Empty Seats

I watched a documentary today called Bully. It was a sincere look at bullying in America. The film concentrates on the immediate victims of bullying. Some of the cases the documentary concentrates on are with families who have already lost their child to bullying. We see how hard it is for a family to understand what their child is going through, we see how ineffective the school system is in stopping bullying, and we see how the bully isn’t any one person as much as it is a general movement of indifference for one’s neighbor. The movie devastated me emotionally. What caused the devastation was not the harsh acts shown and talked about through out the film. We heard and saw plenty of examples of cruel things being done to kids who only seemed to want to get along with their peers. What devastated me was the silence. The inability for the parents to be personal with their children, the lack of presence the school system gave in working to stop bullying, and the lack of friends stepping up for the victim when he was getting pushed to the ground.

I was never Mr. Popular in my school. My mother chose to home school me until 8th grade and when I finally went public I was greeted with a fair amount of neglect and indifference. No I was never physically shoved in the locker, hit or pushed in any way. However I was told at times to find another seat because someone didn’t want to sit next to me, given notes commenting on how stupid I looked, and not given the time of day by many of my teachers. I was an awkward boy who wasn’t very physical, couldn’t read or write well, and had the social ability of a rodent. However, though I struggled I never felt inferior. I never felt like I deserved to be picked on or wasn’t as valuable as the person next to me. I always felt like there was a meaning to my life, that even though I failed in many of the areas my peers succeeded in I was an influence in this world and if I harnessed my strengths I could do wondrous things.

I had self confidence as a kid because I had people around me who gave a damn. When I went to school in 8th grade a friend from my childhood sat with me at lunch and introduced me to his friends. He was one of the most popular kids in school yet loved to come to my house and hang out. There was my 8th grade math and science teacher Mr. York who spent the extra time getting me organized, going to my meetings, and encouraging me in my strengths even though they were not always found in the subjects he taught. I also had my mother. My mother was always honest with me. She was willing to talk about personal things even though it sometimes meant for her to address personal demons in her past and she trusted in who I was and pushed me in my dreams. Because of these people and my faith I was able to go from middle school to high school, and from high school to college with a self worth that only became stronger.

Towards the end of the Bully documentary Kelby, one of the bully victims and a lesbian, talked about going to school for the first time again in the fall. She said she thought it might be different this year and views might have changed. She went to school and when she sat down in her class room all the kids around her got up and found different seats. Right then I could clearly understand why so many bully victims end their lives. They find themselves humiliated and hurt. But the pain does not come from the bruises or the humiliation. The pain comes from the empty seats. It comes from looking to the left and the right and seeing no one to shed a tear with or to extend a helping hand.

I wonder what I would have done if I was in the same classroom as Kelby. Sadly there is a good chance when I was in high school I would have felt bad for her but looked away and excused the situation by telling myself, “That’s life”. However, I am writing this blog because I am stronger now. I am tired of looking at abuse and being okay with it. Albert Einstein once said, “The world is a dangerous place not because of those who do evil but because of those who look on and do nothing”. I am who I am because people looked at my loneliness and befriended me. People saw my low self esteem and gave me a sense of worth. They saw me in my pain and helped carry my burden. If you don’t do anything who will? It is time to do something. It is time to be that light that gives way for a better tomorrow. It is time to sit in the empty seats.