Tuesday, August 20, 2013


It is a question that I have now come to expect. It is usually accompanied by the most adorable looks, as people search, oh, so politely for a way to tell me I'm insane. I can just picture the images that are in their head. Of me, standing in front of a group of teenagers who are rolling their eyes, and laughing at me - not in a "she's so funny" way, but a "she is SOOOOO lame!!" way. And the more I try to assure them I'm okay, they only seem to get more worried about me! It's very sweet - and I get where they are coming from - teenagers can be, well, let's just say it - MEAN! The whole mean girl thing is not an urban legend - in those years when hormones are running wild, and being seen in the right clothes with the right people, doing the right things is the ONLY thing that matters - there can be some pretty nasty behavior - just ask my mother! But, despite that, and, in some ways because of it, I can ask the query posed to me with so much worry - YES, I do tell to teenagers - and, this may be a shocker - REALLY like it!!!! And here is one reason why: The past two school terms I have one of a team of storytellers who have gone twice a month to a Youth Detention Center - that's right, not just teenagers - incarcerated teenagers. But, before you too, either give me the "you're crazy" look, let me tell you that it has given me some of the most profound experiences I have ever had as a storyteller, and just recently, I saw that, not only did the stories make an impact when these young people were in jail, it meant something to them after they got out. I have written before about the intense attention, and amazing listening that I, and the other three storytellers have received during our visits to the Detention Center - how we are all able to tell long, complex stories, that have depth and meaning, and are ripe for discussion. And discuss we do, with these young people who are no different from any other teenager -they, like all of us are flawed - both kind and unkind, wise and foolish, human beings who are perfectly imperfect. It is just that their mistakes were larger than most. But, as attentive as these young men and women were when they were "inside" - I had no way of knowing if ms y stories, or those of the other tellers had any lasting effect. But, two weekends ago, as I was strolling through a country fair with my husband, a young man stood BEAMING before me - his baseball hat was pushed back on his head, and his eyes locked onto my face. "It is you!" he exclaimed. "I can't believe it!" As I smiled, he titled his head, "You don't remember me - do you?" I will admit, it took me a moment to place the face - he looked much younger out of his Detention Center jumpsuit, and with an open boyish grin, but I DID remember him, how could I not, he had been in the Center longer than most, and he had always been so responsive, respectful, and friendly. Jack, our lone male storyteller, called him the kid he first connected with. Instinctively, I did what I had always wanted to do with many of them - I reached up and gave him a hug. His smile grew, as he told me had a job, but was looking for another, how he was working on his GED - so he could be a high school graduate. He pointed out his mother who was close by, and gave my husband a hardy hand shake when I introduced them. When I said we were off for the summer, but headed back in the fall, he nodded his approval, and then with one last hug, we parted. My husband looked back, and saw him explaining to his mother just who the heck I was, but I couldn't look back, because I had tears in my eyes. I will NEVER forget the look on his face when he saw me - the brightness of his eyes, the hopefulness in his voice when he asked if I remembered him. The way he clearly wanted me to approve of what he was doing with his life now. I knew in that moment that I, and the other tellers, had made a difference in that young man's life. That, with the tool of folktales, we had been able to make a human connection in a place not exactly built on such things. I will always love the giggle of a six year old, or the way a pre-schooler, after hearing some stories will come up, and wrap their arms around my legs. But the hug I received that day, that was a treasure like in the stories I tell. One that was hidden, maybe even thought lost, but, ultimately, after some hard work, a little faith, and an open heart, was found.