I spend a lot of time working with young people. In understanding the young person, I have a lot of interaction with the adults that are in their lives. I hear complaints like: she or he is just lazy; she or he has no motivation; she or he just doesn’t care; she or he has no respect. When I speak to the young person the complaints sound more like: she or he never listens to me; you have to earn respect to get respect; school is drag, when am I going to use any of this stuff in life; why should I care? The thing that bothers me most however, is the young person today doesn’t know how to dream.
When I ask what they like to do, most of the time they state, I just like to chill with my friends. What does chilling mean? It can mean just hanging with friends. It can mean sitting around playing video games. It can be hanging at the park or walking the neighborhood. It never looks very productive but it’s the time when they are most happy. No demands from the adults who call them lazy, no expectations from the adults thinking they are not motivated, no judgments from adults, and being part of a group of friends. The adult world doesn’t like the way chilling looks. There is always a large group. They can be loud, cursing, and carrying on in a way the adults don’t think is appropriate. But the fact is, that most of the time, they mean no harm; they really are just “chilling”, letting off steam and experiencing that feeling of belonging in a world that is very confusing to them.
What worries me more about young people today, is when you ask them what they hope to have happen in their lives, what they hope for the future, they have no idea. They don’t have any dreams. They don’t know how to dream. What have we done as a society that has taken away the child’s ability to dream, to look to the future and to fantasize about what a great life they will have? How did we take away the young person’s right to look to a bright future and how do we get that back?
It’s very difficult for a person to be motivated when you don’t see the effort will lead somewhere. If you don’t have a dream, you may not have a direction or a goal. You do a lot of floundering without direction and goals. If you believe that no one believes in you, it becomes difficult to believe in yourself.
When you’ve grown up watching people jumping out of buildings because the building had been bombed in the name of religion, you wonder what life is about and what to have faith in: you wonder who will have a future. When your siblings and their friends go through college only to graduate and find there are no jobs, you wonder why bother. When your parents work long hours to provide for you and your home is destroyed in a hurricane, you wonder, what the heck is going on? When politicians run campaigns that degrade their opponents, you wonder if you should even bother to register to vote. It goes on and on. Watch the news. Read the news papers. Listen to the messages they are getting about life.
We wonder why young people are not motivated or seem not to care. Look at what has gone on throughout their formative years. How have we taught them to dream? What are the values we have raised them with? What messages are they getting from the media, their families, schools and their institutions of faith? How have we as a society grown to become dream stealers and nay sayers? How can we turn it around? How do we help young people believe in themselves and believe in their future?
Let’s not judge young people and put them down. Let’s build them up. Let’s give them values. Let’s teach them that hard work does pay off. Let’s teach them to rely on themselves and to develop their interests and talents. Praise them. Teach them to develop their strengths and talents. Encourage them to have faith in themselves and their ability to develop into successful adults and encourage them to be the creators of their own destiny. Help them create a plan, set some goals, and demand of life success and well being. Believe in them; they are our future.
This week has been one of the longest weeks of my life and that is because one of the young men, thirteen years old, that I work with, DIED !!!! When this happens, lots of questions surface; ” What is life all about? Why did this happen to him? How could he die at thirteen? How does this make sense?” On and on….. This truly is a heartbreak. This young man was a well adjusted, smart, kind, sweet young man who never got involved in the early teenage “drama”. He was respectful, caring, intelligent and happy. He was also an ONLY child. How devestating is that? How devesating is the whole thing.
When a young person dies, we all feel like something is wrong in the universe. It’s like life has been turned upside down. It is not the natural progression. A parent should never bury his or her child. Other children, their peers, try desperately to find an answer for why this could happen. In this case, there was a dirt bike accident. Sal, this lovely young man, loved going to the country and riding his dirt bike. He was a child who always used his helmet and followed the safety laws, however this time, it was extremely hot, and he went without his helmet. His peers want to think that it’s because he didn’t wear his helmet that he is dead. They want something to blame so they can understand the tragedy. The fact is that whether or not he had worn his helmet, he would not have survived this accident. His bike hit a rock that sent his bike into a tree. His neck was broken on impact. Helmet or otherwise, he would not have survived. Sal had made this trip hundreds of times before this final ride. He simply hit this rock in such a way that the rest lined up and on impact, his life was over. No one could have set this up. It seems so clearly that this was fate. So sad, so tragic. How do we understand?
I’ve been speaking with his classmates and teachers all week. Each person grieves according to his or her own style. One young man, one of his closest friends, couldn’t eat for several days. Another young girl, who considers herself his best friend, put on a stoic look, listened to what everyone had to say, held all feelings in and waited to go to the bathroom, alone, to sob uncontrollably. She prefers to pretend he is still alive. She doesn’t want any reminders of his death so she can pretend he will walk in the door any minute. Another young girl is upset that we can’t sign and paint the handball court where Sal would play every day and is desperately trying to find a way to leave a permanent, artistic display to remind all children, now and in the future, of Sal. She is desperate to not have him ever forgotten. Some cry. Some make jokes. Some just talk about their memories. Others remain quiet displaying their sadness in their facial expressions. How do we make sense of such a tragedy?
These tragedies force us to look at our beliefs. Who had this plan to take this beautiful, bright, wonderful young man? It was certainly no plan of anyone on earth. It has to be the plan of a power greater than all of us. In a moment of time, his life was ended. How does this make sense? How can God let this happen? Is there a God at all? Our minds go in the direction of doubt, anger, confusion, and pain. What is life all about?
I believe that we are put on this earth to learn life lessons. We are born, and eventually we all die. What we do in between those events is what counts. How we learn our lessons and how we apply those lessons determines how our life will go. Sal was sweet, kind, loving and happy. He always lived by the golden rule: do unto others as you want done unto you. He treated everyone with respect and caring. He never got into drama and was never unkind. He lived a life of loving. At thirteen, he knew that happiness came out of goodness and love. Many people live many years and don’t learn that the secret of a good and happy life. They don’t learn that the secret of life is all about love. Sal fulfilled his life’s purpose in thirteen years!
I truly believe that life is all about learning to love one another. I believe everything happens for reason, usually a reason to teach us a valuable life lesson. This young man lived a life of love. He judged no one. He was always happy. He was always caring and loving. He understood what life is all about and lived by love. At thirteen he knew what many don’t get until they are old and grey. He knew how to forgive others and love them no matter how difficult they could be. He loved and everyone loved him back. We all need to learn to love, to forgive those we think have wronged us, and open our hearts to love. That is what I think life is all about and in Sal’s short, thirteen years, he understood what life is all about and lived by it. It was an honor to have my life touched by Sal and I hope we can all learn by his example. Live a life of love. We miss you Sal.