I never know what to expect when I visit one of my young men at the Youth Authority camp. They have busy lives, and have a lot on their mind. What I might plan to do isn’t what is going to happen. It’s my job just to listen and just show up. What we do with our time together is their choice.
“Jack” usually wants to talk about his work outside, sorting and delivering shrubs for the estuary and streambank restoration work they do for the state department of forestry and other agencies. These young men help run the largest native plant nursery on the Oregon coast, and their efforts have helped restore salmon habitat for hundreds of miles of streams. We all benefit from their hard work, but they seldom receive any credit.
Today, though, he sits down at our table, looking neat and professional in his dress shirt and fancy tie. His pressed black pants complete his new look.
“I’m doing a job interview today,” he grins. “Part of our class on getting ready to enter the work force.”
He’s fidgeting with his tie, not knowing what to do with his hands.
“I’ve always bombed a job interview,” he said.
I get him talking about the class, and what he’s interviewing for. His passion is the medical field, and he often tells me about his dreams about working as a first responder, or a nurse in the emergency room, maybe even a doctor. I’ve wondered where that came from, but he’s never talked about it.
“It’s a medical job, at a hospital,” he said.
“Oh, then, let’s practice,” I said. “Get you warmed up, at least.”
He smiles, and leans forward, giving me the nod.
“Good morning, Dr. Jackson,” I said. “I’m glad to meet you. I’ve been looking forward to this interview for our position here at the hospital for a pediatric physician.”
He nods again, and gulps. This is the real deal, and his serious game face is in place. He runs through his resume, and his experience in working with sick and injured people, and how he’s enjoyed having his first aid and CPR card.
“How did you become interested in medicine, and being a care provider?” I ask, in my best hospital CEO voice.
His eyes look deep into mine, and his voice lowers, telling me the story of a family member’s tragedy, how he was the first person at her side, how he administered first aid, summoned the ambulance, and stayed with her until the emergency room doctor sewed her up.
His telling of the events was by the book, meticulous, and calmly professional. A family member was close to dying, but he was the professional, the guy in charge.
“The doctor told me I’d saved her life,” he said. “And, I guess I did. But, ever since, I’ve always wanted to know more about medicine, and how to save people.”
Tears flooded my eyes, as this young man opened up his heart to me, letting me inside of his young soul, sharing a seldom-told story. Six months of visiting him, and I’d never imagined the intensity of his desire to help others, to literally save lives.
Our mock interview before a mock interview continued, but nothing was pretend with us, as the reality of his feelings and of his desires to work as a medical professional filled the space between us.
A few minutes later, we wrapped up the interview, and I shook his hand.
“It was a pleasure to meet you, Dr. Jackson.”
We both took a breath, letting out deep sighs.
“That was great,” he said. “I think I nailed it. First interview I’ve had that went really well.”
His grin told the story. We both knew he was ready for the “real” interview in fifteen minutes.
I don’t know if we’ll ever talk again about his story with his family, and how he saved a dear one’s life. And, perhaps we don’t need to. We’ll just leave it there on the table, in the interview room where I first met Dr. Jackson.
5/18/16 – Neal Lemery