I received the most incredible gift recently. It didn't come in a beautifully wrapped package. It didn't arrive by special delivery. And it didn't have a lovely card attached.
It came in the form of real in person connection, sharing of knowledge and experience, in support of one person making a difference in his life, his future, and in our community.
I was recently contacted by an inspiring new friend who asked if I might be willing to talk to a young man in her Strive program at Operation Fresh Start about his desires to pursue a career in nursing, and in particular, as a nurse anesthetist. My answer to her was the same as it is to anyone who has made a similar request. No need for me to mull it over. It's always a big emphatic YES!
The three of us met at a coffee shop to get acquainted and share experiences. I had the opportunity to share the story of my career, and answer all of his questions, big and small.
This conscientious, smart, motivated, thoughtful young man hadn't had an easy go of things in life. For one reason or another he found himself making a lot of unhealthy choices at a young age. And, at another point he decided he'd had enough self-abuse and wanted to make things right again.
Because of Operation Fresh Start he has had the opportunities and support he needed to make that happen. He's taken responsibility for himself, understands the importance of self care, and has a desire to begin a career in health care.
His future is so incredibly bright because of social programs like Operation Fresh Start and the dedicated people who work in these places and spaces. So often, people want to do better in life but just need a little encouragement, opportunity, and support to get them there.
After our meeting, my friend and I had a heartfelt conversation about the polarity that exists in our culture around people and their choices. We've created a "justice" system that provides a place for people to serve time for their crimes, but without thought or commitment to what happens on the other end of their sentence. It's a broken and shortsighted system of punishment rather than rehabilitation and re-integration.
A good number of people released from jails and prisons have a desire to do better. But when they are released back into the world they are met with harsh societal judgement, discriminatory bias, and enormous barriers to employment and housing. So many can't catch a break anywhere, despite legitimate efforts to make a change, that they re-offend in order to not have to live on the street.
And then there's mental health to consider. As Einstein said, "You cannot solve a problem with the same mind that created it." How can anyone be expected to create real change in their lives when nothing else in their life changes? Same environment, same lack of resources, same mental or physical health issues, same addiction concerns, same, same, same.
This is the system we've created and we are all responsible. It's a deep and complex issue of which I have very limited academic knowledge. My understanding comes from witnessing the struggles of real people in these situations.
We have to do better. We are only as strong as the "weakest" among us. Whether you agree or not, we are all connected and the ripple effect of goodness in the world also ripples with the effects of turning a blind eye, judging what we don't understand, or thinking we are better than our brothers and sisters who live in another neighborhood.
Attitudes like "I would never put myself in that position." or "They deserve the consequences of their actions." don't serve any of us when the people involved, who served their time, are now faced with trying to build a life out of less than which they began. Their official sentence continues to follow them everywhere outside the cell walls, and their resources for assistance and support are severely lacking.
I am so grateful for the resources that do exist, for the people who dedicate their time and energy to support these efforts, and that there are some who find their way to the empowerment they need in order to thrive. Compassion and a deep sense of community can go a very long way.
There are so many ways we make a difference in our world, and so often we discount the seemingly small actions we take, that have a big impact. I recognize my privilege in life. I've had countless mentors who encouraged and tended my potential. Yes, we all have the power of choice in life, and those choices become much easier and impactful with resources and support. It always brings me such great joy to pay that forward.
It was an absolute honor and gift for me to be able to meet and talk to this young man. I'm looking forward to keeping in touch with him and watching the impact he will have on the world around him.
Our collective health and sense of well-being relies on each of us to do our part in some way. For ourselves and for others. There is no greater joy than serving others through the sharing of our experiences, talents, and gifts. And Joy = Good Health, on many levels.
Do you recognize the places and spaces in your life where you make a difference? Big or small?