Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Changing Lives - One Breakfast at a Time

I had planned to post more about the storm last weekend when I took a detour. After my hike Saturday, fearing a bigger storm on Sunday, I decided to have my ritual breakfast a day early. As I topped our mountain road on the way to my Sunday morning hangout, I was shocked at the sudden change of weather. I often forget just how different the weather can be on one side of the mountain versus another.

But I was determined. No one was outside dining - a rarity on a weekend morning. But there was a lady with a teen aged boy and two dogs. Since I go there for the dog company, I took my usual table. In a moment, the woman and her dogs left and the boy had made fast friend with Miss Mabel.

He sat down right beside me, only facing Mabel behind me. And he told me of his life and broke my heart a little more with each new tale.

He was the son of my waitress. I know her from Sundays but she tends to wait on the indoor crowd and I don't know her as well as the dog lover who usually serves us.
She came out to make sure the boy wasn't bothering me - he wasn't.

He was in town visiting for holiday break but he lived in another state. The person he lives with makes fun of him for forgetting to take his meds. This vile excuse of a human is also exceptionally cruel to animals and small children. Every tale this boy told me seemed worse than the one before.

I asked about other relatives... could he live with this one or that one? There was a valid reason for each not taking this boy in.

I ate my breakfast, not talking, just listening to his story and trying to quiet my inner voice that wanted to scream. I prayed. I prayed that God would give me some words, some kindness to offer this child who seemed to be in such a hopeless situation.

I asked him what he dreamed of being when he grew up. He talked of being a video game designer and then admitted he had no computer skills. He dreamed of being a cartoon artist and then admitted he had not started a portfolio.

Just how do you give someone hope or the power to change their life in the time it takes to have breakfast? It seems pointless, yet, I certainly know it can be done.

Years ago, I was 17 and a senator in a mock youth congress in Jackson, MS. The Senate has finished business early on a Sunday and had to wait around for a joint session later that afternoon. I heard the Philharmonic played in the park nearby and took off looking for a pleasant way to kill time.

There was a stream in the park with big boulders in the center. I kicked off my high heels, hopped to a rock in the warm spring sunshine, dipped my feet in the water, threw back my head and just soaked up the gorgeous day and music.

My eyes were closed when I heard a voice say, "Can I share your rock?"

I looked up to find a gorgeous, African American woman. Shyly, I looked around and realized that all the rocks were occupied and mine was the biggest. I slide over and the lady joined me.

Before long we were chatting like old friends. I told her of my dreams to make films. She told me of her exciting life as a flight attendant.

Starry eyed, I asked, "Do you ever meet any celebrities?"

She rattled off a virtual who's who of politicians, sports figures from every league, musicians, actors from film, t.v. and stage.... my head was spinning. And my new friend could see it. And she offered up a piece of advice that stuck with me throughout my career and kept me grounded and made me a better employee and a stronger person for it.

"Honey, you need to remember one thing about famous people. They're just people. Yeah, they're rich people. They might be rich enough to have someone standing by to wipe their butts, but in the end, they piss and poop just like you do."

I knew this woman for about a half hour and yet that piece of wisdom stuck with me. From job one, all my bosses were astounded at how calm I could be with talent. It's also fortified me to not take any crap off of any human who thinks they are better than me.

In the end, the only gem of wisdom I had was to tell him not to do anything too stupid while he was in high school to mess his life up. Stay in school, make the best grades you can and get a job as soon as you can. I hope somehow it was enough.


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Anonymous said...

oh, gee, that's tough--how to give someone hope. If he has those dreams, he ought to be doing something in those areas to gain knowledge. Maybe you can ask the waitress how he's doing in a while. I'd like to know!

CreekHiker / HollysFolly said...

Janet, I was so upset after meeting him. I can't tell you how he affected me.