Tag Archives: hope

Little Face in the Window

Window Sill with Hands

Last week, while we were driving to run some errands, we had left the loft and took our usual route through neighboring streets.  We live in a gritty part of New Bedford, with triple deckers, and houses in disrepair, in need of painting.  There’s little beauty, little green, to break up the neglected facades of the buildings.  It was a bright, sunny afternoon. I shielded my eyes and reached up to bring the visor down.  I glanced out my window and saw a face from the second floor of a yellow sided building,looking down.  It was a little boy’s face looking through the screen. He was staring out.  We drove past. His face somehow was etched in my mind.

He might have been five or six.  He had his hand pressed on the screen.  He was expressionless.  Maybe that is why it lives in my head.  It was two in the afternoon.  I thought he should be outside in the fresh air.  I thought, who is watching him, and who would watch him on the street to keep him safe.  I wondered what his surroundings look like and is he hungry.  Does he have a bed and does he have blankets and covers.  I worried about him.  Does he have toys.  Is the window his view of the world, his world and his life.

All week, as I looked at the faces of the students I talk to, I wondered if they had a younger sibling.  I looked at their faces and saw sadness, struggle and frustration.  I felt tired and a little burnt out.  I never mind hard work but sometimes the work is especially hard.  This morning I was reading an email at work and getting ready to respond when I was startled by a girl’s voice saying hi.  I turned and she smiled and said “did I scare you?” and I said that I was just deep in thought reading and invited her in.  I asked her what was going on and she said “I just wanted to see my best person” and invited herself in and took a seat.  I shut the door and smiled.  We had met within the first weeks of school.  She had been a reluctant visitor to my office since her sister, and another friend, had brought me some texts she had written the night before, or maybe it was early morning, that said she was planning on killing herself and that they shouldn’t tell anyone.  Gratefully, they told, she and I  talked, and somehow, from an angry demeanor and initial emotional barricade, she began to stop in  weekly, and talk a bit. We talk of families and disappointments and trust and nail salons.  We talk about banana splits and boyfriends and falling in love.  From sullen and disengaged, comes eye contact and laughter.

I drove home tonight in the darkness.  I don’t like the darkness.  The little boy’s face is still in my head.  Once kid at a time. One face at a time.


Who’s your person?

Photo of Barbra STREISAND

You probably know the song with the lyrics  “People who need people are the luckiest people in the world…”.  It’s memorable and easy to hum and Barbra Streisand’s version is the only version we probably need.  This week those lyrics became more memorable and more meaningful in my line of work.

It was a back to school week after a relatively long spring break. With re-entry in school comes a period of adjustment, both for students and staff and the recognition that our students may have had a week off, but in a community that doesn’t have much, in terms of economics, many of our students may not have had a break from their daily lives and probably no vacations away, and for many their supports are those of us at school.  So, it was time to get to work.

Part of the work as a school social worker is prevention and education and talking about difficult topics, such as depression, anxiety and suicide.  No one wants to talk about that, but in the context of prevention, someone has to do it and make it real.  I was wrapping up a couple of weeks, prior to vacation and then doing the last class which was scheduled for this past Monday.  Essentially, my colleagues and I go into health classes and talk about what we do, how it works, and how to access help, for themselves or someone they care about, a friend or a family member.  I enjoy meeting the students in a more intimate setting of a classroom and to take their emotional pulse and listen to their thoughts and questions.  I told my youngest son, many years ago, that we have two ears to listen and one mouth to speak, so that listening is twice as important as hearing our own voice.  It bears itself out, if you are patient and open to hearing what is being said, between words.  Working with teenagers requires being up on the latest movies, Netflix shows and some books that are important to the kids.  Recent weeks brought some education for me on a new Netflix show that was based on a book, the name of which is 13 Reasons Why.  Essentially, it is about a high school senior who commits suicide but prior to her death she records 13 audio tapes which explain why she ended her life. It is focused on thirteen people who she came in contact with and how what might have been perceived as innocuous conflicts or interactions led to her belief that life was too hard.  The tapes were sent to the people to listen to and it is seen through the voice of one of those thirteen.  I was given the book to read, and I read it while on vacation.  It allowed me to dialog about depression and suicide and listen to the students.  Kids want to talk about their opinions and the show and the book. It was an easier entre’ into what they thought, and feel about the character because the conversation was not about them.  It is powerful to listen to and what they revealed.  It builds connections and bridges.  I always put my name and where my office is on the board and directions to how to get to me.  The way I wrap up the class is talking about the importance in school to identify someone who, on a really bad day, or on a really good day, who they can find and talk to. We discuss the need to connect with one another and that it may be a teacher, or counselor, or secretary but someone who they know will listen, not judge and help, just by being there.  I aske the students to think about who it would be, but don’t require identifying the person aloud.  There was a lot of positive energy in the room that day and we said our so longs and I headed back to my office.

