The Middle of the Circle
I have been at a loss for words lately. I haven’t been able to find words that can accurately express the depth of what I am thinking or feeling. With the restrictions loosening I have been so excited to get out into the nice weather and spend time outside. A few youth and myself decided to go eat lunch on the beach.
After grabbing something to eat and taking a seat on the ground, one youth blurts out, “I hate the beach. If I knew we were coming here, I wouldn’t have agreed to coming along.”
Someone else responds with, “Why do you hate the beach?”
They say, “I don’t really want to tell you about my beach trauma right now, but maybe some other time.”
So we just sat in a circle in the sand and ate our food. One person starts digging a small hole, another tries to avoid the wind. We just sit, and exist together while eating.
Finally, one of them says, “Lets play a game where I say something and if it applies to you then put your hand in the center of the circle.” Everyone looks around the circle and gives a nod of agreement.
The first youth starts with their first question: “Have you ever been kicked out of your house?” Everyone puts their hand in the circle, except me. As the game continues, everyone continues to put their hands into the middle of the circle. Every question they ask is something that they have all experienced and something that I haven’t. And as the questions go on, every youth puts their hand in the middle for every single question.
Then, someone asks, “Have you ever wished you were white when you were younger?” Everyone except me puts their hand in the middle. Then, they each share stories of times that they closed their eyes and wished they were someone else, wished that they looked a different way so they could be accepted by society.
This really disrupted my reality. I love these kids and I know that they exist exactly as they were made to. It was and continues to be a gift to be present and hear their experiences, and to know that they feel safe to share their stories.
I left with a heavy heart that day. I was so weighed down by the ways that culture and society puts pressure on my young friends, pressure that tells them they are not valuable or “good enough” just as they are. My experience of life has been very different than that of some of the youth that I know. This day was no exception. Sharing stories helps us to find common ground, to understand each other better and to support each other in whatever we are going through.
I can’t always find words to express the pain of the world, and the pain of the teenagers that I know. And I don’t always know how to respond to pain this deep. These days, that happens a lot. But I will simply continue to be present, to listen, to bear witness and to hold the pain of others, sharing from my own experiences when appropriate, and being silent when there are no words that are adequate.
- Amy Seiler