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I won’t pretend I know what it’s like, because I don’t.
I won’t lie and say I understand, because I probably don’t.
Hard as I try, I would never fully feel what it’s like to be walking on the darker side of life unless I actually go and do it.
Like so many of us fortunates, we’ve never had to. We’ve never been forced to grow up early and face the harsher realities of the big bad world out there. Sheltered to an extent, we’ve been provided with almost everything we need to succeed.
If only we appreciated those things more.
Sure, I’m curious about what’s out there. Stories are fascinating and they attract me in a way that’s somewhere deeper down. Perhaps each of us has something built in that’s tempted to take a stroll in the shaded side of living. Maybe that’s what all the religions try to tell us, theres a demon in us that controls our temptations and it takes advantage when we’re most vulnerable. Is that feeling deep down the dark side luring me in?
Maybe, maybe not.
However, I do know enough to know that I’m lucky to have never seen those things, and as someone wise (sage-wise or street-wise, I’m not sure. I think being on the streets prepares you for both, if you’ve seen enough) once said,
“Sure, everyone has a sad story...until you hear someone else’s.”
We had a presentation in school today called Project Humanity. A group of people came and performed for us a play that demonstrated the realities of youth in shelters. All the lines said in the play were taken from actual interviews done in an Etobioke shelter. The above was an opening line that strung a string somewhere deep down in me. The moment it was said, I just perked up, because I realized how true the saying was, and so that one line promised good things for the rest of the play.
I wasn’t disappointed.
The play basically worked like an interview. One guy stood at the back of our cafeteria and acted as the interviewer. There were 4 people up on stage representing 16 people in the story, case workers and youth included. A white oval was placed on the floor of the stage. If the actor was standing in the oval, it meant he or she was in the role of a youth. Once they step outside the oval (followed by a buzzing noise), they take on the role of a caseworker.
The dialogue was so realistic and the acting was phenomenal; I didn’t doubt for a second that any of it wasn’t true. I was just drawn into the story of the lives of these teenagers, so alike us, yet so different.
They have dreams, they have goals, and they go through drama like we do everyday. However, they also go through things that most of us have the fortune to not have to live through. Realities of drugs, sex, abuse, and disabilities were thrown at them at a sensitive age and they were forced to mature faster than they needed to in order to deal with their situations.
The magic of the performance was that everyone of us could relate to something. If it isn’t that strange accent one girl spoke with (the audience laughed, and I was irked at some of their immaturity), it might be the straight-up attitude of the black girl, again enforcing stereotypes, but it’s something that we all know and understand, right? Or perhaps it was the shyness of the blond haired boy, or the laid-back attitude of the taller, gangly guy. Either way, they represented people that we could relate to and their stories felt so unreal and yet so ruthlessly true at the same time.
You could see that underneath the nonchalant attitude of one, there laid this need and hope to break free, because a shelter “just wears and tears you down”. Under the timid face of the smaller boy, you knew that he wanted to be something great but he’s never been given the chance to.
“I like hanging with the black guys, you know? They...they treat me different.”
Again the audience laughed, because the boy who spoke was Caucasian with a strong accent, a seemlingly weak boy with a disability, but we knew exactly what he was talking about. The feeling that you won’t be judged is so good that you’d give almost anything to have it. So what if he stood out from the rest?
“They come in here and ask, ‘Why you so fat?’ I tell them, ‘Why you homeless?’”
Another attempt at making humor out of something serious, because the way a lot of people deal with things is making a joke out of them. The way the quote was said was full of attitude, but you could tell it was an attempt to cover up the hurt and trying to hurt back by pointing out the opponent’s weakness. After all, everyone who steps through that door has a story, and everyone is homeless, right?
Through the struggles and the storms, I believe that these youth are just as strong and capable if not more than the rest of us. They have faced events that nobody should have to face and still retained an attitude to work towards the better.
In one aspect where they are probably better, is that their appreciation and recognition for what they hold most important to them is stronger than ours.
“Give it to my mom.”
Simple words. The simplest things in the world are the most powerful, because they’re straight-forward and there’s no going around them.
Five words that brought tears to my eyes.
