The number 40


Autumn is unmistakably descending upon the forest.  The warm, green summer days that were sprinkled with wildflowers, dips in the creek and extended walks in the long slow day light have been silently exchanged for aspen leaves bursting with golden hue, crisp air and the persistently coming darkness of the evening.

I cherish many elements about the seasons changing, but this one in particular is different, special. Something inside me captures my breath when I see the rich yellow tones of the changing leaves mingled sporadically amongst the stalwart evergreens.  I find myself closing my eyes when I step outside in the mornings as I take in my first breaths of that that fresh air that freeze in my lungs for just a moment.  And one of my absolute favorite images to see is mist filling the forests that are bursting with those colorful aspens and steady evergreens as a gentle curl of smoke drifts outwards and upwards from a nearby chimney.  I tend to love everything about fall, the sights, and the smells, the way it makes you stop and watch for the first few seconds as your warm breath refuses to mix with the cool air.

It’s almost as if the season lends to you its soft heaviness and invites you to take that chance to slow down and to look and to smell and to feel the wonders that it brings.  I find it enchanting…all of it that is except one element of the season…the relentless ever-coming darkness.

This element was made ever so clear to me the other evening as I was driving home in the soft twilight that was far to quickly taken over by strong, black, darkness.  If you have never spent a night in the mountains, I question if you can really understand how black the darkness truly is. Sometimes it’s hollow darkness, other times, it’s swollen with heaviness but always…always it’s completely encompassing.  It’s bold, assertive, and leaves you no choice but to submit.

Earlier today, I found myself sitting across from a youth in a state correctional facility. I sat with him for over an hour and I tried to assess if he would be an appropriate referral for my mental health agency.  He was a bright, friendly kid, honest and polite.  A kid who stated that the first thought in his mind when he wakes up is about his family and that his last thought before he goes to sleep is that he hopes his family is safe.

Trauma, abuse and neglect have all made an appearance in his past.  Nothing we don’t see on an everyday bases, but as this kid listed out for me the number of state mandated placements he has had since the age of four, a list totally about 40 facilities and foster homes, I felt tears well up in my eyes.  His life has primarily been lived out in cold, harsh blackness.  He had been abused when he should have been cradled, neglected when he should have been engaged, humiliated when he should have been encouraged; for him and the countless others like him, they have never felt kindness expressed towards them and most believe something as absurd as love doesn’t even exist and can’t exist.

As one can easily imagine, growing up in darkness has a drastic and lasting impact on the beliefs a child has, the concepts they develop and the behaviors they exert. Behaviors that are harsh and violent…just as the ones they have seen and felt expressed towards them.  This makes them hard to be around and even harder to love.

He’s an artist, the kid I saw I today. An incredibly gifted artist as I could see as I flipped through a sketch book full of his colorful creations that he sheepishly presented me. He has a beautiful smile and a gentle demeanor, a very high IQ and a canny ability to build things.  All bits of daylight that are trying to push through the blackness that has been his life.

It can be hard for those who have lived their lives in the day light to even begin to conceptualize what it’s like for these forgotten children. So for those of you who have been fortunate to have lived your life in the light, be thankful, ever so thankful.  Given a different situation in life and the kid I saw today would be applying to colleges to become an architect or an engineer.  Instead at the age of 15 he has a 4th grade reading level, a laundry list of assault charges and no one to support him.  So be thankful for your time in the sun, and don’t be so quick to form a negative opinion about someone else…reach out, and try to share some of your light.

A few years ago, a colleague of mine had a conversation with a depressed teen to whom she told she had tremendous hope for. The teen’s response was “I don’t even have hope for myself”. To which my colleague replied, “Well I’m going to hold on to this hope for you until you are able to hold onto it for yourself”.   To we who are able to hold onto that hope, to that daylight for those who cannot, all I can say is that I hope we do…

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One comment

  1. Thank you for a great post and you are right. Some of us are born into sunlight and some of us have to claw our way to the light. It isnt always pretty, but thanks for not judging the path and instead holding the hope. In the end, it is about sunlight eventually.

    (This is an especially precious autumn, isnt it?)

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