You know what I hate about teenagers? Their honesty.

You know what I love about teenagers? Their honesty.


It’s like they haven’t learned to filter their emotions to please us, yet. Either that, or their feelings are too big to try to contain and manage.


On top of being teenagers, these were the walking wounded. I entered the room and I could just feel it. A cloud; a heaviness. Hurt. Anger. But there was also excitement and a good kind of nervous energy.


As we began, my heart sank as I heard stories of loneliness, alienation, and betrayal. They’ve been let down over and over. They have no reason to trust anyone or anything; but there they were, laying their hearts in the middle of the circle and staring at us and at each other defiantly… expectantly…what were we going to do? Would we laugh? Turn away? Say something meaningless? Or would we come through for them?


I could tell you their stories and say, “See, your life is not so bad in comparison.” I could state the percentages of their homelessness, lack of parents, drug exposure. I could tell you how all of them struggle with poverty and finding meals and how low the odds are that they will all graduate high school. I could try to make you feel really guilty about how little your problems actually are compared to the rest of the world.


But that wasn’t what I learned today. I learned a whole lot about honesty. For some reason, these kids who have no reason to open up decided to try one more time. At the risk of being let down, they let go and got real. They worked and pieced together a little quilt of a family. It had leaders and nurturers; disciplinarians and peacemakers. They looked to us, the adults, for encouragement; but they realized that they’ve got what it takes to be whole. It was right inside of them.


I wonder what holds me back from this kind of earth shattering honesty? I think that too often, I count the costs of what I have to lose and decide to lie to myself and everyone else about how I’m feeling.


These kids? They’ve already lost it. They don’t have anything more to lose. And once you put them on a horse, the floodgates open and they figure out quickly that it’s trust or failure.

Being real or failure.

Cooperation or failure.

Teamwork or failure.

Mindfulness or failure.

And given the chance, they choose right, every time.  Because they trust the horse, the horse trusts them. Because they open up to each other, others open up to them. Their lives have forced them to be like a prey animal: hyper-vigilant and aware of danger. So they understand the horses and have empathy and it washes all over their hearts and faces in a visible way.


I observed and helped and cried many times. It wasn’t because I felt sorry for them, but because they challenged me to be real about how I was feeling. I was honest. And they looked at me, right in the eyes, and didn’t look away. They didn’t try to make me feel better, but they didn’t disregard it, either. I couldn’t pretend or fake it – their survival depends on reading the emotions of the adults in their lives. I would have lost a connection had I been dishonest. I was gut-checked by a bunch of 13 year-olds.


With only our eyes and our hearts, we recognized each others’ honesty, and walked away a little more real than we were before.