Dying of Thirst

“When the lights shine off and it’s my turn to settle down my main concern, promise that you will sing about me.  Promise that you will sing about me.” – Kendrick Lamar

I don’t have kids.  My closest understanding of the depth of love, responsibility, vulnerability and strength that comes with parenting is teaching.  In the first years of Lost Lyrics I often felt like a very young and very nervous parent…i made a lot of mistakes, I over-thought everything, I second-guessed all my decisions, I took things way too personally and I was overwhelmed by the amount of love I felt for these little people.  Some of those things haven’t changed much.  The kids in that first year who trusted this program that didn’t have a name, didn’t have catered food, didn’t have bus tickets, didn’t have a curriculum but came each week anyway and helped us build all of those things things have a very special place in my heart. I can easily say that I probably learned more from all of those early kids than they learned from me.

I made so many mistakes.  I thank the universe for their trust as they taught me about patience, about creativity, about consistency and commitment, about the need for fun and silliness.  They also challenged my understandings of community, my respect for the wisdom of children and the way I conceive discipline and practice justice.

Today is one of those days where I can easily drown in an ocean of regrets.  Thinking the impossible thoughts of if I had done this differently, then maybe, just maybe, I wouldn’t be here right now wiping the tears from my cheeks.

I regret that I didn’t keep calling the students who stopped coming, keep checking on them, keep letting them know that I was there…after a while I stopped saying I was there because it would have been a lie.  I wasn’t and couldn’t be there for everyone and I wasn’t and couldn’t be there all the time.  I  was burned out and wanted to be selfish for a while.  “For a while” got longer and longer.  I stopped teaching in Jane-Finch and let funding determine whether programming would and could continue because I was tired and didn’t want to be broke anymore. I regret the reality that kids who at one point were my little homies who would easily share the dramas of their day, their dreams of the future, their quirky mannerisms that made them individuals and their fear of the unknown, later became acquaintances because the distance between us got larger without the space of programming to connect us consistently.  I regret that I do not give more support to the people in my life who do this work on levels that are unfathomable to me because for them it is not work, it is life but I see that life weighing  down so heavily and without reprieve and I worry about their health – physically, mentally and spiritually. I regret that I feel this overwhelming amount of responsibility because we are still not investing in building communities where this responsibility is shared between all members.

I could easily drown in this ocean of regrets.  But then I recall that a very wise Lost Lyrics parent once told me that regret is the most useless emotion in the book.  And  so I quickly swim back up, taking deep breaths as I break to surface.

My eyes are sore from crying. One of those students was shot last night.  He did not survive.  He was 15 years old.

His death is the 5th death in my life in the last year. I am trying slowly to develop strategies for healing during these really challenging times and also strategies for healing when the times are a little better but the trauma still sits in various spaces within my body.  Ongoing practices of self-care are helping.  The structured life that the return to school initiated has been incredibly positive as I balance intellectual life with gym life and more recently my creative life as I return to writing.  Time to teach, time to be with family, time to be with my partner, time to be with friends…still figuring it all out…but it’s getting better.  However in these unplanned, unscheduled moments of intense pain…I haven’t figured out too many strategies.  Today Natasha mentioned the importance of rituals in our healing process. I told her and Obie that over the past year I have slowly and unintentionally begun developing a playlist of music for these times.  From Nina Simone’s cover of “Here comes the Sun” to Lola Bunz’ “So Sick of all the RIP’s” playing this soundtrack of passing, pain and healing as I sit, cry, pray, reflect and meditate is one very small ritual that I am creating.

I agree with Tasha.  More rituals are needed.

Last fall while attending a funeral I witnessed a moment of one kind of healing and ritual that I am yearning for.  Following a very dramatic sermon describing Jesus’ crucifixion and the last words of the men who were crucified on either side of him, the minster asked the young people in attendance to step forward if they would like Jesus to remember them.  At first there was a stillness as no one moved.  However that stillness was broken when one young man in a fitted cap and sunglasses took the initiative to step forward. He beckoned to his friend, “Let’s go.”  That was all it took for what felt like hundreds of young men and women to leave the pews and move forward, encircling the coffin as they approached the altar.  As they congregated, elder parishoners surrounded them, put their hands on their shoulders, on their backs, on their arms and on their heads and prayed for their souls and sang for their spirits.  And as they sang it was as though a tidal wave burst forth as young people rocked and fell and lowered their heads and cried and cried and cried, bodies of young men and women shaking while the elders continued to hold them…still singing, still praying, not letting them fall.  The moment ended abruptly when the minister awkwardly attempted to take this time to increase his membership by circulating a church sign-up sheet.  The young people scattered as quickly as they had come, wiping their wet cheeks and exiting a room pulsating with pain and vulnerability exposed.  The moment ended but the moment was witnessed. And it stays with me.  I think of it each time I hear Maya Angelou’s voice at the end of Kendrick Lamar’s “Dying of Thirst.”

