Monday, April 28, 2014

Bullying and Substances are Stealing Lives

I was recently contemplating about the endlessly growing number of people around the world who terminate their lives before their talents and gifts flourish into the arms of humanity.  I’ve always been told I can be a bit emotional at times since I truly wear my heart upon my sleeves.  But hey… that’s just me.  What can I say?  We all have our weaknesses but I’ve learned to treat my weakness as something beautiful.  My softness and sorrow toward others who need help gives me this sort of fulfillment which only my writing has had an ability to do.  It’s freeing.  And if I can share a story, tale or experience of my own to help shape or shift someone else’s journey, then I’m all in; 110 percent.

When I was young, I was severely bullied.  If you asked me why, I really couldn’t tell you... other than kids can be cruel and if they don’t understand you or are jealous of your talents, they have no other means of showing their envy then by the use of bullying.  I was tall, very thin, had clunky braces and glasses before contacts and more modern means of straightening your teeth were available.  I worked hard and always received straight A’s on my report cards.  My love for academics helped me to graduate in the top 10 of my class; among 360 other students. 

And still; I was the subject of harassment and endless torture throughout my elementary and junior high school years.  My passion for the written word, science and history equated to an eternity of pain and suffering.  Back then, those seven hours of school felt like an infiniteness of dodging hurtful whispers, loathsome mockeries, and unwanted confrontations. 

I remember being in 8th grade and being segregated from a table where I had some friends who had split lunches with their choir practice.  When they would leave for Chorus (this is what the class was referred to as), I was left there, utterly alone, only to be mocked, made fun of and had things thrown at me.  Is she serious you ask?  I wish I wasn’t.  Many of my days were just scenes out of that Patrick Dempsey movie,Can’t Buy Me Love, or even Diary of a Wimpy Kid and Mean Girls.  But these girls were much crueler toward me.  I eventually joined the choir, although my voice sounded more Phoebe when she would sing about “Smelly Cat” on the hit television show, Friends.  I ran away instead of confronting them because I had no one to back me up.  My friends at the time were too scared to be shunned as well. 

It was only until Mr. Finallo's History class, where I was assigned to sit next to a girl, (we will call her Savior) who hated me for no apparent reason my freshman year of high school.  I believe her inconceivable hatred toward me was over a strikingly handsome, young boy who lived next door to my house.  He looked like Christian Slater so you could see how one would be jealous of another girl's kinship with such a gorgeous fellow.  One of her friends adored him which afforded her the desire to make my life a living hell. 


This boy would walk me home from school every day which made the girls cringe at my high school.  But after I was designated a seat next to this girl for the entire year, we had no choice but to work together on group projects.  It took less than a week for us to become good friends.  Can you believe it?  She was very popular and since she befriended me, I then, became part of the “in-crowd.” 
My next four years of school would be pretty much smooth sailing and no one ever really bothered me again.  I still struggled with some girls who just couldn’t understand why teachers gravitated toward me.  To tell you the truth; either did I… other than I was an over-achiever who really enjoyed excelling to further the future of my education.  My parents were less than middle class so I knew I had to do well to be awarded some, if not all, scholarships and grants for college.

Sadly, there are so many kids in this country who are bullied every single day of their lives.  They are taunted and become the products of cruel jokes and deceptions because of their uniqueness and susceptibility of being pushed around.  Since I know how it feels, I understand the fear which plants them in their shielded comfort zones.  They would rather skip class or not go to school at all because they are afraid of what lies within those small and overbearingly suffocating brick walls.

As I mentioned before, once Savior befriended me, everything changed.  The girls who at one time, made fun of me, now wanted to sit with me at lunch and always come over to my house after school.  I was invited to sleepovers and nights out at the skating rink.  I was asked out by guys who before, always looked at me and smiled, but never acted out on their curiosity about me from fear of what the popular kids would think about their actions.  Then, when I started dating a guy in college, this sent my status over the moon!  He drove one of the hottest cars around town and was super dreamy.  I never really had to worry about being bullied again and tried to help others who were in the same predicament I once was in.

