I’m immersed in a really good book right now: The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt. I’m at a particular part of the story that has given me pause to think about some of the really smart, talented teenage boys I’ve known over the years, who in spite of (because of?) their many gifts, managed to work their way into some very precarious situations.
I knew a couple guys like this in high school and in college. Bright, charming, personable, resourceful, sensitive, kind and… capable of making some really bad choices. My own son, Max, was one of these young men. (I’ll save his scary tale for another day; let’s just say it involved fast cars. Let’s also say, for the record, the bad choices are way in the past.)
My dear friend Nicky, who I first met at St. Mary Kevin Orphanage Motherhood in 2006, is the teenage boy who currently thrills and frustrates me. Nicky has more charisma, artistic talent, resourcefulness and smarts than you can shake a stick at. What’s especially striking about this young man is that he possesses all these traits despite the fact that - like the protagonist in The Goldfinch – he had the very bad luck of losing both his parents at a young age. Nicky has had to find his way by relying on his extended family, his friends, some luck and his wits. (I might add that there are some amazing genes at work here, because both of Nicky’s sisters are incredibly special, too.)
Nicky was one of our first Change the Truth sponsored students. I remember walking with him along a red dirt path one day when he was still in Primary school; he told me he was at the top of his class and that he wanted to be a doctor. He had already slayed me with his drawing and musical abilities. This kid was golden; he would be a perfect sponsored student.
It wasn’t long before Nicky began to sabotage his academic success. His music and artwork continued to improve and impress us all; his grades, however, began to slip. No longer did Nicky talk about becoming a doctor. Instead, he wanted to be a rock star. He got a nickname at SMK: Nicky Bieber. Rarely could he be found without the recently donated blue guitar in hand. He started learning chords and writing songs. He developed some dance moves that would have made Michael Jackson, one of his idols, very proud. Eventually, his pursuit of “stardom” got in the way of history, math and science, and he found himself on CTT probation. When he finally chose to start skipping class and elaborately creating covers to make us think he was in school, trust was lost. It was a sad day when we had to tell him his CTT sponsorship had come to an end.
To his credit – and this is what makes a young man like Nicky a survivor – he has found ways to keep moving forward. Though CTT no longer pays his school fees, SMK administration has shown its belief in him by scraping together some funds to help him continue his education. He makes a little money here and there selling his artwork. He works hard at his music, he continues to try to meet the right people, he flashes his broad smile and he dreams really big. Though he sometimes suffers from terrifying flashbacks surrounding the deaths of his parents and is often haunted by his past, Nicky, like Theo in The Goldfinch, finds a way to put one foot in front of the next, day after day after day. In spite of the odds against him, he finds a way to keep his dreams alive. I just hope, at some point, CTT can figure out a way to help make those dreams come true.