“ ‘Cause you’re a sky, you’re a sky full of stars
Such a heavenly view
You’re such a heavenly view ”
I sat in a room of seventy some women recently. Our largest growing group to date in a weekly music therapy program we do within the Ohio prison system. I watched her raise her hand, volunteering to read a poem about her sobriety and the road that led her to addiction. The backstory and the why’s. She adjusted her shirt and walked to the front of the room with her head hung low, the doubt swirling in her mind that what she had written was worth reading aloud. She read her poem and handed the microphone back to me in a hurried attempt to escape the front of the room and walk back to her seat. She almost made it until Patrick stopped her.
He called her back to the front of the room, looked her in the eye her and said, “we are glad you are still here.” Not here in the sense of prison. But here in this life. Still breathing. Still among the living. Still having moments and opportunities to live this one and only precious life.
Then it happened. It wasn’t a planned moment, but I am finding those are often the best ones.
He had everyone in the room who has ever struggled with addiction stand to their feet, about ninety percent of which stood up. On the count of three, he had them all give themselves a round of applause. A celebratory moment that the thing that should have killed them didn’t. I’m convinced you could hear the roar of applause and cheering from a mile away.
And then I saw it and I nearly came undone. The girl who read the poem stood there with huge tears welling in her eyes.
In that moment she felt worth something. I wondered if maybe for the first time in her life. Worth a round of applause. Worth being celebrated. Worth still being here. She awoke to the truth that has always been there, waiting to be discovered. That she is worthy of love. And although the lies may creep back in and compete with the truth, for this moment, truth won.
I have learned this about working with people who are marginalized. In case you are wondering who the marginalized are, Webster defines them as this:
“to relegate (cast out) to an unimportant or powerless position within a society or group.”
The unimportant. At least by society’s measure. Those without a voice, because no one finds them worthy enough to listen. The rejected. The exiled. The dismissed.
The very polar opposite of being accepted.
For nearly every person who is incarcerated, involved in gang affiliation or struggling with addiction, there are three common root emotions at the core of their being.
Shame. Worthlessness. The feeling of being unlovable.
A deep sense of failure of the whole self.
I don’t think you have to have some dramatic story to relate to the marginalized. I, too, have felt shame. I have faced rejection. I have felt unworthy of being heard. Overlooked. Excluded.
There is power in learning to see yourself in someone else’s story. Because we aren’t meant to do this whole life thing alone. We have more in common than the things that make us different. Our needs are universal. They transcend language, geography and experience. Deep down, we are all asking the same questions. We all need a seat at the table. A sense of being worthy enough to belong.
People don’t need to be reminded of their wrongness. Or how much of a sinner they are (as if some are worse than others). Or how many ways in which they’ve failed. Our sense of shame goes all the way back to the garden. We are all more than well aware of the ways in which we have been wrong. Overly aware.
It’s what we’ve forgotten that we need to be reminded of. Reminded of the inherent good in us. Not good in the sense of behavior or choices. But good because the image of the Divine is in all of us and nothing can erase it. Not our choices. Not a poor self image. Not the things that make us different. Not our questions or doubts.
Reaching the marginalized starts with reminding them of who they are, not of who they are not. Of helping them transform the way they see themselves, because a healthy view of self changes the choices we make and the way we interact with the world.
It starts with reminding yourself of the truth about who you are. You are a sky full of stars. Do you know that? You are worth a standing ovation. You are wholly acceptable and worth celebrating.