Disclosure: For privacy purposes all personal identifiers have been omitted or altered. This is fictional writing based off of real people and real experiences with intent to guide and inspire.
I met him one August. I’ll call him August.
August was your average angsty teenager, plus some.
He had outbursts of anger. He stole. He carried weapons, drank alcohol, and did street drugs. He dropped out of school and was arrested multiple times. He had the mouth of a sailor and the manners of a toddler. He didn’t work, he didn’t pay rent, and he didn’t care. He’s also the first to admit that he may or may not have fellow offspring crawling around in a daycare near you – but he doesn’t actually know if he does, nor does he want to.
If you wanted well rounded, August gave you a straight line.
PAUSE. Now that you have the big picture of August, take a second. This is the snapshot you’d see of August as a stranger. Where do your judgements lie? What is your immediate perspective? No answers are bad, no answers are wrong. I just want you to be extremely honest with yourself and recognize where you’re at in this moment.
I don’t actually want to talk about the day I met August as much as I want to talk about the day that made August, August.
As a child August never fell asleep to Good Night Moon, woke up to a mama’s kiss, a big bowl of Cheerios, or an episode of Arthur. Truthfully, it was a blessing he woke up each day.
Or was it?
He woke up to the hair-stinging smell of chemicals, a mother battling drug addiction in addition to a slew of mental health disparities, and a father providing for the family as King Tut of a local street gang. Or sometimes he just woke up to nobody and nothing at all. August didn’t really know which to prefer.
At 4 years old, August had to choose which meal he wanted for the day… and then hope he actually got it.
At 4 years old, August had to scan his “bed” for used needles before laying his head down to sleep.
At 4 years old he had to care for his mother after an overdose – her vomit run down the front of his t-shirt. His one and only t-shirt.
Those tough, recurrent days August got used to. He buried them deep down the hatchet and he dealt with it.
But the day August became August was not any of those days, surprisingly. Did they contribute eventually? Absolutely. But no, those were not THE DAY.
One day August was actually being a normal child (ish). His mom was of altered mental status on the couch and he was playing on the floor next to her. It was an all around good day considering as much.
Until it wasn’t.
A sharp thud on the side wall followed by a plow through the door. August looked up to find his dad being held by a group of strangers. August wasn’t one for stranger danger considering often times he had to survive off of the help of strangers, but natural instinct told him these strangers were most definitely the definition of danger. That day August’s dad brought his debt home with him. The group asked his dad what payment plan he wanted to chose.
Option A: August’s dad could chose that the group of strangers kill August and his mom, and he walk away a free man. Option B: August’s dad could let August and his mom live, and he himself be killed instead. Option B came with one additional cost – he must be killed in front of them.
His dad chose himself.
The group of men forced August to watch as they brutally murdered his own father not even a foot from him.
His mother ran away that night.
August laid alone that night.
And every night after, because she never came back.
August never saw his mother or father again. Some argue he never really had a mother or a father from the beginning, but now August had not even the physical form of them – something every child yearns for regardless. Because children forgive. And forgive, and forgive, and forgive.
From there on out he learned to live in a system and society deeply rooted in hopelessness and hate. He continued life in homes of abuse and neglect.
As he grew older he had outbursts of anger and used substances to numb memories. He found the wrong kind of love in partners because he was never exposed to the right kind of love. In strangers eyes, he was written off as a bad egg. He was smart, and he had unlimited potential but he never grew up in a world that showed him that, reminded him of that, or highlighted him as those things. So he continued on the path he was most exposed to.
PAUSE. Now that you have a closer look at the details, take a second. Where do your judgements lie? Did you find yourself thinking more and feeling more with the details than you did the big picture? Did those thoughts and feelings guide your judgement differently? Do you now have a different perspective than your immediate one, or not really? Again, no answers are bad and no answers are wrong.
They say that your body has a preset threshold to heroin. You don’t know what that threshold is. You could die the first time you use or you could die the thousandth time you use. But each time you use you get closer and closer to your threshold, it never resets to baseline – and one day you WILL meet it. I think that August is a great example of the other thresholds in our life – emotionally speaking. We as human beings can be resilient, we can bury the hatchet and we can deal with it. But we can only ultimately handle so much before we meet our preset threshold. We can only see so much, hear so much, and experience so much before we give in or give up.
So is it the users fault for using, or is it societies fault for not limiting the exposure?
This is just one August. As unfortunate as it is to say, there a million more just like him each with their own unique stories.
CHALLENGE. Meet someone like August this month. I’m not telling you to go to the street corner of the most crime ridden and drug infested inner city, find someone homeless, and become their best friend. There’s obviously a balance between kindness and safety – we need to offer and protect both. I met August because one random day before I ever became a nurse I decided that I wanted a new perspective. I wanted to learn about others that were different from me. I went to AA meetings, free public group music therapy, free public group art therapy, and volunteered at free public centers that offered healing modalities like Tai Chi, Chakra healing, and guided meditation. I immersed myself in protected zones where I felt equally safe and challenged, and where I learned from and about human beings who lived VERY different lives than my own. These settings don’t turn you away. They don’t tell you that you don’t “have enough problems” to be there, because problems aren’t measured. If you want to be there, you are welcome. I felt out of my element and I felt intimidated. I want you to feel the same.
Reading about others and hoping for their relief is not enough. We have to be physically present in other’s lives to understand them.
We are a society that says we want everyone to be treated as equals. We preach on social media over and over again that we want everyone to be treated kindly. We want mass shootings to stop, we want bullying to stop, we want world peace. I’M WITH YOU. But how do you propose we do that without first knowing others from different angles? How can we expect others to follow societal norms and model healthy behaviors if we don’t know what was ever modeled to them? We can’t help others if we don’t understand them. At some point we have to start taking a portion of responsibility, too.
I’m not asking you to change people; we cannot rewrite someone’s past or make their present choices for them. But I am asking you to understand people, so that maybe we can help them write a better future. A supported future. A future where they are at the very least heard. It is astounding the impact friendship has.
The world needs it now more than ever.
I would love to know your PAUSE perspectives. I want to learn as much from you in this project as you learn from me. I want to grow with you. Leave a comment below or send a private email to firstname.lastname@example.org.