To the outside world he looks like your typical ‘at-risk’ teenager: greasy hair, sagging jeans and a quiet demeanor that is a little rough around the edges. He’s been labeled a ‘lost cause’ in his community because he barely speaks English, he lives in a trailer park and his closest friends spend their time smoking pot and trying to imitate the next generation of new age thugs.
For every adult figure who takes the time to engage in a conversation with him, or even make eye contact for that matter, he is overlooked by a hundred more. That is until today.
Today this growing young man was suspended from school for having drugs on campus. Today was the day, he needed someone to pay attention…and so I did.
Greeting him and his mother outside of his house may be deemed an unconventional method of intervention, but I needed them both to understand the severity of the situation and all that is at stake; his future.
He immediately looked to me for a way to help him because he and I both knew he wanted more for himself.
“What do you want? What do you see happening with your life?” I sincerely asked. “Do you want to graduate high school?” (At the rate he was going, statistics say he wouldn’t have even made it to high school).
“Ya, I want to stay in school. Can you help me with my English and help me learn to read and write?” He stuttered as his head nervously looked down at his worn-in Nike’s.
Already knowing how difficult it was for him to even ask, I happily agreed.
“You better not waste my time though,” My smile now transforming into a fierce grin, “If you really want me to help you, then you better never pull something like this again.” He looked up and made eye contact with me this time, “I’m serious”
He silently nodded his head in agreement and then transitioned his eyes back down to his shoes. I could tell we were both feeling ashamed, but for such different reasons. I felt that I should have paid closer attention to him and worked harder to prevent this from even happening. And from the looks of it (only time will tell) he appeared to feel disappointed in himself for the decisions he made.
I walked away that day wondering how many people ever paid close enough attention to him to help show him a more positive direction in life. Maybe one or two people, or perhaps no one ever did.
What I do know is that we can’t always save everyone, especially if they won’t even help themselves, but at the end of the day, it doesn’t hurt to try. So if there is anyone in your life; a friend, lover, family member or even co-worker who you know is being overlooked, take the time to pay attention…I promise you, it’s an effort you can ALWAYS afford.