I wonder if these same elders were to see these young people in the street if they would feel compelled to go to them.  I wonder if those young people if approached on the street would be open to receive them.  We are struggling to deal with all of this trauma.  I know I am struggling.  We need our elders.  We need them to not judge us but to hold us up.  We need a laying on of hands.  And it cannot only be in the church.  And it cannot only be at funerals.

To end, I want to share a Facebook status that my friend Rakhi Mutta put up on January 23rd of this year.  Her sincere public affirmation and acknowledgement of a very under appreciated community of people is yet another ritual of healing that I have witnessed and truly appreciate.  Let’s keep developing these rituals:

“Community workers/child n youth workers/artists/activists/educators/change seekers & change makers …

For answering calls at all hours and for never turning off your personal cellphones because you know your “clients” lives don’t shut down at 5pm. For waiting in emergency rooms and jail waiting rooms. From courtroom visits to psychiatric ward visits. For every funeral you’ve ever attended and for every weekend 7am conference you have ever attended. For being over worked and under paid. For working contract to contract with no benefits because the gov’t doesn’t deem your job valuable enough. For every grant you’ve written that wasn’t funded, every article you wrote that wasn’t published, any art you created that wasn’t celebrated because it wasn’t mainstream enough. For not turning away participants who didn’t live in the catchment area and for not discarding participants from programs at the one year mark because some funder told you to do so. For running programming from the overdraft of your bank account and for struggling to find a way to be fed and to do the work.

For cradling victims of abuse and victims of violence in your arms, for listening to countless stories of hurt, pain, anguish, abuse, violence and discrimination. For feeding hungry children and youth when you live paycheck to paycheck. For letting young people seek shelter in your homes because the city has waiting lists. For the countless nights you have stayed awake worrying about your participants because everybody knows that your feelings don’t shut off when you step off work property. For every tear you have ever wiped, every hand you have ever held, and for every smile you brought to someones face. For all the thank you’s you never received, for all the vicarious trauma you silently dealt with and for all the broken hearts and broken bones you helped heal. Finally for all the sleepless nights you laid awake wondering if the work you were doing made any difference at all …

This is my thank you to you. For making the world a better place then you found it, for being the change you want to see, for providing opportunities that were never provided to you. For your labour of love not labour for paycheck, for being on the front line of the movement not the arm chair revolutionary. Our approaches to our work may be different, our philosophies may not always align and our lenses unique but it is the diversity of the colours in the rainbow that makes it beautiful. You are the true soldiers of change, and for that I salute you.” – Rakhi Mutta

For Auntie Marie. For Curlz. For Kim.  For Tyson.  For my student.

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7 Comments

Filed under Personal

7 responses to “Dying of Thirst

  1. Nadia Thompson

    Amanda, I understand how you feel right now. St. Aubyn was an easily misunderstood young man. He was talented and he was witty. I am glad you chose to openly share your feelings about your grief, as many of us feel the same grief and have not been able to put words to the array of emotions that we are struck with because of this tragedy.

    He will truly be missed.

  2. All heart. I am glad I am a witness. Love, love,love & Peace.
    Clarissa

  3. All Heart. Thank you. Witness. Love, love, love. Peace Clarissa

  4. john

    I hear your pain and want to thank you for the privilege of reading a brilliant and moving description of the work we all do.The world needs to read and feel the pain and passion you express on behalf of everyone doing this work,

  5. THANK YOU !!! As I sit here with tears of compassion and recognition of myself in your words. Lets plan a forum for those of us who give it our all. A day to talk, to mourn and to celebrate. I am away caring for myself until end of March but would love to help, maybe along with FPYN network, organize a huge Saturday or weekend event!!!!! We deserve it!!!

    Yvette R
    Young Parents No Fixed Address
    yvette@oolagen.org

  6. Amanda, I love and applaud your writing style. I appreciate your candor in expressing the regrets, but also in being open and honest enough with yourself, your grief and your deep reflections. As a minister and therapist, I too grieve for our youth, families and community. Thank you for sharing, for being open about my beloved J/F community. My specialty is crisis response, helping the healing process through addressing the trauma. Don’t be too hard on yourself. It does get overwhelming and tiredness does set it. Sometimes the need to be comfortable takes precedence over the desire to help. There was a great youth turnout for a vigil for St. Aubyn and I do believe a shift is happening as well. Peace & Light…

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