In a Dark Room with a dog named Spaghetti
The giant room was dark. The old building creaked and sighed at random. It was like being in the belly of a dragon. The people in the room were as uneasy as if they were, in fact, in a dragon’s belly. That’s the setting of the story: a few people in a giant room not knowing how they got there or why.
The reason for their abduction, in fact the very nature of their abduction, will require a stretch of the imagination. The “how” of this meeting of extraordinary people is unbelievable. The “why” is completely ridiculous. Don’t think too much about it or else this entire story will fall apart. Suspend your disbelief. You are in the belly of a dragon.
The light switch snapped on and the echo cracked through the giant warehouse. There was a flicker, a synthetic strike of lightning, and then the whole room was awake revealing the group of people sitting in an almost perfect circle, strapped to their chairs. Everyone could see each other and the simultaneous horror, the inevitable shock, erupted on all their dark faces. For you see my dear readers, the people there were just as aware of the impracticality and incomprehensible ridiculousness of their presence in the same room.
One of them screamed outright. It was implausible that the rest didn’t, given the circumstances and for another reason that will become apparent soon. But you can’t determine what an appropriate reaction should be in a situation like this. You just had to be there to truly know what your reaction would be. Anything else is just speculation.
Only one screamed. The rest, stuck transfixed at the appearance of the other occupants, gazed stupidly at each other, yelps stuck in their throat. All but one ignored the footsteps coming their way.
The one turned to see a well-dressed individual walking toward them with a dog named Spaghetti—because why not be even more absurd at this point. He looked the man up and down in disbelief. And he screamed. So now there were two screamers screaming for entirely different reasons.
It didn’t take long before everyone was staring at the man. He was now right outside the circle, staring at everyone, waiting for the two screamers to quiet down so that he could speak. The room fell silent.
“Okay, everyone, it’s great to meet all of you!” He chuckled loudly and cleared his throat. “So there is this thing called a service profile and I need your help. Got it?”
They all looked at each other with shock and disbelief. “Are you serious?” said one in anger. “Overkill much?” asked another rhetorically. “Isn’t anyone wondering how the heck this even happened?” asked another. The rest stared dumbfounded. They had no idea what a “service profile” even was.
“Okay people,” said the well-dressed man. “Let me untie all of you so that we can start introductions.” He laughed hard this time, holding his belly and bending at the waist. The dog named Spaghetti barked at the circle of people.
The well-dressed man walked around and untied everyone. You would think that they would run and find some way to escape this strange situation. But they were all curious now. Because they knew the well-dressed man. And they knew each other.
By the time the man got to last person, everyone was impatiently waiting for the next phase of this interesting and strange situation.
“Okay!” he boomed clasping his hands together and smiling goofily. “Introductions!” he said with a clap of his hands. “My name, as you already know, is Cadwell. You all know me very well!” He laughed. The circle of people didn’t.
Cadwell had a unique challenge. He had to give all of these people names. If he used their real names it would get really confusing, really quickly. He bobbed his head about and traded glances with all of them. “I am going to call you by your month,” he said with a smile. Cadwell was quite amused with himself. “So, what month are you from?” he said as he pointed to the first person.
“March,” he said with a snare. “Isn’t it obvious?”
Three of the seven still had no clue what was going on. One had a very vague inclination. The other three had put all the pieces together.
“Explain yourself,” said March. “Half of these people have no idea what you are talking about.”
Spaghetti had found a puddle of water in the warehouse and was splashing around in it barking gleefully and wagging his long-golden-retriever tail. Spaghetti is a golden retriever.
“Very well,” said Cadwell. “I took you all from a different month in my service so that you could help with my service profile; it is basically a summary of your experiences and achievements during your KEYS term of service,” he said slowly so that they could take it in. “Come on Cadwells! Don’t you pay attention at member meetings?”
They looked at each other. Of course they had noticed the subtle differences between them. Some had short hair. Others had dreadlocks of different lengths. But they were all essentially the same person.
Two of them had initially thought that Cadwell had somehow got his hands on parallel dimension technology and abducted them from their parallel universes. Another two thought that Cadwell had cloned himself seven times and they had already begun to have existential questions about the nature of identity.
The ones in the know were impressed, shocked and perturbed and thought that this was an unnecessarily excessive way to do something that could have just been a really cute essay. They were all thinking about the various time paradoxes that should make something like this impossible.
“Okay let’s get started,” said Cadwell. “Spaghetti, stop barking.” Spaghetti stopped barking he ran over to Cadwell and sat wagging his tail. “Now, let’s have a roll call. Let’s go around the circle and announce your months. That will be your names during this discussion.”
A Conversation with Eight Months of Cadwell
There were eight Cadwells in all, including the snazzily- dressed-time-traveling-kidnapper Cadwell, and one from each month from October to April. They were all ready for this discussion to get started.
“People,” Cadwell started. “I know you guys are all worried about the potential ramification of knowing the future. Don’t worry. Once you leave this warehouse you won’t remember a thing. Spaghetti here is a brain scrubber.” He paused and petted Spaghetti. He looked at their faces. They were all quiet and wide-eyed trying to understand how a golden retriever was going to scrub their brains.
