quite strong enough to handle it all …
I want you to know it’s okay.
Insecurities are not weakness,
they’re only fears unresolved.
And everyone has them,
it’s just time to untie their bind on you.
You aren’t alone –
you never were.
And it’s time you be properly introduced
back into the world you belong in …
And even if, for now,
(because it won’t always be so, I promise)
mine is the only world you’re comfortable rejoining,
it will be enough.
You will be safe, with me.
Little by little, you’ll find yourself –
the you we’ve all missed so dearly.
Moment by moment you won’t have to try quite so hard,
and your choices will be seen more clearly.
Day after day,
your eyes will adjust to the light …
until it is your turn,
to reach out,
and bring someone back too.