Tuesday, July 06, 2004

Voice from the past ... .

Answered the telephone to the unfamiliar woman's voice on Saturday last. She announced herself hesitantly as "Emily Fox," and -- despite the 30 years between -- instantly came the image of a little 15-year old brunette -- wise beyond her years but still very much the girl child. Here was one of the teens who were participants in Project Community, Bill's research project at the university. How in the world had she found me, and what kind of bonding could there have been that would have brought her back into my life at this point? One can only guess. After all, I was just one of the many grownups who sat behind a desk and interacted informally with the kids from time to time. Can't recall that I actually participated as a leader in any of Emily's groups, yet here she was, out of the blue from across the years!

"I've been living in Boston for many years, working at one thing or another, but still return home to visit my aging parents from time to time. Could we meet for lunch while I'm here?"

"Yes!" And in answering I could instantly visualize her sitting in a group of 8-10 adolescents, deep in soul searching up on the second floor of that lovely old frat house on the edge of campus. I could close my eyes and bring back the intimate conversations I was privileged to view as a part of my work in the project. All sessions were videotaped, and I was in charge of culling specific information, trends, etc., from the hours and hours of tapes the project produced over its 5-year run. I LOVED (subject) Emily! She was so articulate and wise and so loving. But I only knew her as a subject on the videotapes. Of all the kids that I'd come to know in this somewhat distant way, she was probably the most clearly etched. And there was Jeff Raz, the dark-haired Adonis of a boy, Middle Eastern in appearance, who literally went off to join the circus. These two are still easily called up from memory. I've seen his name on many a playbill, including that of the Pickle Family Circus (precursor of Cirque de Soleil) and the renowned San Francisco Mime Troupe. Have always imagined Jeff as the strongman at the bottom of the pyramid holding up the rest. I've never seen him in performance, but have occasionally caught sight of him on the streets of Berkeley, brawny and bold and as handsome as could be.

We arranged to meet this very day in Berkeley. It wasn't until I was driving up Solano Avenue that the thought occurred to me that I had no idea what my young friend would look like after thirty years. Neither of us had thought to ask for signs of identity. Yet, as I pulled up in front of Walker's Pie Shop, there was grownup Emily -- after 30 years -- and a lifetime of changing, and immediately we both grinned. She had also wondered about changes I would have surely made in all that time. We needn't have worried. It was all so natural. The major change was that we met as peers this time.

We exchanged stories of where our lives had taken us. I was a little taken aback by the fact that we had really not met before, officially. Our lives at the Project were anything but similar. I was involved with the work of being one of the adult leaders (in the front office most of the time), and she -- a little girl subject of an important experiment. Later, when I was working as a co-leader in the school's programs, she was no longer involved. She was one of the participants at the Berkeley House while my work was eventually based at school sites in the Napa Valley and Mt. Diablo Unified School Districts.

"Project Community changed my life," says she.
"Where are the research results?"
"Have there been followup studies?"
"I've been home many times, but have never been able to interest anyone in re-uniting."

What a lovely lunch! I so enjoyed re-visiting that part of my life again after so many years, and having the feeling that Emily is proof enough that those years were well-spent. I, too, wondered about the fate of those studies, and just where that vital work had ended up. But I do know that I saw remnants of our work picked up and emulated in other drug prevention programs throughout the area. I still find bits and pieces bleeding through brochures and in the pages of scientific journals.

Project Community was the first truly innovative work of its kind, and seeing Emily today served as a reminder that there is still stored up in me training and practical experience of working with teens in growth-producing ways.

Emily Fox and Seneca Family Programs move into my life at a time when I'm getting ready to meet with Ken Berrick about new possibilities. They're coming together almost simultaneously has just a hint of that serendipitous quality that follows me through life, doesn't it? Like coming onto the Bay Bridge and moving seamlessly into someone's movie script ... .

Do these things happen to everyone? I find myself wondering ... .

Do I simply connect the dots differently?

Tomorrow Emily flies to Southern California to continue her coastal visit with family there, and then a return to Boston where she will go on with the many interesting bits and pieces of the life she's fashioning for herself. Hope she enjoyed our visit as much as I did.

Can't escape the feeling that today's lunch will inform the interview with Ken on Wednesday, July 14th.

See what I mean?

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