When I got back, one of my colleagues said he had a girl in his office who had come to find me and insisted that she talk to me.  He brought her to me and she looked familiar and in a school of 2,000 students, I couldn’t place her immediately.  She was very emotional and her eyes were pleading and filled with tears.  She told me that she had been one of the students in the class I had just left. We talked and she revealed that she suffered from depression and although she had gotten help a few years back and had done well, she was now in a really bad place and scared of what she was feeling.  I evaluated her and we came up with a plan and after I determined that she was safe and able to leave the office, I asked her why now and why today, since she had felt this for quite a while.  She turned to me and smiled…..”You asked us to think about who was our person and I decided in that moment that you were my person. I knew you would help me”.  People who need people are the luckiest people in the world.  I’m always questioning who’s luckier, her or me.

Have a good weekend.  Listen to some good music.

Believing in Bunnies


This is not my story.  This is a story that has to do with a friend of a friend of a family member.  The story is still ongoing and I don’t know exactly how it will end but it contains bunnies and who doesn’t like bunnies.  It’s also a story about what we believe…what we want to believe and what we need to believe.

Recently, a woman had a baby.  Despite what we all expect, sometimes, the most natural of events with positive outcomes, have unexpected detours.  The baby is fine.  The mother, however, became extremely and catastrophically ill.  To cut to the chase, she is now recovering, but has a long  journey back to health.  This is about holding on to hope.  It’s about optimism in the face of  dark facts.

When really difficult things happen, and perhaps more so , when it is something that is happening, not directly to you, but to a friend of a friend, you feel helpless and impotent, because you are not there as part of the event, but you bear witness as it unfolds.  My son shared the story as it was unfolding.  He was the witness.  I was in the role of listening mother.  I didn’t have to know the people involved. The pain of caring about your friend, and your friend’s friend, was evidenced in each phone call.  Even though my son is an adult, our conversations were about reassurance and separating the medical issues, which he is cognizant of, as he is studying to be a nurse practitioner, from the feelings and fear.

When I got the first call, the parenting instinct kicked in and all I wanted to say was it was going to be all right.  Being around for a long time gives me some wisdom and coupled with a knowledge base of some medical information and ability to dialog with him on common ground, helped distance him in the moment from the worry I could hear in his voice.  We talked facts, but I felt the feelings.  When your child hurts, you hurt. Parenting is really the toughest job but has the best benefits, especially when you know that your long term investment in a human has paid off.  I have great children.  I know everyone does, but I guess I am quite biased.  The rewards are in knowing your adult children want to talk to you and talk about the good stuff, but also know that they can talk about the really hard stuff.  Of course, my opinion counts the most when I agree with them.  It was not an easy path, and it still is fraught with bumps, but for the most part, it works.

We talked and texted during the first 36 hours of this evolving situation.  Every conversation contained updates and speculation.  They were intense and draining.  The helpless feeling, when we hung up, stayed with me. I vascillated between feeling worried and resolute that things would get better. I tried to use my logical mind to see this to a good end.  I’m not a fortune teller and  I don’t buy lottery tickets.    My son and I often talk, as I am driving, heading home, after a 13 hour work day.   As a therapist, I give at the office and by nighttime, I am spent.  Whatever listening skills are left, I use for the people I love.  That evening, I was really worn out, but as a mom, I always have some reserve.  I was just about at the loft. I turned into the driveway, almost at the garage, when a small grey bunny appeared in the headlights of my car and stopped, looked up at me and blinked.   The bunny crossed in front of me and scurried off toward the brick building.  As a reminder to those reading…I live in the gritty part of an urban setting, in a converted mill loft apartment .  There is asphalt, concrete, a few bushes and lots of cars.  There are no bunnies, until one shows up because you need to see something that lets you know, it’s going to be all right.  I said to my son “There’s a bunny in front of my car”.  He might have thought I was delusional but he knows me better than that and said “what did you say?”.  I repeated it and then said “She’s going to be okay.”  He listened as I reminded him that I want to be an optimist and that I can’t do my job if I am not.  I explained that the bunny was a sign and I needed to believe that we needed a sign and there it was.  Moms say things, sometimes for both the child and themselves.  He accepted it, because when moms talk, kids need to listen.  Later, within the hour, he texted again.  She was doing better.  The prognosis was still guarded, but things were improving.

