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being in practice

Chasing Chloe

As Iím walking through the park beside our Group Home, I see Chloe sitting on a swing, moving ever slowly back and forth, staring off in to space. She does that a lot. Sheís been with us for three months now and Iím sure she has spent more time in a daze than in any interactions with staff or the other youth. I take a slight detour and drop myself down onto the swing beside her, thinking this is a good time to make a little connection, catch the rhythm, join together in the slow swaying movement of a wandering swing.

"Hey," I say. She doesnít look at me but I see those sad, flat sixteen year old eyes roll up in to her head and without so much as simple sigh, she stops her swing, gets off and moves to the picnic bench thirty feet away, off to the right, in my sight but not in a direct line. She sits there sidewise, looking off in to space again. Sighing myself, I start to stop my swing, getting ready to follow her over to the bench.

Then I stop myself, and let the swing continue its drifting motion, my feet dragging in the sand beneath it. I donít look at her. I look at me instead. I stare at the ground beneath my feet, my thoughts turned inwards.

Sitting there, I reflect on how weíve been doing this dance since the day she first walked through the door. We try to connect, she wanders away ó never angry, never actively rejecting, just apparently not interested. And then we chase after her. We have been chasing around after her like we were attached by a string ever since she arrived. Trying to connect. Trying to establish a working relationship. Trying to engage with her. And she doesnít seem to want anything to do with it.

Usually, as soon as anyone makes any gesture which could be interpreted as trying to connect, she rolls her eyes and leaves the scene. At mealtimes, as we all gather around the table, she walks in, selects a plateful of food without comment, and then retreats to her room. It seems to me that weíve tried everything: following her around (Chloe, wait up.), threatening consequences (eat at the table or donít eat!), creating Ďtopics of interestí for conversations (Hey, wanna talk about this?), doing activities in front of her (does this interest you?), approaching her directly, indirectly, casually, secretly, slowly, quickly ó pick an adjective and weíve tried it that way. But nothing has worked. None of the team has been able to connect with her.

Thoughts run through my head: if itís not working, why do we keep doing it? if itís not working, do something else; whoís needs are being met here anyway? what does she get out of this behaviour? Well, I leave you to imagine the other thoughts. A lot of them were about us, the team, me, our own need to connect with this girl who has so successfully avoided all our efforts.

I donít look at her directly but out of the corner of my eye I think I see her watching me out of the corner of hers. We both have our heads down. Sheís staring off in to space and I am staring at the ground. She seems absolutely still. I stop my swing so I am not moving at all and realize that in being this distant, sitting here this far away, I feel more connected with her than I have felt through all my chasing after her.

Is it possible that in this moment of still silence, touched by the same autumn breeze, listening to the same birds, sharing the same corner of the park, staring into our own personal space, I am with her in her world? The thought shakes me because it seems contrary to everything I think I have been taught about engagement, activities, doing with, connecting. But then I wonder if it is and a different thought arises, "does Ďbeing thereí demand physical closeness?" Can I be with someone, be connected with them, even though we are 30 feet apart? Why do I think we need to be close to be close?

In a quick Ė did-it-really-happen ó moment, she turns her head to look at me and then snaps it back. ĎShe knows Iím here,í I think. She is in her own world and she is aware of me at the same time. I hadnít thought of that before.

Have we been so focused on connecting with her that we have missed the fact that we are connected? So focused on gaining closeness that we havenít noticed we are creating distance? Missed the fact that there is a rhythm of closeness and distance playing itself out here? Not noticed how when she goes away it draws us to her.

Iím confused. Iím bending over now with my head in my hands ó itís so full it feels heavy. I am so deep in to my own wondering that I forget where I am. As I come back, I wonder what goes on in her head when she is staring off in to space. Does she go away from us to be with herself, like I am doing right now?

Too many questions. Enough thinking. Itís time to act. I take a deep breath, draw up my courage, prepare for the risk.

I get up from the swing and start walking towards her. I know I have only the briefest of moments before she gets up and leaves again. So I start talking as soon as I know she can hear me. Letting her know I am not wanting to connect.

"Donít go," I say. "Iím not stopping, just passing by. All this time that weíve have been chasing after you, I didnít realize we were chasing you away. Instead of chasing you we should have been following you. To be close we should have stayed away. Iím sorry. Iíll leave you alone now."

I walk on by, not looking at her. I head to work full of new thoughts. Who knows if it will make any difference? But something is different and I feel hopeful again.