You might think I copped out of my situation by accepting Savior's invitation to become her friend but at the end of the day, we actually had a lot in common; other than our grades.  We remained close friends until I left for college.  After I arrived at college, I never looked back on those people again and managed to build true, life-long friendships with some of the most kindest and sincere people.  I am grateful to have some of these people in my life today.  I'm sure some of the decisions I made in college were the end-product of my experiences in high school.  Although the bullying had stopped, there would be scars leftover internally which lead me to make some bad decisions.  I'm happy to say those scars are just murmurs echoing in the wind and reminders of how strong and significant I really am.
(Old Queens Campus at Rutgers University... beautiful, isn't it?)

The point of my ramblings about my past struggles and suffering from bullying is that people are ignorant towards one another.  They have “ideas” which tend to develop into ugly assumptions about beautifully strange, yet, magnificent people.  What is so wrong about someone who wants to do well in his or her class?  Or about someone whose parents can’t afford the same clothes or shoes as their friends?  Or children who might seem different, but in actuality, their personalities are far more epic and unique than imaginable?  If we could just instill better values and morals within our children’s acceptance and gentility towards others feelings, this world would be a better place.  My mother always taught me to be kind and respectful; something I see more of our upcoming generation lacking. 

Devices like video game systems and social media outlets such as Facebook tend to numb our youth’s ability to focus on the importance of communication with one another.  I’ve observed how a long day of playing video games affects one of the teens I currently care for.  He becomes a lot more agitated and aggressive; cursing and throwing the paddles at the television.  I hear other teens through the headphones they use nowadays; cursing and using vulgar language while shooting at soldiers or even civilians on the TV screen.  We need to encourage our beloved children that there is a whole world beyond social media and video games.  We need to fight for our right to the irreplaceable bonds which hold humanity together.  This involves communicating more, interacting with each other, and dare I say… playing and getting involved with outdoor activities!  Yes, we played jail break even into the college years!

We didn’t have Facebook and texting back when I was in high school and college so I can’t imagine how teens have to deal with the horrid affects of bullying through means of social media.  We used to have a neighbor who was a girl and attended school at a prestigious private establishment.  Her boyfriend took provocative photos of her when they were alone and decided to post them onto the internet.  Can you believe it?  Her own boyfriend.  She was bullied severely by other prep girls and it became so bad, her mother had to take her out of that school and place her into another.  When this didn’t help, the family moved to an entirely different town.  All because some clueless moron with no values decided to post pictures of her on the internet.   

Whenever I hear about a small child taking his/her life because they have been driven by bullies to do so, it breaks my heart.  And whenever I learn about someone who can’t live with their current situations and instead of using their talents to fix them, they drown themselves in alcohol instead… this shakes my soul.  I know how it feels to both be bullied or become a product of what other people and our darker, inner demons do to us.  But I also know that we are capable of CHANGING these situations.  There are lights inside of us which are begging to be turned on.  And no one or substance should ever have the permission to shut that light off for us.  We are in control of the destiny of our light and where its tendrils may reach out toward. 

There is a whole vast and epic world out there beyond the limitations of school walls.  We need to remind our children that those few years of adolescent schooling are just a small part of the rest of their lives.  After graduation, they become free birds... able to spread their fascinating wings and gravitate toward higher heights because of their individuality and talents.  We need to talk to our kids more and encourage them to be nice and accepting of others no matter how different they may seem.  This only takes a few moments our of our busy schedules and is well worth the long-lasting affects our wisdom will have on them. 

Have you ever been bullied before?  Do you know anyone who has been pushed around?  Was there ever a time when you used a substance and as a result, your talents and journey became limited?

Sunday, April 13, 2014

To Each His or Her Own Pace

Today is Palm Sunday for the Catholic Church.  I attended mass this morning to honor this emotionally trying, yet, inspiring day.  For many who share in the same beliefs, Palm Sunday is a day to truly recall upon the sacrifices Jesus made for us to be forgiven in this world.  It is a day to remember how he was beaten, bullied, mocked and nailed to the cross for the love and compassion He had for His Father’s Children. 
I felt an erosion of feelings submerging my thoughts like a cumbersome stream of magma churning within my stomach.  There was an emptiness eating away at the core which was being drowned by this waterfall of heated exhaustion… an exhaustion consisting of sadness, agony, resentment, sorrow, and most of all, loneliness.

