|Image from LA Times.|
For the last seven months, I've volunteered at a program for at-risk youth and former gang members. This program provides free resources, like therapy, anger management classes, parenting classes, substance abuse treatment, GED classes, tutoring, and job training.
Compared with the staff members and other volunteers, I have a really minor role: I interview trainees and write down their transformation stories for the program's website.
This week, I met a new staff member who asked me what I do when I'm not volunteering. I told him that I write romance novels. Then he said something that made me think: "That's perfect for this work. These stories--they're all romances."
What a profound idea: that the people I've spoken to--individuals in recovery from severe trauma, gang violence, neglect, substance abuse, incarceration, poverty--are in the process of writing their own life stories. And what genre are those stories? Not horror, not mystery, not even drama. They're romances.
The elements of a love story tend to be simple. Two people meet each other, overcome adversities, and wind up together sharing a happy ending. They each prove to be what the other person was missing. They each prove to be the other's agent of change.
I don't want to oversimplify anyone's story. But after experiencing the kinds of traumas my interviewees talk to me about, a person often emerges fractured, pulled in different directions by addiction, misplaced loyalties, anger, sadness, a desire for vengeance, or sometimes, resignation.
In my time as a volunteer, I've learned that with the right kind of support and unconditional acceptance, fractured people can put themselves together, repairing the break and reconciling the two halves of who they are. It is possible.
This is the essence of a romance. In these stories, the happy ending comes when people finally fall in love with themselves. With time, they discover the person they were looking for was by their side all along.