Experience – it’s what makes us who we are
By Kasia Heurth, former Youth Frontiers retreat participant
The lights go out, the darkness giving room to the dim candlelight. Around the candle sits a circle of high school seniors. The silence is broken by shuffling followed by more silence and more shuffling. I can recall the warm candlelight casting highlights on the faces of my fellow classmates. I remember the silence that would welcome a classmate to the middle and share their four-year journey.
A voice asks, “Anyone else?”
As human beings, we have moments when we find ourselves in a conflicting place. It’s a place that gives us pause coupled with a sense of excitement. We carry these moments with us. These moments are often our “why’s” – the catalysts pushing us toward a certain life trajectory. I like to call those moments our “exhale moments.” My name is Kasia and I vividly recall this moment from 2006 during my Youth Frontiers Wisdom Retreat.
My Exhale Moment
I wouldn’t describe my teenage experience as unique, but it was a trying time. In 2003, my family made the move from Oregon to Minnesota. Moving is never easy; as a teenager, it’s devastating. At the age of 14, I lost my circle of friends, the world I knew and ultimately who I was. From that point forward, life was a seemingly impossible climb. The first few weeks at school were emotionally and mentally challenging.
Eventually, the friendships came. I also found positive adult relationships with a few teachers who, ironically enough, were first-year teachers. From my sophomore to junior year, I found other parts of me in the rigors of football and discipline of Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (JROTC). As a senior, I became a Link Leader and it was my turn to welcome others to school. All these experiences were like taking one big breath, taking in as much as possible, never having a moment to exhale.
So often, we’re so busy “doing,” but the opportunity to reflect during the Wisdom Retreat allowed me to just “be” – to speak myself and my experience into existence. I exhaled. For the first time, I shared with my classmates the challenges of moving to a different state, the trails of loneliness and the resiliency it took to get through it. I shared my hardships, but more importantly who I became because of my experience.
Making Space for Reflection
As people, we often seek to affirm our existence by bouncing off the opinions of others. I believe young people have so much to offer, so many stories to tell. But, in my work with young people, I’ve often found that intentional spaces to reflect and breathe are often few and far in between. When a young person’s voice has the space to come forth, it affirms the strengths of that individual while simultaneously allowing them to exist in the physical world – to be. It allows them to actively participate in the world. In this, they come to understand themselves, confront uncertainties and learn how their existences and experiences connect to the world. These spaces to breathe, reflect and speak not only benefit young people, but they also affirm to us – youth workers, teachers, social workers, other professionals – our own existences. In the absence of these spaces and opportunities, voices remain silent and we continue to do and not be.
These moments, however, don’t have to wait for a Wisdom Retreat. Opportunities for an “exhale moment” show up every day in our exchanges with family, students, coworkers and friends. Sometimes they require us to be comfortable with the silence. Other times, we just need to say, “Hello,” “How are you?” or “Tell me about that.” Imagine what you could experience next.
Kasia is a youth worker, facilitator, proud Eastside Saint Pauler and an avid Packers fan.