October 5, 2013

Working with families a balancing act


---- — I stand at the entrance, tentative and unsure. I have never been here before, and I make no sudden moves. I do not know the terrain, and I barely know the language. The color of their history and the texture of their sorrow is foreign to me. I will step carefully, trying not to crush what is still whole, what works. I am here to sort through the wreckage, to retrieve the broken pieces and form them into a new and different landscape.

Everywhere I look, eyes are peering out at me. Hostile eyes, wounded eyes, eyes with the tiniest flicker of hope. Each pair silently reproaches with the same questions: “Will you tear down what we have worked so hard to gather? Will you be the help, or the final blow that destroys us?” I have no answer.

I will move hesitantly among the bodies. I will assess the fallout — clear and open wounds displayed with pride; secret, private wounds guarded with fearful care. The clutter must be cleared, the air cleansed so that I might view the remains, what needs tending. I must proceed with utmost delicacy so that I do no harm. I do not know if I can do this.

Reluctant and curious, they will let me in. For the moment, they still have a choice. I will see that some view me as better, and some think that I think that I am better. And some will sense the truth: that I am merely a broken representative from mankind, weighted with my own past and my own missteps.

A few will reject my words before they are even uttered. A few crave my words and pray that healing might be found somewhere in the message. They have done this before; I am not the first. Their lives bear scars from those who went before me. I will have to be so cautious.

I will ask my questions and inwardly catalog the damage, hoping beyond hope that I have enough to give and that I will not give up, but knowing that that is rarely the case.

This is my temporary home. I will taste it and breathe it for a time. If I am blessed (and cursed), I will share their view. I will live here — my life on hold, and my heart held hostage — an ambassador from some phantom other side. I will offer my hand and my soul, and I will pray that when all is reckoned, the footprints I leave will be a gentle press and not a fierce slash. But, I know this: Like the link between a butterfly’s flutter and a hurricane, I cannot enter a family without leaving a mark. I cannot enter without being revealed, without being altered, myself.

And, so it goes. I am at the threshold of a child’s life, a family’s life. If I am to truly help, I must venture in. I hold up my hands in surrender and say, “I come in peace.”

Mary White is from the Malone area. She and her husband have five children, eight cats, two dogs and three guinea pigs. She has had the privilege of working with children and families (her own and other people’s) for more than 20 years. She has published her first novel, “Getting Home,” and it is available at For more of her columns, visit