FALL

“If you ever find yourself empty from something you cannot know or name, find a stretch of ocean, a field, or a mountainside, or even clouds, or trees. Because there are 1,000 simple ways to fill your tired soul so you can remember how to be, how to see, and most importantly, how to breathe.” ~ Victoria Erickson

The fall, even rainy days, is an awesome time to reconnect to the universe and to nature. Taking time for this connection can fill a void and put together some broken pieces, even ones that we didn’t know were there.

I am hoping that we as adults are taking time in whatever way feels comfortable for us to touch nature for self-care and to restore our spirits. And I am also hoping that we see this as an opportunity and skill that we take the time to pass on to others.

I remember a story about when my staff took some young people from the city hiking and one young man stood at the bottom of the mountain looking up and asked, “who built this?”

So many people in our world today are completely disconnected from the natural world around them and truly believe that everything is man-made. What a gift we can provide by introducing someone to the natural world and perhaps helping them to understand that the world is bigger than them?

What a difference it would make if this led to that individual feeling as though they had a purpose in the world. What an honor it is to have this opportunity bestowed upon us to introduce others to the natural world around them.

OPPOSITES CONNECT

I have done a lot of traveling recently for work, which has given me the opportunity to be in new parts of the country and to meet new people. I have said before how much I value these opportunities because every new experience has the potential to expand what I know, believe, and feel about the world and its citizens.

One experience stands out for me. I was on a plane ride heading home from Knoxville, TN, and was excited to have a window seat for the ride. The passenger who sat in the seat next to me was a young man in his 20s who was traveling with a woman I later learned was his fiancé.

As soon as he sat down, he bridged the silence by pulling out a deck of cards and engaging me in card tricks, which he was actually very good at. The conversation led from there to him asking me about the podcasts on my phone. (I started by letting him know what a podcast was because it was not something he was familiar with.) We talked about some of my favorites, which then led to a long and engaging conversation that was not complete until we walked off the airplane.

We talked about family, religion, faith, politics, gun control, voting, immigration, and many more topics that are supposed to be taboo to address with strangers. My airplane companion could not be more different from me. We literally landed on the opposite side of almost every topic that we discussed, and even so it was one of the most fulfilling conversations that I have had in a long time.

It was fulfilling because the conversation never became an argument, a debate, or a personal attack. The conversation was instead a moment of connection that started with genuine kindness and love for another human being and allowed us the ability to talk and to exchange and to connect despite our differences. The connection was built on respect and the intrinsic value of each human being.

I have thought about this exchange many times since that day and I wonder what it would be like if more of us could have those moments of connection with those who are different from us. We work so hard to surround ourselves with people who look like us, who believe what we believe, and who are like minded. What if we didn’t? What if we valued the diversity of person, of beliefs, of core values? What if we were more willing to engage not with the intention to change the other person, but instead with the intention of simple heart connection? What if we were willing to really see each other?

As Brene Brown says, “People are hard to hate close up.”

OPPOSITES CONNECT

I have done a lot of traveling recently for work, which has given me the opportunity to be in new parts of the country and to meet new people. I have said before how much I value these opportunities because every new experience has the potential to expand what I know, believe, and feel about the world and its citizens.

One experience stands out for me. I was on a plane ride heading home from Knoxville, TN, and was excited to have a window seat for the ride. The passenger who sat in the seat next to me was a young man in his 20s who was traveling with a woman I later learned was his fiancé.

As soon as he sat down, he bridged the silence by pulling out a deck of cards and engaging me in card tricks, which he was actually very good at. The conversation led from there to him asking me about the podcasts on my phone. (I started by letting him know what a podcast was because it was not something he was familiar with.) We talked about some of my favorites, which then led to a long and engaging conversation that was not complete until we walked off the airplane.

We talked about family, religion, faith, politics, gun control, voting, immigration, and many more topics that are supposed to be taboo to address with strangers. My airplane companion could not be more different from me. We literally landed on the opposite side of almost every topic that we discussed, and even so it was one of the most fulfilling conversations that I have had in a long time.

It was fulfilling because the conversation never became an argument, a debate, or a personal attack. The conversation was instead a moment of connection that started with genuine kindness and love for another human being and allowed us the ability to talk and to exchange and to connect despite our differences. The connection was built on respect and the intrinsic value of each human being.

