Having an Impact

When I was in my twenties and trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life, I spent some time volunteering with and shadowing people who were doing what I thought I might want to do. One person in particular made a huge impact on me with one very short part of a conversation we had while I was shadowing her as she did her work. This woman did HIV prevention outreach in the town we lived in. Every day, she would come to the homeless, visiting everyone from teen runaways to prostitutes, offering them education, condoms, clean needles, and most importantly, her attention. She witnessed and listened to them with complete amd respectful attention. She greeted every single person with respect, kindness and love.

When I asked her what led her to choose this line of work, her answer moved me in a way that I have never forgotten. She told me that because her son committed suicide when he was a teenager, she wanted to do her very best to try help others from making the same choice. She felt strongly that if her son had been received in the world with more positivity and reflection from others, he might not have killed himself. She said that she wanted to offer despairing people an experience of kindness and positivity in the hopes that she might have the kind of impact she wishes her son could have had. She wanted her impact to lessen their despair, and she decided to devote her entire life to this.

This woman is on my mind especially now as we are all reeling from the killings in Connecticut. Everyone wants to know how to fix this problem and everyone has a theory. And this is a very complicated problem with many facets, so probably a combination of all the theories could help us flesh out these facets. Today, my mind is on the boys who commit these atrocities. They seem to be boys who don’t feel that they can have an impact until they kill, and then their impact is huge, and becomes huger when their names are splashed all over the news. Whatever misery they were feeling inside is now on the faces of everyone they impacted. I have met boys who remind me of the ones who end up killing. They carry themselves in a manner that seems to send a message: “I am repulsive, don’t look at me. I am invisible, don’t look at me.” I often react unconsciously but obediently to the message. I feel repulsion, I look away. I quietly wonder if they are secretly planning a massacre.

I cannot claim that I am able to change the life of a future killer by changing my reaction to people who remind me of one. I do want to learn how not to shrink away from people in despair and this is a huge and difficult task. I get grumpy, I get busy, and I am scared of the boys in our town who resemble the boys who kill children. I am not about to run up to them and embrace them, but I am going to attempt to disobey the message of anyone whose body says, “Avert your eyes! I am disgusting.” I want to try and see if I can look them in the eyes with respect and kindness. What might change for someone in such despair if they were greeted with respect and kindness by everyone they met? What might change for the person who feels invisible if they become visible? What might I discover if I look a scared and scary person in the eyes rather then cringe and look away? What if everyone did this? Would it have an impact powerful enough to change a person’s life before it is too late?

Share if you are inspired.