I will never forget the little boy, who had been beaten with a hanger by his baby sitter's 13 year old son. His soulful eyes literally pierced my soul the moment I met him. He was timid and scared and his eyes were so very wide with fear. His mother was drug addicted and was now gone from his life. His father was murdered in a gang shooting shortly after his birth. I had the privilege of working with John at the Cook County Juvenile Court. We met with him over a two week period. I probably only saw him two or three times. Once to prepare him to go into the large courtroom, filled with adults and the boy who did this brutal thing to him. His grandmother brought him every time. Sadly, she was completely detached from this precious little boy whose had known more sadness, pain and loss in his short three years than most experience in a lifetime. She was disinterested in him in a variety of ways. He came to her only because she was his only living relative that was willing. When asked about long term plans for John, she had none. She wasn't interested in any services we could provide that would make this sweet boy's life more comfortable or even bearable. This little boy didn't have a room or a bed even. He slept on the floor in the living room each night with a blanket.
When it was John's turn to testify I remember leading him to the stand, as he passed the offender, he froze in absolute terror. Although he had been prepared for the reality that this boy was in the room, the reality to this precious boy was quite another. I smiled down at him and gave his hand a squeeze as if to say,"You're o.k. buddy, you've got this." He did have this. He did wonderfully, his testimony flawless. The offender was convicted of aggravated battery and sentenced appropriately.
After the trial, John and I had a few moments alone before everyone came back into the room. I told him how brave he had been and how great he had done. He crawled up on my lap and I remember we just colored a picture together, a rainbow. I started it and as I prompted him, he added to it. I remember feeling some relief that he was able to imagine. He was able to dream of a world outside of the one he found himself in.
Soon his grandmother came and took John out of the courtroom, out of my life, forever. I remember wanting to grab him and hold on to him and to keep him. I have worked with many children over the years and this boy had me. I couldn't bear to see him go. But, go he went. I had to go to the bathroom because I couldn't contain my sadness. I cried and cried and then decided that I needed to move on. That, if I held on to the grief I felt for this little boy that I wouldn't be able to help others that were as deserving as him.
Thirteen years have passed since I met John. I think of him often and pray that he found his way in this life. That someone did love him and see the sweetness and sadness in his soulful eyes. I pray he was rescued.
As I was deciding whether or not to apply to graduate school last year at this time, John's face and those eyes flooded my mind. I thought that in the end, even in the sadness of not being able to "fix" everything about John's life, even though I couldn't right all the wrongs that had been done to him, I could for a few moments give him a rainbow. I was able to give him a hand to hold when he so desperately needed to cling to one. I was able to give him 100% of my efforts for him, for his family, for his social worker.
Each time I work with someone now I remember John and strive to give each person that same amount of effort. I have to believe that sometimes that's all we can do. Whether we're social workers or lawyers or doctors or waitresses. I know that to survive it the world of social work as a career that 100% is sometimes all I can offer.
I hope John continued to draw rainbows. I hope I am able to always impact lives and never just go to work, fill the time and not have any investment in the clients I am privileged to work with. I pray that those of you who read here have that same joy in your work. I hope you're able to give your 100% joyfully and with purpose.
I am contemplating doing an internship at the Child Trauma Assessment Center next year. You can tell just by the title that is hard work. It is filled with kids like John who have had to deal with too much too soon. The thought of being there and assessing those types of kids and situations quite frankly terrifies me. It can so much easier to just do the easier work, to leave that kind of work to someone else. I can't help but think that God is whispering to me, "There are more rainbows to be drawn, Susan". Well, then I guess that's all there is to say.