When I looked at the table of kids, all between the ages of 3-12, I felt my throat constrict so tightly I wasn’t sure it would ever release.“How could I teach these small lives who have witnessed domestic violence about coping skills? They’re soooo young!” But, God showed me the answer through a boy who has left a huge impression on my life. I’ve never seen someone so young wage such war against their own feelings. I could see in his eyes a plea to be good, respectful, and “normal”, but so many times he would misbehave by displaying rage in his classroom and in his home. I asked, openly, what made him angry and he looked piercingly into my eyes and told me EVERYTHING that angered him. He felt like there was a set expectation for him to act out, he felt like his parents never accounted for his feelings, he felt isolated from his classmates, and he was lonely so he did what he could to get attention. (Oh, how I love the honesty of children!!!)
I interjected and told him that there was nothing wrong with being angry because honestly, I don’t think there is! What’s wrong is how we display our anger, not the emotion of anger. I devised a plan for him to cope with his feelings of aggression by writing on a small piece of paper what made him angry as soon as the feeling occurred. Of course, he looked at me like I had 100 heads when I said this but I told him there is always method to my madness! After the words were written I told him he had to put the paper in a box under his bed. Every week, I’d take the box and together we’d throw the pieces of paper away. My point to him was: we cannot let the things that anger us have power OVER us. A year later, I see such growth in him. I see how he smiles, I hear the richness in his laugh, and the eyes that look back to me are no longer full of sadness. (sure there are still some issues but they’re definitely getting smaller!) What a difference writing out our pain can make…
When I read the article on the LA Times “9/11: Using Poetry to Cope With Tragedy” the story I just recounted came to mind.
Do you remember 9/11? I remember it vividly and I also remember sitting in the cafeteria at Central High School my Sophomore year, days after the event, penning my fears in a journal. As I think back, wasn’t I creating my own form of coping skills? Absolutely! Writing has always been a channel for me to express my deepest pains and most beautiful triumphs.
I say all this to say, writing is relevant. In an age where everything has become digitized one thing we can’t forget to address is the way small words can impact our lives, our families, our societies, and the world.
What do you do to cope?