A couple of weekends ago, I went away with my parents to see my niece. While I was there I got some news about one of the pupils I used to teach. It was not good news. And while consciously I knew there was nothing that I could have done personally to prevent it happening, there was still a voice, an itch in my mind. “If only you’d connected a little more” “could you have engaged with him in a way to prevent this?” Of course the answer is “probably not”. Actually, on reflection, the answer is “no, only a massive egotard would make this about them, wind your neck in you blue haired pranny”. Despite saying I never would, I have mentioned on this blog the work I have done with young people with EBD issues. Since doing that work I have occasionally heard about how some of them have moved on, let’s just say you celebrate the few successes and try not to think about the rest.
Last weekend I was at a bus stop, a group of men were there too, being loud and men. One of them kept looking at me. I was on the phone, feeling very self conscious about it. I hang up and quickly put the phone in my pocket and he comes over. He’s younger closer up, and I do kind of recognise him, maybe.
“Do I know you?” he says in a tone that could be heard as aggressive, especially if you’ve been bought in in a culture that racially profiles young black men. I decide to take a punt.
“I used to work in PRU’s” He cracks a big smile.
“Yeah thats where I know you, you arranged for the teachers to let me play with Blu-tack during the lessons to help with my ADD” then I recognise him. We remember each other's name and tells me he found a school place after I left and quickly lost it again and he glosses over what he’s up to now, it's sweet, he doesn't want to disappoint.
“As long as you're happy” I tell him
“I just wanted to thank you for a couple of things you said to me” he says
“Oh yeah?” I ask
“Yeah, you said that I should make the most of the help that I'm getting now in school, because I’ll have to fight for it when I leave” he says
“I said that?”
“Yeah” he continues “and it's true, so I make sure I ask for help now”
“What was the second thing?”
“Well I after college I went to live in Finland for a while” he said
“What? Finland?” genuinely taken aback
“Yeah, I worked a little bit and travelled around, I even bought a boat, but I had to sell it” he sounded still a little gutted at that last part
“Why?” I ask
“Because I was skint and needed to get back” he says
“No, why Finland? How did you get there of all places?” he smiles, well you told me one day that ‘the world is bigger than your bullshit’ and you know what, it is, and that helped” at this point his friends are calling him. “I can't shake your hand because I’ve just eaten a choc-ice”.
We hug, and he walks away throwing me a smile and a wave.
When you start working with young people you think you’re going to be the weather man guiding them through the storm, or at least a brolly helping to protect them before things get really bad. But it doesn't work out like that. You end up feeling as small and inconsequential as a butterfly to the torrent of their lives. Occasional though you're reminded of that butterfly, the one the chaos theory bores talk about, the butterfly that flaps its wings in Birmingham and affects a hurricane all the way over in Finland.