In the past two days, I've done two of the most important shows of my life. But here's the thing: they weren't college shows. They weren't corporate gigs. It wasn't a show that would be on television or would be on YouTube in hopes of going viral. They won't propel my career in any way. In fact, I didn't even get paid. And yet, in my entire career, it turned out to be the most significant.
I performed at a prison and at a rehab center.
A week ago I was making jokes with my agent that this must be Asia Pro Bono week. At the time, I haven't yet grasped the scope of what I was about to take on. I have never performed at a prison or a rehab center before.
In fact, I was apprehensive. All I kept wondering was how could I- a person who has never been in prison or have had any addictions- relate to these people? I felt like I would just be coming in there and they would look at me and say, "What would you know about what we're going through?"
I almost cancelled because of this.
When I spoke to Jess and asked if I should still go, I made it clear they aren't paid. I asked if it's worth it for me to spend the money to fly down knowing there's no money to be made here. I asked if I'm more needed at home to help take care of Aris. But my wife, she's amazing. She said go. She said I may never know who would need me and what I'm being called to do.
We always preach that when God moves, we should just be obedient and follow. But most times I doubt Him. Most times I choose not to go because of the discomfort it will bring me. If it's outside of my comfort zone, well- let's leave that to the others who are bolder.
And discomfort it was.
As I stood there outside of the prison looking at the barbed wire and fences, the way in which you have to wait for doors to unlock, the fear for your own safety, the look in the inmates eyes as you walked into that room...let's just say I did everything I could to hide my overwhelming nervousness.
Today at the rehab, there was discomfort too. I stood on that stage looking out at the audience, wondering what they're thinking. Wondering if I'm fit to talk to those who are in need of help and going through things I could never fathom.
But like I said, when God moves, you follow.
For the first time in my life, I felt like my poetry meant something. Sure, people tell me that but it's easy to get applause when people come out to see you perform. It's easy to be admired when you're on stage throwing it down in front of an audience who chose to be there. It's easy to feel like a superstar when there are posters and flyers and marquees with your name on it or when you're flying first class to a college gig. It's easy to have your ego get blown up when your videos are getting a shitload of views.
But this time, my poetry was being used for healing. This time I was in front of the people that I knew for a fact really needed to be reached. Sure, our poetry reaches all audiences even those at open mics, but this is the first time you just KNOW that your audience are those who are not in the best of situations. It was an even heavier load knowing that when I walked out of that "venue", they would still be there, every day, for who knows how long.
My words felt different this time. Before, I would perform and I know it's for show. In fact, before I stepped into these facilities, I kept thinking I was a fraud...I kept asking if I'm just exploiting my pains by turning it into poetry so I can get paid gigs. But as I started to perform, it started to remind me of the place where those words came from. It reminded me why I wrote them and why they were important in the first place. It reminded me of my own vulnerability. Of my own demons and my own ugliness.
I have never felt this "gift" be used this way before- at least, not in my vicinity. Not in a way that is blatantly right there in front of me.
And the outpouring of love back was so tremendous and so vital that it transcended ego and superstardom. It was a humbling love. A needed love. A love-others-as-you-love-yourself love.
I can't quite grasp yet what this did to me but I know that I am a changed person now because of it. Ironic- cuz I thought I was the one going in there to change them. For this I am so grateful. I hope I was able to give back a fraction of that. I hope that my poetry did give some needed healing and hope.
I hope God smiled.
Because He moved. And I, as unworthy as I am, just did my best to keep up.