I seem to have found myself surrounded by children, teenagers, or populations of youth the past months. I work with children just about everyday; either as a nanny or babysitter for children who have loving parents that are fortunate enough to hire a nanny or babysitter, or I am working with children (mostly teens) in a shelter. The children in the shelter come from broken homes where they have been abandoned, neglected, or abused. Most of these youth are Hispanic or black, differing from my ethnicity and the heritage I was raised in. Not only am I white skinned, I am terribly fair skinned, fair eyed, and fair-haired.
When I work in the shelter, it is as if I am entering a very different universe, an entirely different species of thought, behavior, and existence—even the language is sometimes different. "Saca la basura y limpia tu cuarto!"
I enter a universe of trauma survivors, children who have blamed themselves for burdens as large as mountains, that no human could possibly create, a world where their gifts have never been pointed out to them, a universe that houses bright cities of possibility, but the electricity bill was neglected to be paid.
When I go to work, I make sure to put on my warrior suit, because some days I need protection. Some days I am not sure what words will fly through the air, trying to stab me, or the possibility of a pain projected and clenched so tight that a fist through the air is the only perceived outlet.
I have to wear a warrior suit because I work with young warriors. They are tough and iron to the bone. They are rough, and sometimes mean. They have abilities to lie, cheat, and steal because that is what they were taught. They have a whole universe to unravel, un-do, un-know, and so much to let go of.
They are strong, so very strong willed. Their hearts are some of the strongest I’ve ever seen. Their hearts are guarded and protected, cradled like an infant, exactly how they swear they will treat their own children one day.
And you can imagine the delight an outsider like myself must experience when I get to see these young warriors open their hearts, even for a moment. To realize that a rapport is being created right now! To be able to listen to these young, strong-headed, warriors tell of the tales of horror and hell of their pasts, and to soften their hearts enough to tell a stranger like myself, that they are scared, deeply saddened, and wounded of what was. The immeasurable compassion and empathy shown at key and crucial moments by all of the staff, counselors, and other mentors like myself is sometimes enough to take even the tightest of chains one link looser around the most imprisoned of hearts.
There are two cups that I recognize with the population of youth I work with. One cup has no bottom, for it is the drain of human emotion, energy, and symbolized deprivation. The feeling and embodiment of not having enough, a constant and plaguing hunger. The other cup is a spring and well of human emotion, energy, and symbolized plenty. This second cup has much to offer, give, heal, and connect to. The second cup quenches the thirst of the first, and is the ultimate Band-Aid.
Some weeks I forget the second cup of life even exists in this world of profanity, violence, drugs, and street smarts. Then a child opens up. A child takes me into their world, and shares a piece of their life with me, a piece of their skin with me, failing to see the difference between my fair skin and their ebony skin. At that rare and dazzling moment, reminders of the second cup flood my mind, and wash away every instance of the first cup; for the second cup, the cup of heart connection, trust, and love is the very reason why I put myself in the battlefield of warrior’s everyday.