The Power of One


The Power of One

“It’s the action, not the fruit of the action, that’s important. You have to do the right thing. It may not be in your power, may not be in your time, that there’ll be any fruit. But that doesn’t mean you stop doing the right thing. You may never know what results come from your action. But if you do nothing, there will be no result.”
― Mahatma Gandhi

Can I really make a difference in the world? Does what I do really matter?

The other day, I ran into a young man I’d worked with, having long talks about his future. We became friends, and I was a cheerleader in his life. I watched him refocus in high school, and graduating there. I walked with him and held his hand as he thought about college, and enrolling.

A few years later, I watched him receive his community college diploma, laughing with him as he posed for a family picture, diploma in hand. His wife, and his sister, now both in college, stood proudly beside him.

At the store, he shared a photo of his new baby, and his dream of a bright future, getting his bachelor’s degree, creating a bright future for him and his family.

“Thanks,” he said, quietly. “Without you pushing me, encouraging me, I wouldn’t be where I am today.”

A few weeks ago, I took a young man to a university, walking with him into the registrar’s office to schedule his classes, and get him ready for fall term. We’d worked together last spring, to get him admitted, and transferring all his credits he’d earned for his associates degree, ready to start his junior year. He’s been aiming for a bachelor’s degree for a long time, and was finally able to make the move into a four year university, one that has an excellent program in his area of interest.

He’d been dragging his feet, not making the phone call to schedule his class registration, and all the other paperwork that needed to get done before he was really ready to begin classes. The plan was for me to drive him there, make a day of it, and to celebrate his achievements. But, he was dropping the ball, ignoring my increasingly less than subtle hints to take that drive, and move on with his life.

I nudged, I prodded, and I waited. Procrastination and fear took over, even a bit of resentment towards me, for being the quiet voice urging him forward, encouraging him to go live his dream.

Time was running out, and I spoke up, becoming direct, calling out for him to confront the elephant in the living room, and get moving here, moving ahead with his life. We met, finally, to have that hard conversation. We argued, we struggled, we finally got to the heart of his struggle, we each teared up, our guts churning.

We named the elephant, and we argued some more. He asked me where he thought I’d be in a few years, if he didn’t go to college, if he didn’t make that short trip to the university’s registrar that week, and be ready for fall term.

I got blunt, and painted a realistic picture.

“If you don’t live your dream, if you don’t work towards achieving your goals, life will be hard, and life will be disappointing. You will end up being disappointed in yourself. Is that what you want?”

He admitted he really did want to go to college, but the old voices, the voices of childhood that had always whispered that he wasn’t good enough, that he wasn’t deserving of success, those were the voices speaking loudly in his head lately.

We refocused. We didn’t dwell on “failure” and “I’m not good enough”. Instead, we moved on, living in today. And, looking towards the future, planning for it, taking real time steps to get where he wanted to go.

I grabbed the car keys, and his cold, sweaty hand, and walked him to my car. Amazingly, at least to him, within an hour, we were at the registrar’s office in the university, organizing his schedule, planning for his graduation in two years. He registered for classes, accepted his healthy array of scholarships, and sent in his student loan application.

On the way out the door, we picked up his student body card and scheduled a time for him to meet his department head and double check his class schedule, to make sure he was on the right track with his major.

Along the way, every college staff person was courteous, informative, and dedicated to getting him enrolled and off to a good start. Each one of them took the time to take an interest in him, focus on his needs, and help him achieve his goals for the day, and for the next two years of his life.

Each one of them, taking the time, being interested, investing in him. He saw that in how they treated him, how they were living their day. The caring about one other person, one at a time, with all of their focus, all of their energies, all of their wisdom.

And, so it begins, the new student and the teachers, the first lesson, building on the past, and aiming at the future.

One person at a time.

Neal Lemery, August, 2013

A Letter to My Young Friend in Prison


A Letter to My Young Friend in Prison

Dear ____________:

It was good to go deep with you today.

As always, I found you working on several difficult issues, and moving forward with all of them. You have healthy goals, and you have worthy dreams. You always do.

Young men worry about who they are, and what they want to accomplish, and what is their destiny. And, actually, we all worry about that. At least, I do.

I don’t always count my blessings, and I can worry about things that I have no control over, or things that turn out to be pretty insignificant. I struggle with feelings and emotions, and I get myself tied up in knots about things. Another young man I know calls that “catastrophizing”. A good term for that “tie my stomach in knots” feeling.

So, when you struggle, and doubt, and worry, you are not alone. And, when you see some people and situations in your life that need some fixing, and things aren’t getting fixed, that is normal.

Each of us can only fix ourselves. We aren’t the mechanics for other people. We don’t lead their lives. And, we aren’t the boss. Well, we are the boss of ourselves. We do have the ability to direct our own lives, and to manage our own affairs. And, what other people do and what other people might think of us — well, not much we can do about that.

You are a normal guy. You have normal worries, and normal doubts and normal insecurities. You get frustrated when relationships and other things don’t get “fixed”. That’s normal.

I see you accomplishing a whole lot. Certainly more than most 21 year old men I have known. OK, you are in prison and you don’t have a lot of “freedom”. Yet, you have done a great deal of hard work in getting your own house in order, and healing yourself. You have educated yourself a great deal about who you are, where you come from, and who you want to be.

Most young men haven’t done that. Most young men haven’t laid out the high moral standards and ethics you have set for yourself. The work you have done has been very valuable, and very important. I think you see that, sometimes. In a few years, you will see this time as a very rich, and a very valuable experience.

As you do your heart work, know that I support you, and I believe in you. I am grateful you have this opportunity, to know yourself better, and to gain information which will lead to even more self discovery, and to more healing of whatever wounds you discover.

Part of that healing work involves forgiveness.

I hope that you are doing some forgiveness of yourself in all this. Forgiveness is a very good gift to give to yourself. It is part of that struggle you have with accepting a gift.

You want to “pay off your restitution”. “Restitution” means “to restore, to put back”. Part of restitution is forgiving yourself. That will be harder to do than sending money off to the State. But, more rewarding, and more freeing.

You are doing all of this work for the right reasons: self understanding.

Most every time I leave prison after a visit with you, I say to myself “Wow. I don’t know if I could deal with that.”

A lot of the stuff you talk about that you have experienced, well, I think I might just want to find a dark corner and pull a blanket over my head, and slip away into a bit of self imposed craziness.

But, you don’t take that cheap route. You dig in and work through the crap that you have to deal with sometimes, and you get it on. You sort through it, and you do what is needed to be healthy, and sane, and whole.

You may think you don’t get much support from other folks on what you are going through and what you are doing. But, you do. Your Team is out there, cheering you on.

I try to be a good cheerleader, a good support person for you. I don’t always do a great job, and I often don’t have the tools and the pompoms and the special cheerleader cheers that work for you. But, I still show up and I still cheer you on.

I believe in you and I believe in your journey.

And, you teach me more about courage and decency and character than anything else in my life.

I thank you for that, from deep in my heart.

Sincerely,

Neal C. Lemery