Several years ago, while rather desperately searching “outside-the-box” for a way to crack through the ever-hardening shell that this insidious disease was intent on constructing around the most sensitive and beautiful soul I have ever known, I had an idea. Actually, I stumbled on the idea while watching an episode of “Intervention” – a voyeuristic reality T.V. show that quite literally allows viewers to be a fly on the wall as loved ones gather in living rooms around the country and try to convince a friend or relative to seek help for various problems. As I watched the drama unfold, I wondered why it took such an obvious crisis to bring all these people together in one room and begin bearing their souls to the “broken one” seated in the middle of the room. More importantly, I wondered how different and “unbroken” that individual’s life might have been had their so-called loved ones (likely “broken’ in their own, albeit more subtle ways) not waited so long to make their heartfelt affection and concern known. And then it occurred to me: If intervention by loved ones can be so instrumental in convincing someone to enter treatment, why can’t the same underlying principles be used to help expedite the treatment process or, better yet, to avoid a crisis before it is allowed to take root?
And with that, what I dubbed the “Circles of Affirmation” were born. The Circles were to be comprised of people who had played an important role in Ashley’s life and in whose lives Ashley had played an equally important part. Each member of the Circle would be asked to speak to Ashley – not to express sympathy or to comment on her illness – but rather to talk about “Ashley,” about their love for her, about the qualities that, in their minds, make her unique, about the good times they shared with her, and, ultimately, about their desire, indeed their need, for her to live. To me, it was important that my wife and I not participate in the Circles. By then, Ashley already knew the way we felt and, in any event, the Circles were not about us. Instead, they had everything to do with the spirit, courage, compassion, and creativity that have always defined Ashley – characteristics that her illness was slowly, but methodically, burying deep beneath a pile of lies and hurtful distortions. The goal was simple: I was hopeful that the Circles would make it clear to Ashley (in ways that my words could never adequately convey) that she already had touched the lives of innumerable people, all of whom loved her unconditionally, for who she is and the difference she had made in their lives – and that there would be many more lives to touch in the future.
Some of the people we reached out to included: longtime family friends, her dance and music directors from high school, the Executive Producer of Ashley’s first motion picture, Ashley’s childhood best friends, several other then-current and former close friends, Ashley’s voice and horseback riding instructors, lower, middle and high school teachers, and relatives on both sides of the family – just to name a few. Importantly, the people we reached out to also were people who Ashley loved and respected a great deal and whose motives, voices and expressions of heartfelt love and concern she had no basis for questioning. Simply put, they didn’t have a dog in the fight – just raw emotion delivered straight from the heart. Not surprisingly, everyone we approached was very eager to participate. Regrettably, the idea came too late to be implemented in Ashley’s care. However, a number of experts in the field who I shared the idea with at the time were very enthusiastic about it and believed it had the potential to contribute in a positive way to the existing treatment protocol. For my part, the more I’ve thought about it, the more convinced I’ve become that, by serving as an instrument of instilling the “opposite voice” I posted about yesterday, the “Circles” have great potential to impact lives outside the arena of the sick, which is why I thought I’d share it today.
The beauty of the concept is that, unlike its carefully-scripted intervention counterpart, the Circles don’t really require much in the way of advanced planning. They can be mostly spontaneous, like a mini flash mob, and they’re quite portable. Consequently, they can happen anywhere and on a moment’s notice. All that’s required is a small group of people willing to share their hearts for the purpose of affirming and showering another with love and support. It can happen around the family dinner table, on a “girls night” out, around a bucket of beer at a bar watching Monday Night Football (stretching it a bit, I know, but the truth is the concept doesn’t discriminate based on gender – a little bro-love can go a long way), in a school cafeteria over lunch, at a church prayer group or bible study, a book club – the possibilities are endless. Heck, it could ever happen in a boardroom at a meeting of corporate executives or at a law firm partnership meeting (okay, now I am dreaming!). And the “it” could profoundly change the life of the “object” of the Circles as well as the members of the mob. Sound a bit radical? Sure it is. But, if you haven’t realized it by now, here’s a news flash: The way we have been doing things isn’t working very well. So why not try something new.
The next time you get together with friends pick someone in the group and allow your heart to blurt something out about all of the things you admire or find wonderful about that person – and then encourage others in the group to do the same, if they don’t catch on and join in without your urging. It could make for a very interesting and life-changing evening.