Do I know if it was the bunny, or did I need to have something to hope with and something to share? I guess things don’t always make sense but I’m going to always believe that when one of my kids needs me to help figure things out, I’m going to try to believe I can do it.

What I learned in school today..

Always grateful when Friday rolls around and here we are.  Writing this, as the weekend approaches and unfolds, allows me to prioritize those moments as I do my “week in review” in my head.  This was a very abundant week, both in work and in life.  That is a positive position to be in, because it means that I have experienced so much and life is full in so many ways.

Some background…. for the past 13 plus years, I have been working in a high school.  The New Bedford community has one public high school and a vocational technical high school.  I work at the public high school which has approximately 2100 students.  My job title has gone from “crisis counselor” to its current iteration of “student support counselor/school adjustment counselor”.  My profession  training is as a clinical social worker.  Working in an urban high school is challenging in many ways. The community is seeped in history of  whaling and textiles, of moments of great wealth from whale oil to manufacturing, but now we struggle to redefine ourselves.  It is a city of despair at times and economic challenges and yet there is a resiliency that I feel every day, especially at our school.  We are a melting pot of diversity and that is probably one of the greatest strengths in  our connections with our students.  We are a mix, like elsewhere in the country, of people who were born here, people who came here as immigrants, people who fled their native countries and sought asylum, and those who came for better opportunities. The children are a mix of all of those possibilities.  As the child of immigrant parents, who arrived in the United States as adolescents, fleeing oppression from Nazi Germany, I recognize the challenges and sacrifices, as well as the culture shock of being strangers in a strange land.  These are the students I speak to and listen to.  Many of our students have arrived here on their own, without family.  We become their family, albeit a rather large, sometimes conflicted, dysfunctional family.  We welcome you because even if we don’t know you, we know someone like you.  It is often as though we are looking in the mirror.

This week, a teacher came to see me, because not only do I support the students, but often the teachers need some direction or resources for their own challenges.  This time, I listened to a story about a student, who had come from somewhere distant, on their own, with no family here.  This student became extremely ill and was now fighting an illness, and laying in a Boston hospital.  The helplessness and strong emotional response was palpable in her every word.  She asked the question “What can we do? How can we help?”  This student arrived in New Bedford, ready to work and to learn, with little formal education and now was derailed from their dreams, struggling with serious health issues and no significant supports.  The teacher asked, if in my role as part of what is known as the “Culture and Climate” committee whether we could come up with some way to help.  This is what I do best, solve a problem and quickly.  Triage is part of my DNA, and as quickly as I could type an email, I wrote to our administrator and asked if we could begin a donation jar and she responded back immediately in the affirmative.  The next step was to meet with our art teachers and ask them to help create, with student input, cards for everyone to sign during the lunch periods.  They all responded that it would happen. It was a mission we could all embrace.  Within 24 hours the cards were designed, signatures and heartfelt, meaningful messages were written, and funds were pouring in to the big jar.  I walked around the cafeteria during my lunch duty and brought the big cards to each table. I explained what was happening and students volleyed for the pen, to draw a picture, write a prayer both in Spanish and in English or just sign their names.  They probably didn’t know the student, but it didn’t matter.   “Stay strong….keep smiling….get well….feel better”.  This is the best of what we are about.  Our school has struggles but lack of humanity and connection and a willingness to participate, even if you don’t know the person, is not one of our issues.  The cards and funds will be hand delivered tomorrow. The teacher, who has only been on staff for two years, was mystified and delighted by the response of everyone.  We may not agree about everything academic, but compassion and hope is a path we can follow.  It was a good week, a full week, and made me remember why I do what I do.  How lucky am I.  Have a great weekend.