“So relax,” he continued. “Try to enjoy this moment. It most likely won’t happen again. Take the opportunity to really get to know ourselves and understand our mistakes and triumphs.”
“What is with this guy?” asked November in a soft whisper.
“What a tool,” replied December.
October was smiling.
“So let’s get this started!” said Cadwell ignoring the self-hateful whispers and observing October’s wide grin. “What’s up October? Tell us about your experience so far.”
“I’m good,” said October looking around at the other Cadwells. “Just finished training and it’s my first week at my site. I am way more nervous than I expected to be. The program hasn’t begun yet, so we are just planning for the term. I did get a chance to meet some of the kids at the G-Tech harvest, an event where we picked sunflowers, and they seemed to like me. I am super excited to get started. The waiting is killing me! And I can’t wait to show the youth what I have planned. A documentary, vlogs, blogs, a newsletter, and a literary magazine! They will be so excited!
November cleared his throat loudly. “Yeah right,” he mumbled.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” asked October angrily.
“Nothing,” said November with a chuckle.
“Okay then,” said Cadwell. “Let’s hear what you have to say November.”
“Just wow!” he said with a grunt.
“What’s wrong?” asked Cadwell.
“As if you don’t know!” erupted November. “This month sucked. There I was with my beautiful PowerPoint presentation, all dressed up professionally talking to these kids about video projects and planning events, showing them media videos and talking about how awesome a documentary could be and they have the freedom to do anything with it. They just stared at me. They weren’t excited at all. Except for probably one, they just didn’t even seem interested. Barely anyone chose the media team, and the ones that did, with the exception of two, were basically forced to because there was no room in the other teams! I am so disappointed!
“What? Really?” asked October.
“Oh, well if it isn’t Mr. Optimistic!” jeered November. “If you actually had realistic expectations, maybe this wouldn’t suck so much.”
“It’s not my fault!” yelled October defensively.
“Okay guys! Calm down,” said Cadwell. “So what did you learn from the experience?”
“That I need a different approach,” said November. “Maybe some team building exercises. Maybe give them more freedom? I think that’s what I am going to do.
“Okay,” said Cadwell. “How did that go December?”
“Not bad actually,” said December. “I am learning to not be so negative, focusing only on the bad. This month actually hasn’t been too bad. I’ve been seeing some progress and I think I need to appreciate those moments more. I feel pretty good about next month when we come back from Christmas break.”
Just then December noticed a condescending smile on January’s face. “You poor thing,” said January.
December stared with suspicion.
“It’s not your turn yet January,” said Cadwell sternly.
“You think you can tell me what to do because you’re from the future?” January quipped.
“Okay January,” said Cadwell. “Let’s hear it.”
“Well more freedom doesn’t work!” said January almost to a yell. “And optimism and praising the youth too much only makes you appear weak. The youth aren’t taking the work seriously. They’ve been unwilling to participate in discussions and reluctant to do the work. I gave them an assignment, to do something they were afraid to do and then write about it. I thought this would be an assignment that they could really enjoy. Only one person really did the assignment. I was extremely disappointed.”
Cadwell smiled. He understood very well that January’s current truth was deeply distorted by his frustration. He also understood the expression “this too shall pass” more literally than he ever had before. Mere inches from January was February, and he was well aware that January’s inevitable conclusion would affect his future way more than he realized. He said none of this.
“So what have you learned January?” he decided to ask instead.
“These kids need discipline!” pounded January like a hammer. “I am going to push them, challenge them to work harder!”
A soft sigh escaped from February’s mouth.
“Don’t you think you are being a little harsh?” asked October with his face wrinkled. He didn’t like his future self very much and was wondering how badly could a bunch of kids change him.
“I agree with you January,” said November, in love with his future self. “Show some backbone. Proud of you homie!”
December just continued staring with suspicion at the whole ordeal. He wanted to know what the outcome of all of this was.
“February?” asked Cadwell. “What about you?”’
February just shook his head in disappointment.
“Didn’t work huh?” said Cadwell knowingly.
“Nope,” said February nonchalantly. “Turns out being too strict makes you come off like you have a bad attitude. The youth didn’t like it. It didn’t make them work harder, or seem more interested in the work. It actually just made them more agitated.”
“Told ya’ll!”October boomed.
“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” said November unconvinced.
December smiled suppressing his curiosity just enough to be amused with the interesting exchanges between his various selves.
January was now staring with suspicion.
“So what have you learned February and how do you plan to move forward?” asked Cadwell.
“You know what,” started February, “I honestly don’t know what I will do. I have learned that I need to loosen up a bit. And I’ve learned that being too hard on the youth only makes the environment stressful for everyone. I don’t know what I need to do but I know I need to start looking at myself more.”
“Sounds like a great place to start,” said Cadwell encouragingly. “Let’s see how March is holding up. How is it going March?
“Things are good,” expressed March calmly.
“How has the month been?” asked Cadwell.
