Thursday, August 4, 2011

Anti-Bullying 101: Pt.3, Why You Should Care

It's 2003.  I am looking at the poster board at the back of the church, which is celebrating and advertising a family camp that many in our congregation attend each summer.  It's after service and the sanctuary is quiet.  As I admire the beautiful scenery and look for familiar faces on the taped-on snapshots I am joined by Sarah.

Sarah is a beautiful young woman.  Kindness seems to flow from her pale-blue eyes.  She speaks with an earnestness that is tempered by a gentle, almost wry smile.  She is a treasure in the congregation.  Everyone knows her, partly because of her willingness to share her gorgeous singing voice, but mostly because of the compassion and grace that palpably surrounds her like a fragrance.

"I haven't been to camp in a long time," I say.

"You should come next year," she replies.  Even a simple sentence like that sounds like music.

"Yeah, I should," I say, knowing I won't.

Her pale, slender fingers reach out and gently brush one of the pictures.  It shows several happy children crowded around a redwood gazebo, their faces alight with smiles.  The next words Sarah speaks are soft, but matter-of-fact.

"That's where I almost committed suicide."

The bottom drops out of my stomach.  I turn to look at her.  She hasn't taken her eyes off the picture.  Her face is calm, peaceful, like a Renaissance painting of the Madonna.  "Wh...what?" I stammer.

Her eyes widen.  "I never told you that?" She is genuinely surprised.

"No!  What...when?  Why?" I babble.

"It was years ago.  I was going into tenth grade," she says.  She seems concerned that she has upset me.  "Are you sure I've never told you?"

I walk to one of the blue padded chairs in the sanctuary and sit.  "You can tell me now," I say.

She takes the seat beside me.  She looks serious, though I can still see the hint of a smile on the corner of her mouth.  "You remember how skinny I was back then, right?"

I work up an image in my mind.  The time she speaks of was probably just a few months after her family started coming to the church.  Sarah had been a late bloomer... her pretty, porcelain face perched on top of a painfully thin frame.  "You were very slender," I say generously.

"I was skinny," she states bluntly, her eyes playfully reproaching my lack of candor.  "I felt ugly.  Girls at school accused me of being anorexic or bulimic, even though I wasn't.  I know I looked like I was but I really wasn't.  I couldn't walk down the halls without boys telling me how ugly I was.  They would shove me up against the lockers as I walked past."

She's looking out the window now.  The sunlight is dancing in the leaves of the giant oak that dominates the church's landscape.  "Every day.  I dealt with that every day.  It just wears you down, you know?  Finally I decided I just couldn't take it.  It was summer, but I knew summer would end and I would have to go back.

"And it wasn't spite.  I wasn't trying to get back at anyone.  I just wanted the hurting to stop."  She pauses.  The memory is fresh, yet there is no pain or malice in her eyes.

"So why church camp?" I ask.

"I don't know," she says.  "First of all, I didn't want to go.  I was determined to hate it there.  Maybe I knew I'd be away from my family, so they wouldn't have to find me."

She looks back at me and her eyes betray an intensity now.  "I had a plan.  I decided before I got to camp I would do it on Tuesday morning before anyone else had woken up.  I picked the gazebo the day I got there.  I even knew how I was going to do it.  I mean, I had a plan."

I shudder.  In terms of danger to herself, the girl she is describing is at Defon 5.  Mere hours away from unspeakable tragedy that would destroy her and permanently scar her family and community.

Fortunately, Sarah found a way out of her despair.  I will finish her story in a future blog.

Unfortunately, Sarah's story is a common one, and many of them do not have the miraculous ending that saved Sarah's life.  The statistics are as horrifying as they are grim:
  • Suicide is the third leading cause of death among young people, resulting in about 4400 deaths per year, according to the CDC. For every suicide among young people, there are at least 100 suicide attempts. 
  • Over 14 percent of high school students have considered suicide, and almost 7 percent have attempted it
  • Bully victims are between 2 to 9 times more likely to consider suicide than non-victims, according to studies by Yale University
  • A study in Britain found that at least half of suicides among young people are related to bullying
  • 10 to 14 year old girls may be at even higher risk for suicide, according to the study above
  •  people who are bullied as children are more likely to suffer from depression as an adult than children not involved in bullying.
Of course, most bullying cases do not escalate to a matter of life and death.  Even so, targets of bullying are more likely to suffer from insomnia, nightmares, and stress-related illnesses.  They are more likely to experience a drop in grades and are more likely to stay home from school.

But it's easy sometimes to get lost in the statistics, because statistics don't have a face.  Statistics don't have a future. 

I think of Sarah now, calm, confident.  At peace with herself and the world around her.  Married to a wonderful man, the mother of two beautiful little girls.  

The teenager of so many years ago could not have known the wonderful future that she almost allowed the bullying to rob from her.

1 comment:

  1. Brilliant post - heart felt, real and hopeful. Thanks