The interviewer asked the youths what they would do if they were given 10,000 dollars right then, on the spot, no questions asked. After some ramblings and wishful thinkings about up-in-the-cloud dreams, the youths decided that they would save the money.
However, out of all the “people” interviewed, one girl stayed silent.
When she finally decided to raise her hand, she entonned us all.
“So you’re giving me 10,000 dollars right now, no questions asked?” Her voice was skeptical. I suppose hypothetical questions like this is almost like a laugh. Why ask if you know it’s not going to happen?
“Yes” The interviewer answered.
She paused, almost like she’s trying to compose herself.
“Give it to my mom.”
The other youths immediately sombered up, and the entire audience hushed.
At that moment, it was almost like time stopped, and everyone held their breaths to see what would happen next.
I was anticipating the moment because one of the “case workers” had already introduced the fact that the youths held their family at first priority over anything else, and they would do anything for them regardless of what they went through. They would literally kill themselves for their family. Their own personal sacrifices didn’t matter when it came to family. Still, no amount of fore-shadowing would have forecasted the magic of that moment.
The girl spoke as if it was the most obvious thing in the world and as if that was the only choice there was. She tried to sound kind of careless, but one could tell that she did care..a lot.
All the chitchating and all the discussions stopped, everyone turned their eyes to the stage and waited for...something. Nobody knew what was going to happen.
Then the spell was broken when she spoke up again. Well, the spell wasn’t fully broken because now she had our full attention and we were hooked on every word she spoke. But that silent moment of anticipation was gone.
“Give it to my mom, because she was the one who raised me...I saw nothing of my dad. He didn’t exist to me, my dad was just that 200 dollar check he sent my mom every month. He was dead.”
“You know how when kids ask for 20 bucks, their parents just go ‘oh here, here you go’? It was different in our family. When I wanted money, my mom would try to get it for me, and if it wasn’t 20, it was 10 or 15, you know?”
I just sat there and took it all in. The tears sprang up into my eyes faster than I could stop them. As I listened to each actor’s speeches, each of them telling a different story of their family, I felt this overwhelming sensation build up inside me. I wasn’t someone who could directly relate to their stories, because my family was still in tact (thank goodness) and I’m grateful for that. However, I have heard stories from friends recently and all the things they were talking about were perfectly valid and real.
Real. That’s what was important. They felt true and I knew without a doubt that that was exactly what they would do to help their family. That was what they’ve been through and that’s what people go through everyday. I was just fortunate enough to not be one of them.
Maybe what they feel is a lot stronger and perhaps I’m just creating an illusion for myself, but I really felt like I can feel part of that yearning.
“I just want some love, you know? Like, you don’t have to tell me, I know that the love is there.”
The strength they have and the amount of love they had for their families were truly amazing. I was in awe.
Repeatedly wiping the tears from my eyes, I almost missed my friend getting misty-eyed beside me. Looks like I wasn’t the only one affected.
I furiously reprimanded those trouble-makers sitting in the front row for talking, I wanted to listen to this! It was so important to me to hear the story, I was pulled in and had no desire of getting out.
I won’t talk about the end of the play, or the consequent events that followed, because I believe that the stories go on. The play didn’t end because the people haven’t finished writing their individual stories yet. We’ve only had a glimpse into their world and they continue on their way to making life better.
So I won’t say it ended, but merely that we stopped watching.
I ran up to the actors when people were filing out of the cafeteria and I personally thanked each of them. Especially to the girl who played the part that put me in tears. I felt this strong emotion evoked in me and I wanted her to know how much it meant to me to have seen that part of the play. I loved every second of it and it’s something that I’ll remember for a long time.
She gave me a hug after I stumbled across my words and somehow managed to get out what I wanted to say. I hope she realized that they touched lives today. I hope they realize how significant their work is. I’m thankful that I got the opportunity to see the play.
“You just gotta keep going,” the voice rings in my head, I can see the boy standing on stage, talking so earnestly at us about this life lesson that he learned the hard way, “People are gonna come and try to knock you down, but you just gotta ignore them and keep going.
You just gotta keep on going, you know?”