Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Working with Humans: Daredevils

While working in Harlem, I met many women who were survivors of domestic violence, and who had been or were homeless. In my mind, they were quickly and easily divided into two groups: the anxiety-ridden and the daredevils.
The daredevils saw all life experience as an obstacle course in which the body, mind, spirit and sanity got a workout; they were warriors because these women welcomed the challenge with never a doubt that they would somehow get out. And they were daredevils for their impulse to self-sabotage -- to completely trample possibilities as if stasis and sanity were the enemy.
Theirs were lives filled with so much tragedy and mishaps over which they had no control that I begin to think self-sabotage was a way to control disaster.
They expected something or someone to ruin their plans and felt empowered by doing the damage themselves instead of waiting for an abusive lover or family member to step in.
But the daredevils had a strong survival instinct and if you could make them believe that getting an education was an element of survival, they would fall into line.
These women were not familiar with stability; it was that distant relative that visited infrequently and didn't remember what grade you were in. You know the one.
The daredevils knew how to fight but if there was no fight to be fought, they were lost.

One of my favorite daredevils was a woman named Female.
I saw the name on the roster and called her over to make corrections.

They forgot to put your name on the roster.
No, that's right. My name is Female.
My mother was delivering me in the hospital, my father died and there was a big mess, so she left the hospital with the bracelet that said Female _______________. The lady in the hospital said she could go back and change the name, but nobody did.

I was awe-struck that no one in the family would consider returning to the records office in the hospital to give her a name but I noticed that the name was also a source for a great story that encompassed all that her family and childhood was.

In Puerto Rico, they said the name in three parts like a Spanish word: Fe ma le.
Nobody knew what it meant.

Do you want to change your name?
No. I like it.

I cannot say anything else about Female.
I can say that she was clear about how to get in and out of trouble and that was part of the problem.

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