Weeks ago I had an hour and a half long conversation with my mom in which I amply depressed her with story upon story about what some of the boys have experienced. At one point she asked what we really can expect of kids that have been treated so unfairly? How can we expect them to be kind when they have been shown such cruelty? How can we expect them to be honest when they’ve been lied to time and time again? How can we expect them to care for others when few people have cared for them? These are questions that I have mulled over myself. And logic says that we can’t. Then we start to think that what they have experienced has damaged them too much. Which leads to thinking that there’s no point in working with this age/gender/fill in the blank.
But then there are the clear anomalies. Two years ago, I was in San Pedro helping a boy find his father. We were on a road cramped with makeshift shacks with vendors selling every good you could ever desire. As we walked, this child placed himself in between myself and cars that were whizzing by and was simultaneously watching that my head didn’t hit the low-rusty beams jutting out from the shacks. Later that day, I asked him if he had ever seen a good relationship. “What do you mean?” Have you ever seen people that work as a team, care about each other and protect each other? “No. Never.” So, he’s an anomaly, right? Somehow, this child was born with the innate ability to protect and shelter even though he hasn’t seen it.
But then the plot thickens…
He tells me that as he ages, different memories are resurfacing that he hasn’t thought of in ages. His most recent story is one of a woman whose name he can’t remember. He knew her when he was 5 or 6 so he had just begun sleeping on the street. For a time, this woman, who had years of experience on the street, took him under her wing and treated him as though he was her son. Every night she made sure that he was sleeping between her and the nearest wall so that she could be a barricade to anyone who wanted to mess with him while he slept. He paused, then said that he thinks he was saved from a lot of things kids usually experience on the street because of her.
This woman never sat him down and explained that since she cared about him, she was going to shield him from as much as she could. She just did it. It took him ten years to really realize the depth of what she did for him. But even before he could verbalize his gratefulness or put his finger on the impact it had in his life, he was modeling what she had shown him.
If we wrote a list of all the wrongs that one child has experienced we would be buried in our despair. We cannot erase the wrongs. We cannot counter every act of evil with good. But we can show them something different. We can show kindness. We can listen. We can be good. Ten years from now, he may not remember your name, but he may remember the way you made him feel. And you may have been the inspiration he needed to treat people in such a way that goes against logic.