I’ve been mulling over the idea of running a citywide Sparks group in London. For those of you who don’t remember, Sparks is a fun project/program in which a group of people meet for 5 weeks and each person must decide take one positive risk in the next 7 days to make herself a better person or the world a better place. Each week, we meet and share how our Sparks went, and we share our plans for next week’s Sparks. Over the years, I have had a number of people who click very well with me allowing us to produce excellent events and projects. Andy is one of them. His job is Visual Storyteller (I think other work places would call him a videographer or video designer). I asked Andy if he would like to do a DC-London Sparks group using videoconferencing screens and rooms and pairing each person with a trans-Atlantic Sparks buddy during the week. Sadly, Andy was too busy but I may still start a Sparks group in London. I’m toying with the idea and trying to gather enough support to help run the event.
That’s when I remember that it’s not an event; it’s a group of people learning to take risks together. And it doesn’t have to be a big production, it can be something as simple as people coming together and learning what it means to be human in a community that encourages growth. So, as I’m writing, I’m rethinking my worries and may just do it. In the meantime, I realize I never finished sharing my risks from the last time I did Sparks.
In week one, we had an introduction to Sparks. In week two, I took a homeless man out to dinner and we talked and laughed and found moments where we escaped the identities of rich, housed man and poor, homeless men; we were just two guys talking about women. In week three, Mike (the guy I met in week two) encouraged me to contact and talk to my former wife since I wanted to be like Mike who harboured no ill-will at all for his wife cheating on him with his best friend and for leaving him afterward. So nothing like that was done to me, I contacted my former wife, though it was hard, and let her know I begrudge nothing and resent not. Since I wanted my Sparks to tell a story, I decided that in week 4, I would fulfill a request of my former wife.
She had a student of whom I am fond. I’ll call her Sarai. Sarai was one of the students who did an international summer service trip with me, and she is exactly the type of student you want: she over-fund-raised so she gave extra funds that she continued to raise to the accounts of other students; she came up with ideas for fund-raisers on her own; she worked hard overseas and never complained even when bitten or sick; she learned a basic amount of the language needed and tried to use it; she gave her all to ever task we asked. Sarai was the valedictorian of her school. And as with many innovative movements that become institutionalized, our school, YES, wanted her to be another shining example of success. So Sarai graduated and went off to study at a university on the east coast. However, when she arrived, that click, that moment when you begin to feel at home at university never happened. It never came for Sarai. Sarai pushed through; she knew YES was counting on her as well as her parents and teachers and friends. She joined social groups, she pushed herself into her studies, she met with a counselor there. All of her efforts didn’t change how she felt: she was unhappy. She was homesick. She missed her family, friends, and church, and she was not happy in this school. She didn’t really click with other students though she did have a few friends. I’m not sure if it was too much for her at once, the feeling of too much pressure, or because Sarai is a special girl and the university had few people that fit with her personality. I don’t know. I just knew she was unhappy. She finally made the very tough decision to withdraw and go back home.
Before she could call and tell her high school, her university had already called her high school. This was hard for her because she wanted to be the one to tell her high school. She had a scholarship from a joint program between her high school, YES, and her university. Now she would lose that money. And when she finally did talk to YES, the YES administration was . . . let’s say they were livid. At this really hard time for her, I think what she needed was care and acceptance. Instead what she felt was disdain, shock, slight contempt, and disappointment. I was confused when I heard about it. I thought, “Nooo, how could trained teachers and counselors and school administrators act that way and place the institution above the person. That’s silly.” But she even described going to a YES sports game and being ignored by a few teachers because of her decision to withdraw. It really was hard for her. I know. When I spoke to her on the phone, she cried and cried as she told me about it.
So I decided my Spark this week was to go and visit with her and take her out to breakfast and to show her nothing but love from a (former) YES teacher—me. I told her I promised to fly in to Texas whenever she wanted; we would pick a date and do that. That made her very happy. I did fly in but we were unable to meet due to schedules and missed phone calls, but we did talk on the phone. And it was really good for her, at least I think so. I just spent the entire phone call listening to her story, hearing her cry, and telling her who she is. She is an amazingly gifted and persistently good young woman, and I needed to remind her of that. I was so happy to hear that her family completely and unconditionally accepted her decision and took her back. And now she is enrolled at the University of Houston and doing well and happy. Even though we have talked a number of times since then, she still has the promise of being taken out to breakfast. I’m looking forward to it.