There I sat in my phew as rivers unfolded from the center of my soul and wept from my weary eyes.  There was an endless amount of pain I had covered over the past several years and kept buried deep within; however, they were now trying to resurface once again.  I thought that by staying on the straight and narrow while continuing to contribute my part in ending self-destruction in others through volunteering and spending time with children who need mentors, or by sharing my mother’s illness and struggle, I would be fulfilled and come to full circle within my endeavors. 
Sadly, I was wrong.  Or at least, at that moment in church, as I sat and gazed at the cross and glorious statues and fixtures on the old, wooden walls… I felt completely and utterly alone.  I began to remember my childhood and how I spent many Sundays within those walls with my parents and sisters before our family fell apart.  Before the divorces, alcohol, fights, sickness, murder and dying of best friends and family members… before all of these circumstances which none of us could have predicted or prevented… it felt like time had been perfect.  And those memories would always be frozen and packed away in the corners of my strange, yet familiar mind.

My tears managed to fuse into subtle reminders that God was indeed, still with me and watching and hadn’t left me behind.  I was quickly reminded about a rendezvous I had in the city yesterday with an old friend who told me I was an inspiration to her.  Sometimes, when we are at our weakest, God has a way of lifting us up.  He manages to remind us about our missions and to never give up on our passions no matter how alone or afraid we might feel. 
My friend sat across from me during dinner yesterday, and was in absolute awe by the work I do when I volunteer with organizations that help to encourage and educate our children.  She told me to never give up on my ventures and to always keep my heart at the forefront because some day, God will reward all of the positive energy I put out into the universe. 

There are always going to be ups and downs in our days and the journey is never easy.  If it was, there would be no room for growth and change and no place for our hearts and minds to truly be nurtured and fed.  We live out our days by the stages of our achievements and commitments which we make not only for ourselves, but for each other.  Sometimes, those engagements change but the journey remains the same.  I might have felt alone today while I sat and admired the work of the Creator, but after I thought about everything, I knew physically, loneliness was just a feeling; not a state of being.  Because every single human being is never alone when you have Him to walk beside you.  You just have to open your heart and your eyes and truly see the miracles around you. 
If you are like me and sometimes get down on your slow growth or current state of being, just think about all of the amazing things you have done with your life so far.  Count all of your blessings and the wonderful people who are actually still here with you.  Embrace your family, love your neighbor, put your phones and Ipads down and talk to your loved ones and friends.  Sit in a quiet place and meditate on your thoughts.  Read a good book or snuggle up to an old movie.  Call someone who you haven’t spoken to in a long time.  Go for a run.  But don’t loath in the lethargic strides of your journey.  It's the destination which matters the most. 

Today, after church, I went on a long run through a beautiful trail not far from our home.  On the drive back, I stuck my arms out of the window and felt the wind pounding against my skin.  It felt invigorating.  There is beauty and magic in the world around us in every single moment of every single day.  Whether it’s a smile from a stranger or laughter echoing from children playing outside… whether it’s the sound of birds chirping and frolicking around in the puddles outside of your window… whether it’s a simple gesture but the kindest in it’s simplicity… there is admiration everywhere.  So if you ever get down on the pace of your journey, think about the positives instead of lingering on the negatives.  You will get moving.  Life isn’t easy but it sure is magnificent.  A true gift, life is.
There is a reason for everything and we all have a purpose.  I might not have found mine yet, but I will continue to pour joy and happiness in my heart whenever it is thirsty.  And my friends… my heart will always be thirsty.  We can never give too much or too little.  But as long as we are giving, then we are fulfilling the desire to be better people and leaders not  just for ourselves, but for those around us who need inspiration and encouragement the most.  Happy Palm Sunday!

Are you ever hard on yourself for reasons which are out of your hands?  How do you cope with bumps in the road?