I’ve had all I can stands; I can’t stands no more!– Popeye
I had resigned my corporate career. I was desperate do something other than line the pockets of the machine, but I wasn’t sure who to help or how. I asked myself, “What population do I care deeply about and what kind of support do they need?”
I had a passion for serving teenagers. Upon the invitation of a friend, I’d spent my vacation days as a camp counselor the last few years. As I listened to campers share their lives, I noticed how they struggled with everyone telling them what to think. I sensed that the most important lesson I could offer was teaching them how to think for themselves. I had a college degree in communications and a knack for words, so I set out to write a program then presented it to a local high school.
The counselor liked my curriculum and hand picked twelve female students with great challenges and even greater potential. The ladies were excused from study hall the last hour of the school day on Wednesdays to join our little band of spitfires in the library.
Over the course of a semester I came to care deeply about these bright, beautiful young women as most of them dove eagerly into the topics of free will, values, mindfulness, approval, self-care, anger, fear, relationships, power, and purpose.
The last day of class, I was surprised to see a particular student linger. She had been aloof throughout the semester. She was slow to gather her materials, giving the other group members time to leave.
Once the room was clear, she approached me tentatively. I smiled gently; she hopped up on the table and joined me where I was sitting. We both swung our legs and watched our feet in silence. I waited for her to speak.
She softly said, “Miss Amy?” I looked up and noticed her dark eyes were lined with bright blue sparkles as her gaze met mine. She tucked her jet-black hair behind her ear and exposed her high cheekbones. The strong and striking structure of her full face was stunning; she had been hiding it since we met.
I held her gaze, “How can I help?”
A tear escaped the outside corner of her eye as she replied, “You can’t.”
I held the long silence between us. She finally continued. “I like all the stuff you’ve been teaching us this semester. It’s just that… it doesn’t work in my life.”
She continued to share her crippling circumstances with me- a life filled with fear, rejection, alcoholism, and assault. I didn’t know how to help her, so I simply held the space and gave witness to her pain.
The final bell startled her and she jumped up abruptly to pack her things. She told me in a panicked tone, “I can’t miss the bus. If I’m not on the bus, my dad will flip out on me.”
I wanted to shout, “No! Come home with me!” But I was powerless to help her. I did the only thing I knew to do and told her tenderly, “I’m here for you. Ms. Nash knows how to get in touch with me if you need to talk. Merry Christmas.” She smiled and was gone.
It was time to pick up my infant son, but fiery frustration burned holes in my stomach. I called the babysitter to see if I could come a bit later. She agreed, so I stopped at a café on my way home to process the atrocities. I was enraged at the system this young woman was stuck in and at my own inability to help her escape it.
It was clear that the program itself was not nearly enough to help these young ladies change their lives. I was offering them a pocketknife and sending them back into home lives as explosive as Beirut.
To facilitate lasting change, I would need permission to enter their private worlds. As I sat in the coffee shop pouring over my notes, I realized what I needed to do next. A degree in family counseling would give me the necessary training and credentials to join them and their families on the inside.
Before the day was over, I had started my application for graduate school.
What I saw that day in her eyes, “I can’t stands no more.” I can’t stands to see people live in dark, crippling, hopeless fear.
Her strength and story inspired me to begin my life’s work.
I am absolutely committed to teaching every soul I can reach that they are deeply loved, infinitely valuable, and positively put on earth for a purpose. I wish I could tell her of the impact her young life made upon mine, and the people I serve.
Popeye wants to know, “What have you had all you can stands in this world, and you can’t stands it no more?”
I want to know, “What do you plan to do about it?”