I was talking to a friend today about life-changing moments. Epiphanies, Aha Moments, whatever you wish to call them. We’ve all had them.

I told her, you know, I’m going to start recording my epiphanies. Here is an account of one of my more important ones:

In 1997, I was working at a residential treatment center for youth offenders. I loved my job, and found it rewarding to work with young people. I have worked with challenged populations since high school, and with at-risk youth since 1994. But I don’t think I ever got it until one particular day…sitting at a red-light.

On my way to work that day, traffic was really bad. I had to exit to go through downtown and some pretty rough neighborhoods to get to work. I was low on gas, and though I seldom feel a lot of fear in any surrounding, I was not eager to run out of gas where I was.

As I was driving, I came to a red-light. I sat at the light and looked around at my surroundings, and I saw an apartment complex to the left. It had the look of a housing project, and likely was. On the grass, just a few feet away from the road, two little toddler boys were playing. There were a few teenaged boys on the corner a few feet away from the little boys, talking and waiting for the bus.

I just kept staring at the little boys and it occurred to me that these children were playing outside, unsupervised, in a neighborhood in which I, a strong adult, wouldn’t want to run out of gas.

I suddenly understood, for the first time, from where the young men in our program came. What survival skills did they have to learn just to get through every single day? As little children, they played, lived, and slept in places that I would avoid walking in after sundown.

It totally changed my outlook on life.

I knew that I would never fully understand why some people do the things they do. But for the first time, I understood fully that I didn’t have to understand. What I had to do was embrace them for who and where they were and work with them from there. My lack of understanding turned to awe and respect for their enormous strength. It became my mission and purpose to work with young people who had once been little children on the side of the road and help them to find new survival skills.

A family member of mine once stated arrogantly “Those kids don’t want to do anything, I’d put them all of them in prison and throw away the key”. And it ran through my mind…. “You have never known, and never will, the kind of strength I see every day”.

They are my heroes.

My purpose in life was sealed that day, sitting at a red-light, watching children play.
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