This is another earlier blog, but one that still touches my heart. I spent over ten years writing a book addressing the cultural needs of our young people. If you have not seen it yet, do check it out on my books page. It is called, The Lonely Place–Revisioning Adolescence and the Rite of Passage.
Today we had friends over for a bit of chanting and meditation. As I was sitting in that age-old posture, I kept thinking about the rest of my life. I want it to be both meaningful and free of stress. Just being. Last week I went for a drive in the Black Hills to give an hour-long presentation to a facility that “houses” young people in need. The facility is part lock-up, part treatment, and part . . . I find I can’t finish the statement.
The question I had on my drive there and back was, “What do they need–really?” When I first got there I was a little nervous as I realized that writing about adolescence–and standing and talking in front of 150 adolescents are two totally different things. I wondered if I would be in touch enough with their world to speak to them and not at them. I wondered howthey would receive what I had to say. Then, as the counselors and demi-guards brought the groups of young men and women in, I wondered what I would end up saying that would be against the basic philosophy of this boot camp atmosphere.
It didn’t take long, however, to just focus on their young faces and talk as straight as I could to them. I talked about ancient rites of passage ceremonies designed to help young people reach a productive adult life. I talked about how our modern culture now leaves this up to the kids themselves, and how they are sometimes forced to “gang up” and initiate themselves. I talked about challenges and tests and what happens when we gain the strength to go through them. I asked them what they needed in order to be able to face those tests and challenges. It was a powerful thing for me. They gave me words backed up by need—we need money, jobs, knowledge, support, love, time, understanding, discipline, choices.
My question. Are we creating a world where these kids in need can fill in those blanks?
During the last fifteen minutes, I invited questions. Most of the questions that came my way were about being a writer. What motivated me, what discouraged me, how did I get interested in writing, how many books have I written . . . Finally one young man asked me what made me want to come and speak to a group like theirs.
That question touched me. I thought a moment and said, “I like young people. I like your energy. I like your questions. I like your spirits. I like you—and I want to see you bloom.” when we were done I invited the young people to write to me and tell me why they are there and what they want. I told them I had this idea to do a kind of “teen monologue”, kind of like The Vagina Monologues but with a very young voice.
Friday, I got 20 letters in my mailbox. Milt and I sat and read every one. Even though I realized that the letters had probably been “commanded” by the teacher or counselor, I was moved by their stories. Since giving that talk my energy has been cycling around those young people. I realized that my entire adult life has been focused around education, developing humans, adolescence, and what we can do to help them become strong, resilient adults. My first job was in the “trouble” room at a middle school. My second job was in an adolescent care center. Both ended when I could see that the systems that employed me were not at all tuned into the young. It hurt me to even be there—and it wasn’t great for the young people either.
I don’t think I am too much of an idealist to think that we could take a new approach with American youth. I don’t think it would hurt us to see them and work with them AS THEY ARE instead of criminalizing or diagnosing or sentencing them. Damn, it frustrates me.
So, I think over the next however many days or weeks, I will post one of those letters (or portions of them) in my blog so you can hear from them, too. And I plan to answer every letter that comes! The beginnings of my “Teen Monologues.”
Here is one of the letters from a young man named Colin. It made me cry for him.
Dear Ms. Lee,
This could be for your “teen monologue”. In November, 2006, my 35 year old father died of malignant melanoma. It crushed my family. I didn’t know what to do. I still feel like it happened yesterday. I tried to find God to help me but I did not put much effort into it. This is when I started drinking and smoking pot. It felt like I was not worth it anymore. I was put on probation and I have a few probation violations. That is how I got here.
Now that I think about it, my dad would not want me to be here, but I think he knows that it is necessary. I should be supporting my sisters and brothers—not getting locked up. I miss my family dearly, but I should not be feeling sorry for myself. I should feel sorry for my family. I want to thank you for coming again. I hope that maybe someday we could meet and we could talk 1 on 1. Thank you.Share on Facebook