I wasn’t sure I wanted to be there. Because Monday had been a little rough. But as I talked it over with God on the way home that day, I’d heard a small voice inside me say, “Go back.” And over the years I’ve learned to listen to the small whispers of my heart. Because often my heart knows better than I.
So here I was, back in the aged and less-than-shiny inner city elementary school. The room was cold, and a bit dark as the window shades blocked the outdoor light. I sat in the tiny plastic chair waiting. Waiting for the other volunteers to file in. Waiting for the instructor to tell us what we’d do on this day of writing camp for at-risk kids. Waiting in truth, to prove that whisper wrong.
In a matter of minutes approximately 40 8th graders, most of whom are bigger than me, pile into their own plastic chairs. I get up from my empty table and find a spot at one with four gangling boys. One is in constant motion, chattering with kids at another table. One has his head down as if he’s asleep. The other two remain quiet, simply staring into space. I’m here for a reason; I want to connect, I want to inspire, I want to make a difference. But I too remain silent; awkwardness takes over, words won’t come.
The instructor, who’d been absent on Monday, quickly commands the attention of the kids. It’s apparent they will listen to her. In fact, if I’m reading the room accurately, I believe they respect her, like her even. The positive energy intrigues me.
She begins the first exercise; we are to close our eyes, think about a favorite toy from our childhood, then describe it, remember how we felt about it. Five minutes later the kids are writing as fast as they can, about that toy. Only the boys at my table aren’t writing. They hold their pencils hesitantly, no words are transferred to paper.
I prod them, what about a game you used to play? Did you play sports, own a basketball? Did you ever play with action figures? They stare at me impassively; apparently nothing is coming to mind. I join them in their blankness. Together we sink into a comfortable silence, they not writing, me panicking over my inability to engage these boys.
But then something happens. One of the boys starts writing furiously. He’s remembering his favorite video game, Black Ops 2. The chatty one gets an idea from a friend: he suddenly remembers how much he once loved his Spider-Man Web Shooter. The quiet boys put pen to paper, writing about what I do not know. The boy I thought was asleep is actually reading a novel; I’ll take it. Today is already better than Monday. Monday the kids were restless, wild, didn’t trust me, the new volunteer. Monday, I was unsure, as if I too was a middle school student.
We begin to interact. I ask the boys what age they are, where they attend school, what they like to do. They are nice, polite, willing to talk to me, an older suburban white woman who can’t possibly know anything about their day-to-day struggles. I enjoy getting to know them.
The instructor interrupts us with the next assignment: create a 6-word bumper sticker describing your life. Six words? I sit blankly. But the boys are ahead of me, writing their words down with ease. I ask to read what they’ve written. They willingly show me their work. They are proud and I am…impressed.
Minutes later the instructor asks the students to share with the group. 39 students remain quiet while 1 reads her bumper sticker, her toy story. The instructor points out the uniqueness of her writing and we clap. One by one each student shares his writing.
I am inspired by their creativity. I am awed with the fierceness, the depth of their writing. I am in love with this understanding that through words, even a forty-something suburban white woman can connect with a group of inner city at-risk fourteen-year-old boys. If she’ll come back after a rough first day.
That small voice, the whisper inside, it’s always right. I can’t wait until Monday.
PS: Here is my bumper sticker: Fueled by faith, family, words, experiences. If I had more room, I would add: inspired by the youth of Saint Florian.
The Writer’s Progress
*This week was crazy, I did not meet my writing goal of 2 hrs/day. Time to get to it.
*BUT-I have 3-count them 3-interviews lined up. I will collect these faith stories by the end of next week AND I have another story headed my way via email. Each step forward fuels my excitement about this project.
*I took a leap of faith and emailed an author to see if I could interview her about a healing she has personally experienced and blogged about. I haven’t heard back from her (read: this is a lesson in building a thick skin).
*I’m working on entries for 2 writing contests. Plan to get the rough drafts done by 8/9 and then edit them so I can turn in by 9/1. Wish me luck!
*Headed to the Across the Arts 1-day conference with my daughter this weekend. Hoping to learn and connect with other authors.
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