As I’ve written before, I am beyond blessed to be able to act as a counselor for one week of the summer at a life-changing camp called RYLA (Rotary Youth Leadership Awards). This experience is one of the best things that has ever happened to me – from the time I attended myself as a camper at age 17 to the years I’ve been back to first speak about The Smile Project and then to lead a group of my own.
The first time my circle of students sat down, I put everyone in a group chat as an easy way to communicate throughout the week should anyone need anything. Even though RYLA took place in early June, my group chat has been giving me notifications every day since – a testament to the bond these amazing young people formed in one short week.
The other day, I asked them all when their first day of their senior year of high school was. As I noted their responses on my calendar, I realized I was getting more than just dates. Someone had brought up something they were worried about for their senior year. Then another chimed in. And another.
I chimed back in: What is everyone the most nervous about?
Then I walked away to make dinner, leaving my phone charging in the other room. When I eventually came back to approximately 1,600 messages, I saw something remarkable. One by one they had all talked about things they were nervous for or worried about. And then one by one, they all began to comfort each other. They shared concerns and fears and also empowerment and reinforcement. Where one person was afraid, seven others had their back.
I thought about the countless group messages I’m a part of: friends from high school, friends from college, roommates in NYC. How often do we catch up on things beyond: “what is everyone up to?”
It’s easy to share and ask for fun and exciting life updates – everybody likes sharing victories. And they should. Celebrating the successes of both ourselves and our loved ones is a beautiful thing. Beyond that though, there’s something beautiful about going the other direction as well. There’s something amazing about asking, “what’s something you’ve been struggling with lately?”
It reminds me of a thing my friend regularly asks: “Is there any way I can pray for you?” Whether you are religious or not, the statement is wholly beautiful. Here my friend is, proclaiming that she wants to take the thing she believes in most in the world and share a part of it with me. She wants to take this divine gift that she cherishes with everything in her, and open a part of it to me. Even if you aren’t religious, you cannot deny that that is an act of love.
Today, ask your friends how they are doing – not in a sense of small talk or happy life updates that you could have read from their Facebook status, but ask how they are really doing. What is the biggest struggle they’ve had to overcome lately? How are they dealing with doubt in their lives? What are they nervous about? What’s kept them up at night in the past week?
Let’s widen the scope of our relationships and allow ourselves to reconnect on deep and personal levels. Let’s give ourselves an opportunity to realize just how “not alone” we are.