Tuesday, February 21, 2012


I am supposed to be writing a paper.  I feel like that's all I do anymore.  Almost halfway through the hardest semester of my undergrad education, I am so close.  The only thing keeping me from losing my mind is that now I can say I "graduate this year".  The end is in sight.  And every reflection paper, every 8 am class, every lit review gets me one step closer.

I am one of the lucky ones.  Sometimes I have to remind myself of that, when things get really sticky and complicated.  I am one of them -- the lucky ones.  The lucky ones who knows exactly what she wants to do with her life.  A lucky one who knows exactly why her heart beats.  One of the lucky ones who has found her purpose.

I question it on a daily basis.  What I do is not fun.

Seeing children come to school in clothes that don't fit, with bellies empty, begging for attention.  Watching parents sit by idly.  Or worse, abuse and violate.  Too many selfish adults permeate my daily life.  Reeking of the drugs, which consume their livelihood.  Absorbed with skewed priorities, voices harsh, hands quick.  I see school systems, which lack adequate funding.  I see impatient or under-resourced teachers.  I see teenagers, already being stolen by a lost society.  I see independence in the faces and behaviors of five year olds.  And codependence in the faces of their caretakers.

What I see... on a daily basis... breaks my heart.

But something happens to me.  When I drive into that neighborhood.  When someone asks me about urban poverty.  When the topic of community development is brought to the table.  When discussing foster care and behavior modification.

Something inside of me catches fire.  And if you've ever see me there, you know what I'm talking about. Unless you've seen me with my children, you haven't seen the real me.  Unless you've been there with me, or sat across the table from me as I talk about it, you don't know who I am.

I chose to spend my Valentine's Day with some of them.  Dark, cold night walking up and down the streets of my most beloved neighborhood.  We ran straight into a group of teenagers who were smoking weed.  I was tired of knocking on unfamiliar, unopened doors and all a few of us wanted to do was stand in the street with these kids.  High or not.  That's where I wanted to be.

Chaos draws me.  I am drawn in, consumed by, enchanted with the chaos and noise of the inner city.  Its erratic rhythm matches up with something inside of me.  I am not sure which happens.  I'd like to think that my presence helps bring cadence and tempo to the craziness.  But I laugh, knowing it's their craziness, which brings life to me.

We walked into a house with one of my sweet boys from camp.  Two little boys in pajama pants, shirtless.  Inches taller than I remember.  Little sister playing with a deflated balloon in the living room.  Valentine's Day equalled too much sugar, too much energy.  The chaos pulled at me.

I am in my last year of undergrad.  In practical application classes, preparing for a final practicum.  Learning how to research problems and issues I am passionate about. I am painfully single-minded. A one-track mind, devotedly focused in one direction.  Their faces push me.  All comes back to them.  Whether it's macro practice, advocacy.  Community development.  Micro work.  Clinical work.

I am doing what I am doing because of five little boys who ran down Maxwell Street at midnight, far away from home.  I do this because of the three week old baby I was handed, while pit bulls guarded the marijuana in the next room.  Because of him.  Launching himself off the porch into my arms.

I do this because of words like "celebration".

I stood at work the other day and talked to a woman who had just had her house broken into.  Electrical box taken down, all the copper stolen.  She had come to get yogurt because there was no heat in her house.  She wanted some company, I think.  I had been working alone for four hours.  I needed it too.

She tentatively approached a subject some people would be appalled at.  Some people would, and will, argue to the death.

She told me she wasn't as mad about the break-in, as she was upset that we'd created such a system that this is what people resort to.

We talked about human dignity.  About what really makes people rich.

She had found someone, in me.  She asked about what I do.  And I watched her whole face soften as I told her.  She asked about my life.  About my current situation and circumstances.  Empathy and compassion lit up her whole face.

And I kept thinking, we need more people like you.

Which was what she told me when she finished her yogurt and got ready to leave.  She walked behind the counter, told me her name, and hugged me tight.  Told me she was proud of me.  That the world was lucky to have me.  That my children were lucky to have me.

Funny, I thought.  I was thinking the same thing about you.

What I do brings me face to face with angels and demons on a daily basis.

The war that is waged before my very eyes exhausts me.  The chaos that draws me, is a struggle.  A struggle for power, for authority, for dominance, for foundation.  Something is trying to hold its ground that we are trying to pry loose.  

My life is about the loosening and the binding.

About reading Dr. Seuss and anger management.  About mediation and hugs.  About gaining trust and the powerful confrontation of what has tried to take root.

And every time I come face to face with this life that I've chosen, I know this is the one thing I did right.

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