What if?

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I was in a Circle recently. The conversation was about brokenness. A question was posed: “Can you recall an incident in which a restorative response might have changed your life?”

The talking piece was passed. Heartbreak followed, one after the other. A man, who had spent nearly a decade behind bars, took the stick. He cradled it, clutched it, and then he began. He spoke of his middle class upbringing, his family support, his love for basketball. This strapping young man, all of 6’5”, talked about his dream to play in the NBA and his prowess as a high school player that made it a real possibility. As a junior he began to get looks, serious ones. Colleges wanted him. Colleges with good programs and histories of success. He worked hard over the summer leading to his senior year. He played his best basketball early in his last season. The accolades and the offers came in. And then he tore his ACL. It was interesting what happened next. What he said next, in our Circle. His first words, following his description of the injury were “and my father and I had an argument.” He left it at that except to say that he fled the house in anger and never returned.

His basketball career over, he moved to another school district where he finished his senior year and took whatever jobs he could get. Before the injury, and before the argument, he had never used alcohol, marijuana, or any other substance that might harm his body. That changed. Old friends were left behind. New acquaintances were made. He frequented the bars and freely used the drugs that he had considered poison less than a year before.

Two years into his new life he had an altercation at a favorite drinking hole. It left a bad taste. A couple of weeks later he was sitting on the front stoop of his apartment building. Three men approached. He recognized one of them from the recent altercation. The three confronted him. They took him to the ground. He was in a bad way. At the time he knew of no other response but to pull out a hand gun that he had a permit to carry. The resulting injury was devastating for the young man and for the victim.

He spoke of that moment as if it was yesterday. He spoke of what if. “What if someone could have helped me and my dad have that talk? What if someone had helped us listen to each other? What if my anger had given way to understanding? What if I hadn’t run from my home? I don’t think I would be here today.”