The following is an entry from my CiViL Groups Log on April 21, 2004. All names have been changed to protect privacy.
The seniors were on a field trip today, so I thought I would have a free period. Before the period actually began, Puka came in and sat down. Puka is a big, tough, street-savy fellow who can be hard or smooth in almost any situation. He had failed to turn in his field trip paperwork, so he wasn’t allowed to go with the others on the bus. Puka is so good at working the system that he found a way to get out of school (excused for family business). His plan was to drive to the field trip location in Hendersonville and join the trip. He had one period to spare before he needed to leave, even though he was officially excused already. When Melony saw him in the hall and reminded him I was here, he gladly came, even on his free time. That feels like an honor to me.
After Puka told me how he worked the system to get himself to the field trip, I told him – for about ten minutes – how much I respected and enjoyed his ability to lead, to recognize what needs to be done, and to figure out how to get things done. He really is remarkably resourceful, if not always perfectly hones. I told him I wish I had recognized his strengths sooner. I also told him that I want him to continue to hone his skills and use them for a good cause – one beyond just working the system to his own advantage. I asked him to consider returning to work with us in about three years as a volunteer leader. He has so much of what it takes to do this kind of work, but he needs about three years to gain the authority of age and to develop a grown-up’s sense of responsibility.
Puka told me that earlier this week one of Puka’s “folks,” meaning one of his friends or perhaps, gang members, was shot and killed in a street shoot-out of some sort. The bullet went into his throat and lodged in his shoulder. Funeral visitation was last night. Puka meant to go, but at the last minute he just couldn’t force himself to face the pain of it. He’s not sure he can go to the memorial service tonight or the burial tomorrow. When I asked what was at risk, he said he wasn’t sure he could hold it together.
Holding It Together
Holding it together is very important for Puka. He told me that in almost every situation people count on him. Some expect him to be the first in their family to graduate from high school. Others expect him to keep them laughing and happy. A number of times he said, “If I can’t handle it, they’ll think they can’t handle it either.”
I asked about other losses and was astounded at his grim experience. I wrote out a loss time line:
Year Age Loss
1990 4 Great Grandfather died.
1992 6 Uncle died.
1994 8 Auntie Luella died.
1998 12 Uncle Isaiah died.
1999 13 Granddaddy died – This loss hurts the most.
2000 14 Jay, Malcolm, and Kierra all died in 5 months time. This was overwhelming.
2004 18 JR died.
Puka told me how his granddaddy, a kindly drunk, was run over by a garbage truck when Puka was thirteen. Puka hurt so bad he cried in front of his best friend. Not long after the funeral Puka had a dream in which he knew his granddaddy had gone into his Auntie’s house, where all the dead relatives were partying. He tried to open the door and join the party, but he was told that he couldn’t come in yet because it wasn’t his time. He had things to do, they said. I wish I had asked him what those things were. I’ll bet they involve taking care of his family and friends because he seems to see that as his life mission. Puka said the dream was comforting in that he knew his granddaddy was alright. It was also sad because he was separated from all the people he loved, especially his granddaddy.
If I Fall Apart
Since his granddaddy’s death, Puka has learned to ignore his losses, to keep busy, be funny, and to stay away from situations that might bring his grief to the surface. I asked if he had anyone to cry to. When he was a kid he could cry to his Mama, but they aren’t close anymore. He has been in all kind of situations with family, gangs, selling drugs, in school, and in all of them, people count on him not to fall apart. “If I fall apart,” he said, “Then people will think it’s REALLY bad.”
Who Made You Sampson?
I showed Puka the Loss Time Line I had drawn, and I said, “This looks really bad to me.” Is there no one you can go to for comfort when things are “really bad for you?” When made the same explanation about others depending on him to hold it together, I asked, “Who decided you have to be Sampson for everyone? It seems unfair to me that everyone else should get to be weak sometime, while you has to hold them all up. It makes me especially sad because, as a father, I hurt when my kids hurt. I love to be able to comfort them.” My voice broke as I told him this, and he said, “Man, don’t do this to me.” “I’m not trying to do anything to you,” I said, “But I want you to know that I hurt for you, and it doesn’t seem right to me that you don’t get to be comforted by somebody.”
A Leadership Skill
I explained about the Mountain of Loss and the Tunnel of Grief. He understood it and said that he does take his grief to God, to deal with it just between them. I’m skeptical, though I didn’t say so. Most people who can’t cry to the people they can see have an even harder time crying to the God they can’t see. I kept that to myself, not wanting to insult him. Instead, I decided to take another approach. I told Puka that his leadership skills were excellent, as I had already said, but that the best leaders need some group with whom they can be weak. Even Jesus had that. It’s what keeps a leader from exploding, and it gives his followers an opportunity to be strong for them.
Puka had seen the movie “The Passion of the Christ,” recently. In the movie Jesus asked for and accepted help many times between Gethsemane and the cross. He could have avoided some of the people who helped him, but he knew that helping him would be life-changing for people like Simon, who carried his cross. A good leader knows that allowing others to help him is good for them, as well as for him
Leaders Ask For Support
I told Puka about the marathon I would be running on Saturday, and I told him that it would be especially helpful, if he came to cheer me on around eleven in the morning at 7th and Shelby Avenues. That would be about the twenty mile mark, and I would be exhausted, in need of some support. It’s not wrong to be needy once in awhile.
When the bell rang, we got up and I challenged Puka to learn the leadership skill of being weak. He reached out to hug me, thanked me, and when I asked if there was anything else I could do to help him with his grief, he said, “Pray for me!” I promised that I would.