Forgotten Art: Meadow – Watergate 5

A reply to: A letter from Mr. Watergate

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Dear Chancelor,

I’m so happy to get your letter and so sad to hear the news about your mom. I’ll try to stay positive so that my thoughts and feelings can boost yours, which seem to be hopeful.

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It’s a challenge for me. I lost my own mom and aunt to cancer nearly a decade ago. Both passed within a few years of each other. It still hurts.

I looked up Joyce Brown’s story. What an inspiring woman! I think it’s wonderful that you’re going to help your mom meet her.

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I’m also happy that learning about your mom’s condition has inspired you to encourage your father to become a part of Milagros’s life. You see? Right there, that’s something positive coming out of this situation.

I’ll keep thinking good thoughts and sending them your way.

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Your letter has really inspired me, Chance.

I love what you say about bad things happening as a means of “getting people to stand up instead of sitting down.”

I suppose if that happens, then maybe the events aren’t necessarily bad! Or at least, they’re not all bad. They’re events that happen: how we respond can determine, in part, if they’re events that bring about goodness or events that defeat us.

I don’t want to be defeated by the cruel acts that others do or by those random events that cause ripples in life.

Instead, I want to stand up and make a change!

So, that’s what I’m going to do.

Right now, I’m thinking about two different ways I might be able to, maybe, make a difference or at least a contribution.

Yesterday, I received a visit from one of the women who works for the refugee services group that brought Jena over here. She was doing a check-up to see what questions I might have or what assistance we might need.

As we were talking, she began describing the work they do.

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“Why, last year alone,” she told me, “we brought in 346 refugees from Syria.”

That was in addition to Pakistani refugees, like Jena and others from her camp, and from people who came from all over the world.

“Where do they live? How do they get work? How do they get settled?” I asked.

“That’s where we come in,” she said. Their organization gets them places to stay and helps find them jobs. The people who volunteer and work for Windenburg Rescue also help with language-learning, filling out paperwork, navigating the bureaucracies, and learning the culture.

“We can always use more volunteers!” she told me.

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So, that’s one thing I’m thinking.

Then, I’m also thinking about maybe possibly helping out at a transitional shelter for women and children.

You see, my friend, who’s now my brother’s best friend and new room-mate, used to live at House for Hope here in Windenburg.

It’s a place for women and their children who need to escape domestic abuse.

My friend dropped by for a visit the other day, and she was so full of enthusiasm.

“Your brother’s given me a chance!” she said.

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She went on to tell me about some of the other women living at the shelter.

“It’s mostly believing in themselves that they need,” she said. “You have no idea how emotional abuse erodes self-confidence. Year after year. It’s insidious. And I’m not even talking about domestic violence.”

My friend noticed one of my easels in the kitchen.

“I’ve always wanted to paint,” she said.

“Have at it!” I encouraged her.

I showed her where the canvases and acrylics were stored, and she got to work. I watched her paint, offering encouragement and answering her questions when she asked, and it was amazing to see her joy grow as she completed her painting.

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“You’re an amazing art teacher,” she told me. “The women and kids at House for Hope could really use someone like you.”

So, Chance, here I am, thinking of two ways that I can help others, ways that I can stand up and make a difference.

I know I’ve made a difference in Jena’s life–and she’s made a difference in my life. And now I want to take our good fortune and pass it forward. I’m only going to choose one volunteer position to start with because I want to be sure to have enough time and energy for Jena, my own painting, and my work as a folklorist. But I will be choosing one in the coming days.

And then, I’ll be out there, trying to make a difference. But I know already that the real difference will be the changes that happen in me. Doing things we call “good” is funny that way: It always helps us most of all!

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Chance, next time you hug your mom, give her an extra squeeze from me.

Sending you and yours all good thoughts!

Your pen pal and friend,

Meadow

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Shift 31: Work

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When I look around YOTO, I feel so grateful. I can take a bath anytime I want.

I’ve got a kitchen. The fridge is stocked with food.

I’ve got a warm bathrobe I can wear, even on Sunday afternoon. And even though the place is home to eight of us kids, and we’ve always got counselors on-duty, I can still find a quiet place to sit and be alone.

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I want to give back. It’s been about four months, not counting summer when I was with Ted, and I’ve been taking the whole time.

I’m ready to give.

I told Aadhya that I wanted to get a job so I could start paying my room and board here.

She smiled. But I could see it wasn’t a “yes” smile.

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“Jazz,” she said, “It doesn’t work that way. We’re here for you, and the other kids. That’s our dharma. Your dharma is to continue your journey with your studies and your sports so that you can go to college. That’s your job right now.”

I told her I wanted to do more. She said I already do so much: cleaning, repairing stuff, making meals.

That’s nothing. That’s the business of life.

I’m a teenager. I’ve got loads of energy. I know I can do my studies, run track, help around here, and have a weekend job.

Aadhya kept saying no.

I kept the focus. I did all my regular homework and extra credit. I continued to train for track, which would be starting after winter break.

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I even helped out Nadja, tutoring her in Western Civ.

“I could give a rat’s a** about Aristotle’s rhetoric!” she said. “The Greeks destroyed my people!”

But we persisted and she learned it anyway.

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I stepped up when it came to helping out around YOTO. I started making rounds each morning, before the other kids got up, to see what needed doing. I like cleaning the place. It helps me remember how lucky I am to have a place to clean.

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One day, Aadhya said, “Are you still interested in a job?”

Of course I was.

“It’s not outside. It’s with us. And it doesn’t pay, but it helps a lot.”

That was OK with me, because if it paid, I’d give all the money back to YOTO anyway.

“I’m not interested in working for the money,” I explained. “It’s so I’m not a free-loader.”

My heart sort of broke when I said that. I never ever thought in my life that I would be a free-loader. I always thought I would always pay my way in life, giving back, not taking.

Aadhya got real quiet and looked at me.

“Are you ashamed?” she asked.

I didn’t really answer. But I guess that was my answer.

She went on for a long time about everything I do to contribute, and I sort of closed my ears when she started talking about how I didn’t do any of this myself, and how I should be proud of myself, and it’s not my fault. I closed my ears because I know that. I don’t know that it does all that good to think about it. I can think about it when I’m by myself, because then I won’t cry. Or if I do, I’m alone, so it doesn’t matter if I cry a little bit. I’ll stop after ten tears.

But when Aadhya was talking, I knew that if I started crying I would cry for a really long time, and I am not ready to do that. So I closed my ears. And then she stopped talking and looked at me.

“So I have a proposition to make,” she said at last. “Do you think you can help us out?”

The proposition was this: YOTO wants to do a big year-end fund-raising campaign, and their social media/communications director says that the best ways to raise money is through telling the stories of the kids that live here.

She wanted to know would I help. I thought she wanted me to talk to the communications person, who would write my story. But she meant for me to write it. And not only my story, but the stories of all the kids here.

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So that’s what I’m doing. It’s my new job, volunteer, for YOTO. And, if it helps to raise money for YOTO, then it pays back big-time.

I’ve decided I will start with my story. That will give me practice in writing. And then, after that, I’ll talk to Marquis and Nadja. We don’t have to use our names, but Aadhya wants us to have pictures to accompany each story.

“You’re all so damn good-looking,” she said. “Nobody can keep their preconceptions about youth without permanent residences when they look at your beautiful faces.”

I thought a lot about that: how looking in a face breaks down the preconceptions. That’s where a soul shines, and it’s hard to keep a prejudice when you can see a soul.

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