“This month has been an eye opener for me,” said March. “What I have learned is that sometimes you just need to let things happen. I’ve been learning to let go of my expectations of the kids and not take things so seriously. What I am finding is that if I give the youth space to grow, to explore their own interests, they do things with more passion. I’ve been letting them do individual projects and it has given them a sense of ownership for the work. It has also helped me to not be over them all the time. What they do is up to them. I just need to be there to help them when they need it. I have also decided to focus more on building relationships with the youth. Finally, right? It seems so obvious now but it didn’t before. I felt like I needed to fill the role of being the boss, of directing and molding them, but I have recently decided that all I need is to be by myself, to allow more of my personality to come out. I’ve been having more fun and the kids are getting more comfortable with the environment.”
“Wow that does make sense!” October bellowed with pride.
“Yeah, I guess it does doesn’t it?” November agreed reluctantly.
December nodded approvingly.
“I still think you need to use discipline more,” said January still staring suspiciously.
“I agree,” said March to January’s surprise. “I’ve decided that I just need to be more consistent and expressive about what I expect. But I don’t need to hold on to expectations so strongly that I can’t enjoy building relationships with the youth. I’ve built some pretty good relationships with them recently and I think that is more valuable than how much they’ve lived up to the expectations that I’ve had for the group.”
“Sounds great March!” Cadwell said enthusiastically, remembering the feeling of the incredible and obvious epiphany. “I wonder how April has handled this new change in you.” Cadwell turned to April. “So, April? What’s the news?”
“The news is good,” said April with a huge smile.
“What have you learned?” Cadwell asked, already knowing, but wanting to give himself the opportunity to hear himself speak about his own revelations.
“I would have to say that I am on the same wavelength as March with this one,” said April. ”I’ve seen so much progress with everyone in the group and it is because they have been allowed to pursue their own things and I have taken a backseat. Me and my plans…I can’t help but chuckle a little at them now.”
“Dude, come on!” said October a little offended. “They were brilliant!”
“Maybe,” said April sympathetically acknowledging the genius of a fellow Cadwell. “But none of those things had to do with creating connection, something far more valuable than how much video projects got finished,” What I’ve seen is that if you focus on the connection the rest follows. I am so proud of what my youth have done this school year. In hindsight they did a great job. We created the largest WATZ UP DOC newsletter ever made! We did three really good video projects. We interviewed about 30 people for the documentary and we put together karaoke, game, and movie nights for the community. In my opinion that’s a job well done.”
“It’s so good to be able to see that even though everything didn’t go according to plan, that I had a fulfilling year and that I learned so much about myself,” said October. “And all it took was a little butt-kicking by some headstrong youths.”
“Agreed,” said February.
“Agreed,” said November.
“Okay, point taken,” said January with a dose of humility.
Spaghetti barked happily.
“Great!” said Cadwell enthusiastically. “I will definitely be able to use your testimonies to write my service profile.” Cadwell took a moment to look at every one of him. He gave them another wide smile. “Okay, before I hand you over to Spaghetti the mind wiping golden retriever, I think we’ve earned a little time with ourselves to talk. Who wants pizza?”
They all raised their hands except for March Cadwell, who wasn’t hungry.
An Epilogue of Sorts
Looking back on my term, I am grateful for a lot of things. I am grateful that I was given challenges that helped me to learn more about myself, my breaking points, my strengths, my weaknesses, my biases. I am grateful that through these challenges I was able to call into question things that I never did before and in doing this I gained new perspectives and ideas that I find extremely valuable.
I’ve learned in a much deeper way, that people are valuable just the way they are, that people can motivate themselves and grow as long as they find a connection with the work they do.
I’ve learned that a community should not only be judged by its failures but its resilience and success. By working on a documentary with my youth, going around and talking to everyone about their community, I’ve learned that Braddock is beautiful because of its resilience, its ability to survive despite experiencing deep struggle over time, that the people here are beautiful and deep because of it.
I’ve learned through KEYS member training various skills that I will carry with me throughout my life. One that I consider extremely valuable is the ability to handle difficult situations through problem solving techniques. Being a good listener is very important, but more important than that is communicating with people in a way that makes them feel understood and respected.
Through working with BYP, I’ve made great friends. I have formed strong friendships with my fellow BYP staff. Through our struggles with finding the confidence to deal with the difficulties inherent in mentoring teenage youth, Alisha–a fellow BYP staff member–and I have become especially close.
What I can take from this whole experience is that no one can be perfect. But it is important to seek opportunities to grow, to develop, and to be better at the work you are doing with people. It is important to value people as they are and find ways to meet them there. But something else that is very important is finding within you the ability to make meaningful connections with the community in which you work and through forming these connections we experience a deeper sense of humanity.
So looking back I am grateful. There is no other way I could be. I feel like I have been blessed with great opportunities that will help me in the future. I am very thankful. I have been very fortunate.
* * * * *
Spaghetti wagged his tail swiftly as he walked towards snazzily-dressed Cadwell. He leaned down and petted the dog hard on his head causing the dog to bark at him.
“Okay Spaghetti,” Cadwell said with a warm smile. “Time to scrub my brain.”