I have thought about this exchange many times since that day and I wonder what it would be like if more of us could have those moments of connection with those who are different from us. We work so hard to surround ourselves with people who look like us, who believe what we believe, and who are like minded. What if we didn’t? What if we valued the diversity of person, of beliefs, of core values? What if we were more willing to engage not with the intention to change the other person, but instead with the intention of simple heart connection? What if we were willing to really see each other?

As Brene Brown says, “People are hard to hate close up.”

RACISM

There is something that I feel like I need to say, and I know that my words will not be perfect. I am not really completely sure how to address this issue. What I do know is that this is too important to continue to let my fear stand in my way.

Institutional racism, racial oppression, and racial inequalities continue to exist. Sure, we have made some strides. There are no longer separate bathrooms or water fountains and we have had Barack Obama as our president. There is still a long way to go.

In the last week I have heard young white men use the “N” word more times than I care to count, and recently one of my staff members was driving with a young person in the car who saw a young black man on the road and stated, “There’s a black kid. Run him over.”

Why do these things occur? Why are these kinds of things still happening? Why does anyone think that this kind of behavior is an anyway acceptable? I can no longer be silent and pretend that this is okay. I also know that I cannot solve this myself… but I can do one thing.

I recently had the opportunity to hear Marc Dones, associate director of Equity Initiatives at the Center for Social Innovation, talk about this very topic. He challenged us to continue to bear witness to the reality of racism in America. He stood on a stage in front of about 100 youth serving professionals with his big brown eyes shining and his million dollar smile and stated that our country has made progress “because my ancestors were on a stage because they were being lynched, and I am standing on a stage to speak to you all.”

With tears streaming down my face I looked at him from my seat in the audience and all I could think was “I’m sorry.”

So that is the one thing that I know that I can do. I am willing to stand up and say I’m sorry. I’m sorry for all the things that my ancestors did to create racism in this country and I vow that I am not going to let those things continue. If I don’t stand up for the youth we serve and show them something different from what they know, racial equity will never exist, and I refuse to live in a world where that is true. So here I am to bear witness to racism in America and to say I’m sorry.

CRASH AND SNIFF

Sometimes I have that overwhelming feeling that this work, combined with the normal struggles of life, is just too much. In those moments I allow myself to crash. Sometimes, that means that I crawl into my bed and sometimes it just means closing my office door. Most of the time, it also includes a good, full-body, emotional sob. Not just a cry but a sob – the kind that makes my back writhe and my nose run in disgusting ways.

This work is hard, and when kids die or relapse or drop-out of school, or continue to struggle with mental illness, it hurts. And when you add that to the challenges of personal life – relationships, families, parenting, finances – sometimes it can bring me to my knees. And I allow that to happen. I learned a long time ago that I have to allow myself to crash from time to time. It only takes a few minutes, but a good, solid cry can allow so much to be released.

So what does your crash look like? Do you allow yourself to do it from time to time? When you crash, do you tell yourself that you are not made for this work or that you should be able to deal with everything always?

I am going to let you in on a little secret ; being a human service professional does not make you a super hero. We are still human beings who feel real feelings, and sometimes in order to keep moving forward in both our work and our personal lives, we have to allow ourselves to stop and to crash.

Give yourself the permission and space to do that, then wipe your eyes and your snotty nose and reenter the world a little freer.

About the Author...

EKleftside-street Webfade



I’m Erin, and I’ve used my 15+ years of human services experience working to understand youth who are on the fringes as an attempt to create services that have the potential to change their life trajectory. I get out of bed each morning with a renewed sense of purpose, and I go off to work to play my part. I believe that if we each do our small part, that collectively we have the potential to change the big picture.

To me, this is more than a job; it’s a journey, a mission, a calling, and an honor.

I don’t believe that I have all the answers, but with some regular meditation, a solid support network, and a commitment to this work--no matter how hard it gets, I believe that much can be accomplished.

I invite you along on this journey. Share what you have learned, what keeps you going, and what makes you crazy. None of us are in this world alone and I am grateful that we can walk beside each other even if only for a few moments.

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