Perhaps like me, you were saddened and angered last month hearing about the suicides of gay youth around the country, boys ranging in age from eleven to nineteen years old. These “bullycides,” as they are now being called, either represent an alarming trend in our culture or indicate that deaths such as these are finally being reported for what they are: suicides as a result of bullying. No matter. It’s happening. And it’s wrong.
In response to these suicides, the writer Dan Savage and his husband, started a project called, It Gets Better. People, mostly gay and lesbian, post video clips to the project’s YouTube site aimed at teens who are victims of bullying and discrimination based on their perceived sexual orientation, telling them to hang in there and be strong—that a wonderful life awaits them.
The singer/songwriter, Chris Salvatore, posted a beautiful music video which moved me deeply. Having been bullied as a child and teen, I identified with many of the lyrics, but these affected me in particular: “Stay strong and you will see all these tears disappear like all the ones who done you wrong.” When I thought about tears disappearing like one’s tormentors, I immediately saw in my mind’s eye a couple of the guys who had bullied me in grade school, middle school and high school. They had disappeared from life.
I left my hometown in the backwoods of northern Wisconsin and went on to university and then to the East Coast. I’ve had a wonderful life filled with friends, travel and a satisfying career. Listening to the song I thought, “Yeah, I showed them!” And I did. They may have physically hurt me and wounded me emotionally, but I survived and thrived. For a moment I felt victorious thinking how these guys had never left that town nor done much of anything with their lives. Once, on a visit home, I had run into one of them. I remember how small and sad looking he was and wondered how it was that I had ever been frightened of him.
After the song ended my sense of victory soon faded as I suddenly felt compassion for those guys. I saw them again as kids and thought of how they’d grown up poor in broken homes with abusive parents and without proper nutrition or healthcare. They must have been angry and hurting every day of their lives. They didn’t have a chance and even though I was victimized by them, I had the inner resources and family support to get me through it.
I had the ability to make something of my life and they didn’t. I listened to the song a second time and when it got to those lyrics again I realized I had just forgiven them, that those feelings of empathy and compassion had led to a moment of grace. I saw myself in them and was healed.
I wish I hadn’t been bullied all those years. It was hell. But it did get better. Let us hope that this message will reach all those boys and girls out there who think it won’t.
Peace be with you,
Categories: Theological Reflections