Dennis and I were walking the dogs, one of those idyllic Saturday evenings, cool wind, blue sky with a spray of springtime clouds, Eucalyptus scenting the air. Other neighbors were walking too—one with his growling Akita, another with the friendly Cockadoodle puppy that grows taller by the hour.
We were telling each other about our day, and that’s when Dennis stopped walking and turned to me and an overpowering weeping erupted from his gut. I stopped too, and with each of us holding a leash and a dog in one hand, with the other we held each other as he sobbed out the story he had to tell.
Earlier that day he’d spent five hours volunteering for an organization called Kid Save. There he taught a gathering of foster kids, ages 12 to 18, how to write their stories, how to write the stories they would tell people who might consider adopting them.
There was this one girl, he said, and the tears came again, so fast and hot he couldn’t talk for a while, so we just stood beneath a blossoming jacaranda tree, and I held him for a while. “It’s no wonder she’s so wild and lost,” he said as he told me she had asked him for help. How, she wanted to know, could she share this story of hers with smaller kids without upsetting them too much.
He took the paper she had written and read about how she had been raped, repeatedly, when she was nine years old. “Who would do that?” he choked. “…a nine-year-old…” There was nothing I could do or say but hold him and let him weep because—well, god, what is there to do but weep when you hear that kind of story?
By the time we got home and fed the dogs, we were both exhausted. I hid in my study and thought about POPS the Club and about KidSave and about the other nonprofits I know that struggle to grow and thrive and survive. I thought about how POPS the Club helps a few young people to feel less alone, to be heard and understood, how we’re helping a few kids learn to share the stories they have buried inside their souls, stories that have been hidden from the world, stories that have burdened them.
I thought about how hard I’m going to continue to fight to keep helping them tell those stories because those are the stories we need to hear, the stories that will drown out and maybe one day silence Trump and his followers. I thought about how we have to fight against the people who do not believe all kids deserve our love and respect, understanding, kindness, encouragement, and support.
My friend Marvin was released from prison just a few months ago after living for 41 years inside. He wrote to me this week, and as I re-read his letter, some of the sorrow I was feeling about that wild, lost girl and all those beautiful sorrowful kids we work with began to subside. Marvin wrote to say he wanted to make sure that we find ways for him to help spread POPS the Club. And he wrote about that particular darkness that is prison, the shadowy, dark, shackled life and the way people adjust to that darkness. I thought of that wild, lost girl and the particular prison inside that she inhabits. And Marvin wrote about the way freedom—literal freedom and the freedom that comes with sharing a story with another—can be both dazzling and debilitating, debilitating as one tries to adjust to the light.
And then he wrote:
I believe what you are doing is effective and crucial…by depriving the shadow land of the young lives who have found safe harbor in POPS, you are making a difference…the light POPS is generating dispels the hovering shadows attempting to claim the young ones you are tasked to redeem.
Tasked to redeem.
Another friend, Boston, who has spent more than 30 years inside a prison cell, called earlier this week to tell me that he and his fellow prisoners and the Writers’ Guild they started in the prison in which they live are holding a second fundraiser to raise more money to send to POPS the Club. Every few months these men who earn virtually nothing inside hold fundraisers and spend their pennies to help the kids out here.
Boston and Marvin’s generosity from inside the caves of darkness amazes me, always. I walked out of my room to remind Dennis about that generosity, and I read a line Marvin had written:
“If we all continue to do what we can, I believe, eventually good will prevail.”
I keep telling myself this must be true.