She handed me the note at recess.
I was 10 years old, a tiny wisp of a 5th grader. She was quiet and bookish, friendly, but with few friends.
I read the note when I got to class and felt sick – she told me that she had to reach out to somebody, that I seemed like the right person to reach out to, that I might understand. She told me that her father was abusing her. That she didn’t know what to do.
I crumpled up the note and threw it in the bottom of my backpack. I wanted it as far away from me as possible. I was angry, confused, horrified -Why are you giving me this?? I thought. I never spoke to her about it and was afraid to look her in the eyes again. I didn’t want to be the keeper of her secret.
I remembered this story last year when I attended a workshop with Rachel Naomi Remen called A Life of Service. Most of the folks in the room were medical professionals, nurses, social workers and the like.
“When did you get the call to service?” she asked.
For some, it was when they were five years old and a friend killed a beetle right in front of their eyes while they looked on in horror. For others, it was when they saw someone suffer in their lives, or discovered an injustice.
For me, it was this moment in the 5th grade.
This moment of turning my back.
This moment of not being ready to face my own darkness.
This memory has haunted me, but it has also guided the course of my life, precisely because I didn’t do the right thing.
She sensed she could trust me, that I was the right person, that I was a safe person to tell.
And she was right. I was exactly the right person. I just wasn’t ready yet.
At our 20 year reunion (years ago now) I wanted to reach out to her so badly. She arrived with an infant strapped to her body and she positively glowed. She was beautiful, confident, 3 kids in tow and a handsome, kind husband. I wanted to whisk her to the side and say, I’m sorry. I’m so sorry I turned my back on you. But I was getting sick that night and I was afraid to get too close to the baby and all that I could eek out was a hello…
In my work now, I see my fierce commitment to sharing the truth, to being vulnerable and telling our stories. I wish I could go back and tell her, Yes, yes, me too. And maybe neither of us would have felt alone.
But this is not a story of regret.
It’s a story of gratitude- for I have spent my life becoming the person she sensed I was all those years ago.