Just when I think I've seen it all, or at least a lot of it over 15 years of Pajama Program, a horrific memory engulfs me and shakes me all over again. That's when I feel like all the steps we're taking to move us forward are barely keeping us in place.
Gratefully we're now able to start seeing our way clear to bringing our 5-year plan to fruition. We've been updating this plan for several years now and it's such an amazing feeling to start thinking seriously about more Reading Centers, vetting more organizations for our list to receive new pajamas and books, and designing more Programs for all our children. This afternoon as I was outlining some of our next steps for our plan it hit me - a flashback of a visit to an emergency shelter in Colorado came crashing back to me. A staff member at the shelter was holding a child who was smeared with blood on his face and his pants. He was crying uncontrollably. As I entered the shelter the woman holding the 2-year-old was clearly shaken and told me the police just brought him in - he was caught in the crossfire of his parents in a knife fight. A knife fight in which blood was splattered all over a 2-year-old child - their child. I couldn't believe it then and I still cannot believe it now. This memory came at me out of the blue as many of them do. Nothing triggered the flashback of this incident which happened more than ten years ago, but all of a sudden I remembered it like it was this morning.
We read about these abusive cases but we know there are thousands more of these incidents we never read about, moments like these that don't make the news. Children are brought into shelters and Group Homes every day and every single one of them relies on the kindness of strangers. Some of the children are going through extreme trauma and even the most well-trained professionals can't instantly soothe their fears or comfort them or promise them tomorrow will be better.
I hate these flashbacks. They make me cringe. Sadness turns into anger in my heart and I look for someone to blame. These children are victims, they did nothing to deserve what's happened to them. In an instant they find themselves alone, abandoned and often harmed. For most of them the only good in their lives is the first person who takes them into their arms at the shelter or Group Home. The extraordinary individuals who do whatever they can in those initial moments to convince these children to stay in their arms, to not give up on all of us, to let us find a way to make things better for them, are their angels on earth. The rest of us make up the second tier support system, each of us with a small part to play in making tomorrow better for these children. For me, that awful memory is just that - a memory of something I saw, the result of an act of negligence and sometimes cruelty. But for these children the incident is a full-out nightmare. When these memories unexpectedly flood back to me I can't stop them but I can use them. I can take the shock and anguish I remember feeling in those dreadful moments and channel that energy into relentless motivation to keep going, keep helping to make tomorrow better for these kids. Those angels are the first hope for these children and it's up to the rest of us to take the next steps in keeping that hope alive.