Last week I attended the Annual Mental Health Breakfast hosted by the Westport Department of Human Services. This event, held largely for teachers and mental health providers, gives me a chance to connect with those in our larger community who are on the front lines of helping our children, youth and under-resourced adults.
The speaker, Mary Dineen-Elovich LSCW, spoke on Adversity’s Impact: Inspiring Resilience. She made the point that the more at risk we are as children (being exposed to violence and substance abuse for instance) the more likely we are to suffer from social maladies as adults. However, she also said that the more adults intervene on behalf of children, the more likely those children are to develop the resiliency they need to face these challenges as adults.
In other words, just a simple affirmation to a child by an adult even if you are not the parent, makes a powerful difference in that child’s life. Ms. Dineen-Elovich told us that while she was at great risk as a child, it was her teachers and her bus driver that provided her with the assurance that she was going to be all right. As the youngest of five, she recalls the school bus driver opening the door of the bus on her very first day and saying to her, “Mary Dineen, I have been waiting for you to be old enough to ride my bus. Come in and sit down right behind me.” That bus driver, who had seen the abuse her sisters and brothers had endured, was watching out for her and that made all the difference. Perhaps you can recall a time when a helping adult made a difference in your life.
I often hear people blame their parents for their problems. Some of that blame is justified but at some point we need to look at ourselves and ask ourselves what we are going to do about it. I have known children who have survived terrible childhoods to become well-adjusted and caring adults. And I have known well-cared-for children who have become terrible adults. My point is this: Our past is not our destiny. Our past can affect our present but it does not define us. At some point we must look to ourselves and ask “what can I do to make my life better?” At some point, we need to get the help we need so that we can create a better future.
I realize this is not always possible. I realize some hurts are impossible to overcome. For those struggles, please remember you are not alone. I or any of our ministers and chaplains are here to help. But I also realize we can, sometimes, chart a new direction in our lives. And that, my friends, is also why we are here week after week.
See you in church, Rev. John