Dani Glass continues her describing her beautiful UP story, this time talking about the simple power of simple truth.
Today during staff training, four second year CITs sat in front of a group of 100 of their peers and mentors and answered questions about their experiences in Ultimate Peace. We do this every year, so that staff members who are not from the region can gain an understanding of what Ultimate Peace is like for those who live here and have participated as campers. They talk about how they first became involved, what their first perceptions were, how their viewpoints shifted, the friends they’ve made, how their friends and families back home have reacted to their involvement, and the various challenges they’ve faced in their participation. It’s helpful and inspiring for all of us, no matter how many years we’ve been here.
There was one moment tonight when I thought my heart stopped. Someone in the audience (a staff member) asked the CITs about the friends from different backgrounds they had made through Ultimate Peace. Jalal, a young man with whom I am fortunate to have become close, took the microphone and said, “I have not made any friends here.” My heart nearly stopped – this wasn’t the Jalal I knew. The Jalal I knew was loving, kind, inclusive, and positive. What was he saying? In a fraction of a second, though, he continued, “I have brothers and sisters,” before handing the mic back.
It was a simple moment and a simple statement, but one of the most powerful I have heard. It was insistent, but calmly so. It was direct and forceful but in the most peaceful way possible. Anyone who thought that that group was made up simply of friends was irrevocably mistaken. He and the people he was talking about were connected in the closest way possible.
I had the amazing opportunity to coach the MashUP boys on their annual tour to the U.S. a few months ago. They played in a tournament in Atlanta and I have been thankful every day since then that I was a part of those few days. The moment onstage with Jalal took me back to our huddle after our last game at the tournament last April. Except for the stage and the hard auditorium seats, I was back there; in my mind I was seeing Jalal, one of the captains, with his arms around his teammates as we all stood in a circle as one. We had lost the game: a close, hard-fought, high-spirited one. Jalal, in his closing words to his team, said, “I look around the circle and I don’t see my teammates. I see my brothers. You are my brother, and you, and you,” he said, pointing around the circle. “You are my sister,” he continued, pointing at myself or our other female coach, Erin. I don’t remember the rest of his speech but I remember the sentiment and I’ll remember it forever.
And then, I was back in the auditorium, the tears once again filling my eyes as I looked upon the brilliant souls onstage and thought about the love in each of their hearts. I constantly forget that these teenagers have grown up in a war zone, have grown up without any contact with each other and yet there they stand, united, as brothers and sisters. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. And something I’ll – we’ll all – work as long and as hard as it takes to continue seeing it.