Wednesday, September 4, 2013

War Within: The Young Should Survive

The news, in general, can be hard to ingest. Taglines, headlines, blurbs -- touting the torment and discourse of this person, that person, said foreign nation.

It's all so chaotic.

Today. Today a friend asked me if I'd heard about a ruling on gay marriage in Cincinnati, Ohio. I clicked through a few of my go-to online sites. Quickly, I did the skim-skim to get the gist of the precedent. But I gotta be honest, it was the sidebar story that stopped me still.

My stomach soured.

I hunched over the computer.

I felt sick.

This is the thing that happens to me when I see a headline like this.

Note: Not the best reaction for group settings such as dinner parties, concerts or other social gatherings. Consequently, I strive to keep news of such distress in check whenever possible because I fixate. I want to understand, and I want others to empower me to understand.

Here's the thing. Kids die all the time.

Plain. Simple.


Most of them aren't the side bar story on CNN online. It doesn't make their loss any less significant. Those kids are still someone's someone, you know?

Now I'm thinking about Bart Palosz. A kid I never met on my tour but drove through his state on the way to somewhere else. He's not just another story. He was flesh and bone and laughter and frustration ... he was someone's someone. Here's a young man who didn't have to die. Didn't need to die. His life had value beyond his 15-year-old imagination.

But he was too tall.

Spoke with too much of an accent.

He wasn't vanilla enough.

And yeah, he got bullied. 

What's the answer? You can't tell a kid who is being bullied to fight back. You can tell 'em they're okay -- that they're gonna be okay. But life at fifteen -- sixteen -- just being a teen is immediate. In a post Columbine world, the axis is just different than when I grew up.

When I grew up, the school bully eventually met karma, and generally the good gals/guys won. Under the radar movies like Christian Slater's PUMP UP THE VOLUME made me feel like I could be a person of change. You know the plot. Awkward new kid who can't speak to girls finds his voice all Lenny Bruce style on a pirate radio station of his on creation.

Note: Creating your own pirate radio station was harder than it would have seemed I quickly realized.

There's this moment in the film where a teen called Mr. Serious mails correspondence to Slater's pirate radio station. When Slater's character (Mark Hunter, aka Hard Harry) reaches out to the Mr. Serious via phone call, he makes too light of the situation. Only to soon realize that Mr. Serious is very serious about taking his life. Mark appeals to Mr. Serious. Saying how everything about Mark is phony and an illusion. That he truly gets it. Unfortunately, Mr. Serious takes his life.

Slater's Mark Hunter grieves loss of Mr. Serious

Relevance to the movie reveal above? Mark's character is devastated by the loss. He goes back on the radio and reveals via monologue how hard and hurtful, how unbelievably challenging it is to be a teen in the 1990's. He humanizes the struggle and stress and would rather kids scream at the top of their lungs before taking their lives. I guess I wish ...

I wish Bart could have screamed.

I wish he could have reached out to his good friend Izzy.

Or Izzy's mom.

Or his parents.

Or someone -- anyone -- and just said, "I can't do this alone anymore."

But that didn't happen, and I don't get to rewrite the ending of Bart's story like one my novels.

So here we are once again. What's the answer? Are we even asking the right questions?

I honestly don't know.

What I do know. 

I can't sit on the sidelines or the bench or in the penalty box. I can't continue to click through headline after headline and hope someone somewhere will make it better. The better is in the showing up. Now more than ever, I know I gotta be a part of a different kind of headline. The one where the young survive.


  1. You write well from the heart. I wish you were discussing a story you were writing. I wish I had not heard the way a kids voice sounds when they have come to view suicide as a best option. I wish more people would open their minds, and realize how deadly the power of words and social actions can be. I wish Bart Palosz was still in this world being different, and valuable. The good guys don't always win, sometimes, but not this time.

  2. The fact that people like you are willing to show up and talk about what's real allows others to follow in kind. Someone becomes an advocate, or an ally, or offers their quiet support, or watches someone else commit a random act of kindness and does the same...No the good guys don't always win, but if the good guys can keep showing up for each other in the way that you do, keep telling the truth, keep holding space for one another's uniqueness, keep holding each other to a standard of compassion and empathy and not just listening but really hearing...I can't help thinking those changes will come.