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Posts Tagged ‘tragedy’

In the past decade, bullying has become a hot topic. Maybe our interest started with Columbine. Before that tragedy, kids being bullied were good for a humorous scene in a sit-com. Suddenly, meanness had consequences. Even as awareness has grown, it took a rash of suicides and high-profile cases to compel schools, parents and child advocates to take bullying seriously. A couple of days ago I was browsing news online and found this story:

http://tinyurl.com/3sbd89u

Now even after death, they can hire a lawyer and get to you. On the internet. Great.

I was bullied as a child, throughout my school career. It started early, but as I hit puberty early and my weight went up, I became a common target. I remember being called names. Always the last picked for teams. One particularly memorable day in the sixth grade someone took my street clothes from my locker during PE and stuffed them down a dirty toilet. I had to wear my gym shorts the rest of the day, and carry my filthy clothing home on the bus in a garbage bag. The only physical damage I recall suffering was landing on my head while doing a high jump when a classmate pulled the mat out from under me. I knocked myself unconscious and went into convulsions, then stopped breathing. After the PE teacher gave me mouth to mouth, I was told to “walk it off” and sent to check in with the nurse, who sent me back to class.

Fast-forward a couple of years, and I spent the summer after 9th grade working out and dieting myself down to a healthier weight. I was still never a waif-like teenager, I could squeeze into a size 10 on a good day, but for the most part I wasn’t a constant target. A couple of scrawled “fat cow” notes on my locker senior year, and I was in college and free.

That’s not to say that I was never culpable. I spent the tenth grade at a small school overseas–there were fewer than 20 of us in my class. That year a new boy came; he was strange, awkward. I’ll call him “Rock”–just gawky and at that strange growth stage where all his joints were twice the size of his skinny limbs. The boys in class were horrible to Rock. They called him names, excluded him, and I did nothing. I never stood up for him, never went out of my way to intervene. I just remember feeling relief that it wasn’t me. I was terrified that if I so much as said boo, they would turn and I’d be back on the bottom of the totem pole. I wasn’t that high anyhow. One day one of the popular guys brought rotten eggs to school, and somehow managed to get them all in Rock’s locker. I still remember seeing him, standing in the hall with tears streaming down his face, red with rage and shame. Only then did the most popular girl in our class turn to her boyfriend who had managed the egging and say “enough”. Rock was never accepted, but the viciousness stopped for the most part. No thanks to me.

Now as an adult, when I see someone being victimized, I step in. As a youth volunteer in church, and later a youth director, I tried to create a bullying free environment. I can’t say that my efforts always worked. Often other adults were oblivious. One little boy in particular was twelve, geeky and brilliant. The snarky comments, dirty looks… it was all so familiar to me. His parents were pastors, so he had to come to group. I brought it up in a planning meeting with the youth director and other volunteers. None of them had noticed a thing. One actually said something to the effect of, “I think they are pretty nice to him, he’s so weird, you know.”

There are people out there who have built so many walls around themselves that all they can do is lash out in an attempt to make themselves feel better, more, superior. Email harassment, snide comments made behind someone’s back, gossip and cruelty… this isn’t just about middle school, high school, college, not just about gay kids or weird kids or fat kids or smart kids… it’s about all of us. I would like to believe that no one I care about was ever a bully, but that’s unlikely. Many of us were bullied. Many of us saw it happen to others and did nothing. And every time I read another story about another beautiful child destroyed, I feel like I’ve been punched in the stomach.

I would like to make a plea for kindness. For choice of gentle words. As the mother of an overweight child with Aspergers, I fear every time I send him out the door that he’ll experience what I did. This weekend, deep in my fit of melancholy, I found myself for the first time looking up on Facebook the names of the kids who had picked on me as a child. They didn’t look any different from any other 40somethings. Not sure what that means. But I know for a fact that it was the verbal and online bullying I experienced at my last job that led to my breakdown. I’m still wounded. So Christians, please act like it. And the rest of you, please keep us true to what we preach.

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This evening once again Flash and Entropy are off playing Magic, and having momentary control of the remote, I made a terrible mistake.  Left alone with Kinesis, I managed to get him off to sleep and started browsing our Netflix recommendations all on my own.  How fun, to see a movie without superheroes that doesn’t need to appeal to any of the boys, young or old, in my life.  Period pieces are one of my favorites, so of course, up came Howards End as a recommendation.  Vanessa Redgrave, Anthony Hopkins, Emma Thompson, and a very young Helena Bonham Carter.  How could I go wrong?

I must admit it’s been some years since I read Forster.  I remember enjoying A Room With a View, but my memory might be fuzzy because clearly tonight I waded in over my head.  I understand Foster’s points about universality of experience, humanity, and our need for relationship and understanding, etc, etc, but did the story have to be so damned sad?  

Let’s just say that I have little fondness for what might be called the darker side of fiction. I enjoy light beginnings, perfect endings, and as little unhappy middle as possible.  When I watch a tragic movie I end up brooding and melancholy, as if the characters in the story were people close to me.  In high school I couldn’t finish reading Lord of the Flies, Tess left me weepy and I managed to write a paper on Heart of Darkness even though I skipped any of the darker parts.  I love Shakespeare, but avoid  the tragedies.   Especially that eye bit in Lear.*

Flash, on the other hand, enjoys reading and watching movies about what might be termed the darker side of life.  He claims his life has little drama, so he enjoys some vicariously.   Some people might even think that my lack of true appreciation for tragedy and drama is due to some lack of artistic appreciation, or that as I’ll develop a thicker skin.  Yet I find that the older I get, the less tolerance I have for sad tales in my entertainment fare.  It’s too much like real life. 

I think my colleagues would agree that being a pastor often gives one a close up of the less pleasant side of the human condition.  So many people who are so placid on the outside are from families that are secretly seething with tragedy.   I’m not talking about the many times I’ve witnessed the natural process of death.  I mean the families in which broad smiles mask physical abuse, addiction, sexual violence… even murder.  There are so many situations that are so painful, closer than you’d ever imagine, I can’t seem to find the joy in even a fictional tragedy.  Real ones haunt me.  So help me, I’ll never pump my fist in the air and cheer a bloody death.   It’s the casual cruelty that gets to me every time.

Maybe I’m missing some sort of Schadenfreude gene.  Yet as I write this I look down at the sleeping face of my son and part of me desperately wants to believe that deep down, most of us are basically good, yearning for the true, the just, and the beautiful.  There is too much meanness, too much hate, too much sadness in the world already.  Give me an unbelievable and obvious happy ending any day.  And may we find those endings in real life.

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*This may be some strange biologically inherited aversion to royal occular mutilation, as according to my Mom we are descended  on our Norwegian side from King Magnus the Blind, who was plain old King Magnus until he had his eyes plucked out by his uncle.  Seriously.

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