His name was Pat.
He would have graduated in June a few years ago, but he ended his life in April, at the end of a school day. It had finally become too much for him.
Pat had been bullied for as long as he could remember: Teased, excluded and punched more than once. He had stopped eating lunch around other students by the time he was in sixth grade; he had grown tired of picking out the debris that had been thrown into his food. Things such as spit wads and unwanted food from others’ lunches…
He was a gentle soul: Quiet, kind and respectful. To cope, Pat became an excellent student. The library, extra homework and books became his best companions.
He tried to talk about the bullying a couple of times. The first person, his mother, told him that bullying is just part of growing up. “The other kids will eventually outgrow it,” she said. Then she offered cookies to the already overweight boy.
“Try standing up to them,” said the next person. “Tell them to stop; punch back; make a joke out of it!”
Faculty and school staff seem oblivious to what was happening. One time, he had run past two teachers, trying to get away from three boys who were threatening to beat him up. They shouted at him as he ran. The teachers turned their heads briefly; then went on with their conversation.
In the end, Pat felt completely alone. He had grown weary of soul. He felt bad about himself and life in general. He could not see a future, even though the opportunity for a new start was just six weeks away.
This story is based on more than one person’s experience, including my own. There really was a youth who took his life at the end of the school day because he had been bullied. I know someone who ran past teachers as she was being chased, in fear for her well-being. I learned to avoid other students at lunch and to hang out with books so that I was not available for all of the harassment in the hallways. Each of us knows someone who is excluded, teased or worse. You might be one of these precious people yourself.
To those of you who have endured this misery, I’m sorry. Know that it isn’t wrong with you; that you are lovable and precious. I will have more to say to you, but start by receiving comfort from my words and the knowledge that you are not alone.
To those of you who know such people, take time to get acquainted. One of the hard things about being bullied is that other students usually avoid the person: They are afraid of being targetted as well. If you see someone being hurt, go tell an adult or use your cell phone to call the police. My younger sister saved a neighbor girl once by wading into the creek where other children were pushing her under the water and holding her there. She took her by the hand and pulled her out; then walked home with her. That might not be the safest thing for you to do, but getting help is crucial.
To adults: Bullying is not part of growing up. The response I got was, “You just have to understand that they don’t know better.” Not good enough. There are plenty of resources out now for helping children who bully; help the victims as well. Empower and encourage them; defend them when they are being bullied; supply consequences and help as needed. IF you have to, call the police, instead of letting someone be beaten by peers.
Now for my greatest challenge to everyone: Let’s set a new precedent! When I was growing up and going through all this struggle, nobody took a gun to school to kill others; people didn’t suicide. I think the biggest reason was that there was no precedent for it. Some people I know still bear the scars of bullying; others of us have recovered. Don’t let the bullies get you down! There will be at least one person in your life who will listen and understand, probably because they were bullied, too. Seek them out; find ways to hold to the truth about who you really are; take appropriate actions to defend yourself. Let’s take the power away from the bulllies.