Late one night earlier this week, T's friend confided in him that several years ago, she was sexually assaulted by a relative. His response to her was truly awesome, and so genuine. It gave him a chance to see how much he has to give, having spent some time addressing his own needs this past year. He was calm, humble and forthcoming about his own experience.
In counseling her, he borrowed things that we have said to him (including "I'm sorry that happened to you" and "That was not your fault - you were a child, and you deserved to be protected by adults"), offering them to her. It felt good to know that those simple words, which feel so inadequate when you're hurting so much for your injured child, must have helped him. He also offered her wisdom of his own, beyond compare, from the deep reserve that is a natural part of his character.
Perhaps the most difficult part of her story is that her father beat her when he found out she had been raped. Apparently she was just eight at the time. T just listened, and then offered that perhaps her father didn't want to think or know she had been hurt so badly, and so reacted in anger and confusion, but that didn't mean that what happened was her fault. He told her that she is beautiful and complete. And then he offered the loveliest thing: he told her that he will always respect her and listen to her, no matter what else happens in their friendship, and that she can talk to him about it anytime. He told her that as he had begun talking about his own experience, he felt better with time - and he said that as he recovered, he had been to see "how people really are" and "I stopped hating myself."
All of this was done in such a gentle way. He has an extraordinary natural ability to turn the extreme suffering and loss he's experienced into deep compassion and an ability to hear and nurture other people. He wanted to talk about it with me right away - I think he was a little surprised how much he had to offer. There is something I can't capture in words about his gift in this regard. He not only listens and offers soothing words - he has a supernatural ability to project and extend an atmosphere of calm that is like the antidote to trauma. I picture him like a superhero in this way, able to detect suffering in others and cast out an invisible net of safety that catches and transforms pain into wisdom. When he was a little superhero, I think that he was still so riled up by trauma himself that he couldn't understand his gift. Now, sober and awake to the world, he sees what he's able to do and he's in command of his abilities. It was clear watching him this week that her confiding in him gave him the chance to share his signature gift with someone he loves, and that in turn contributed to his well-being too.
I am often struck that kids who have suffered like they have need just one compassionate person to receive their story in the right way for a great deal of healing to happen. It is a beautiful thing that he can be that person and I sometimes feel like I am very privileged to be parenting someone who is incubating such an extraordinary gift.