Those final days of February. You’re never sure what you’re going to get. But, this year, it’s clear, March is definitely coming in like a lion.
The recalcitrant days of winter may have put this Caroline Center class a little off the mark for its “halfway hurrah” celebration and reflections, a tradition marking the midpoint in their journey toward certification as nursing assistants and pharmacy technicians; but, the longest, darkest days of the year have not moved their resolve, hope, and determination to become the best healthcare professionals they can be.
Even though this halfway hurrah arrived a week later than expected because of snow, it was one of the most meaningful celebrations and times of reflection in recent memory at Caroline Center. I guess that the snow – the way it sometimes makes us look at the world a little differently – had done its magic.
At halfway hurrah, we – the staff, that is – do the listening. The women, who have arrived at the critical halfway point in their Caroline Center education and career skills training, do the talking. At least to the extent that they would like to share their feelings and perceptions about the program thus far. In my experience at Caroline Center, these times for sharing have never been predictable, never routine. The most recent halfway hurrah was no exception. Sometimes the women are quiet and reserved. Other times, they are buoyant and talkative. Occasionally, there is a wise, philosophical, prophetic voice that rises and is remembered.
At this particular halfway hurrah, a somewhat older trainee, a woman in her late thirties who had applied once before to Caroline Center and was not admitted because “it was not her time and her heart was not in it,” began to speak – clearly to the younger women who were her classmates: “This is your time. No matter what. No matter how hard it is. Commit to it. Do it for yourself. Because if you do, you will never need to struggle again. If you wake up in the morning and you have just a dollar in your pocket, find a way to get to Caroline Center. Because after this, you won’t have to worry any more about having just a dollar in your pocket. Do this and you won’t ever again have to tell your kids to stop eating at breakfast so you’ll have a little something left over for dinner. You won’t have to decide which child is going to get a new diaper on because you’re running low. Do this and you won’t ever have to hear from anybody again that you can’t because you’re not smart enough or you’re foolish to do it because you don’t deserve it. Be kind to each other here and see the potential in every sister in this room. Because when you look into another Caroline Center woman’s eyes, you are looking at yourself in the mirror. If you have made poor decisions in the past, start now with this one good decision – to get an education and learn skills that will help you and your family have a better life. If you are feeling like you won’t make it, get rid of that negativity now. And, get rid of the negative people and influences around you. There is no need to struggle in the ways that I struggled. I had a child and was homeless. I was barely living from day to day. I lost everything. I lost myself, who I was. Because I wouldn’t listen. I wanted to do things my way, and I was too young to know. Now, I know and I’m telling you. Don’t waste this time. Don’t waste this opportunity. This is not just one more thing you are not going to finish. This is the thing. This is it. Whatever negative words people have said to you. Whatever negative thoughts you may believe about yourself and are holding inside.Let them go.”
After these words, there were more heads nodding in agreement in the room than I expected to see – more struggles and hard choices than I wanted to really know about. But,
I was there to listen and to learn. What I learned is that the real courage of a Caroline Center woman may rest in being able to free her mind – free herself – from the “mental slavery” that has kept her from becoming all that she is destined to be. “None but ourselves can free our minds.” We know it; even if we can barely see it through our tears.