Saturday, March 21, 2015

Why Monica Lewinsky's TED Talk Matters (to me)

This morning I listened to that woman talk for twenty-two and a half minutes about cyber-bulling and the way public shaming and humiliation can affect a soul.

I don't know her. I just know what the media has told me about her.

I've never spoken to her.

I've never had a conversation with her.

And I would never, ever claim to know what psychological disorder (or disorders) she might possibly suffer from.

But I sat, captivated for twenty-two and a half minutes.

And I thought about her mother the entire time.

Because I have seen, first hand, what happens when people think they're being funny by photo shopping a nasty picture with your child's face on it for all the world to see. I have seen what being called whore, slut, bitch and nasty ass ho over and over, in the halls, yelled from a passing car, and plastered all over Twitter and Facebook can do to the inner dialogue of a daughter.

And, just in case I was slow in my education, I know what it's like for a seventeen year old girl to be known by many, but in reality known by few. I know the feeling of watching the face of my daughter drop as, day after day, yet another horrifying comment was made by strangers and "friends" alike after an online news article, or following a Facebook post,  - things like pretty sure she was drunk, and if that was me I'd kill myself. 

I know how, as her mother, I felt angry and helpless. How, before the police report of the criminal investigation ever came back, I knew that even if she had made a horrible, awful, tragic mistake - my love for her, my protection for her heart, my worry over her soul, knew that no matter what had happened, she did not deserve what she was getting.

Because my beautiful 17-year old daughter - who was grieving all sorts of loss and what if's - was forced to stand before thousands of faceless judges and juries, who were happily declaring her guilt and pointing out all the reasons no one should care that she might possibly be hurting all over social media.

And we made sure she wasn't left alone.

And we made sure she showered with the door open.

And we made sure people checked on her multiple times throughout the night.

Because, what no one was saying but what everyone was thinking was, "no one can withstand this torment."

I had wanted my daughter to "get back to normal" as soon as possible. I forced her to walk back into the hallways of a school where her peers whispered about her in a volume loud enough for her to overhear. And the tools I gave her to protect herself? "Don't take that stuff personally. They don't know what happened." Like that actually helped.

Her senior year, she barely passed her classes, and yet, I am the proudest mother on the planet. Because she survived. Day after day, she walked into that school - well, to be honest, most days she tried her hardest to avoid that school - but she survived it. 

She survived the rumors and the jokes that were never the least bit funny and she survived knowing that the whole time, there was a pending criminal investigation against her because, yes, if the police found anything that she had done wrong, she would be charged with causing the death of her baby sister. And she survived the online commentary about the pending criminal investigation and about how they knew for sure she was guilty and she lived each day knowing that it wasn't going to magically go away and get easier. She woke up each day knowing her hell was simply continuing.

And, I don't know about you, but I'm not sure I would have the strength to handle all of that at an age where I should have been suntanning and getting obnoxious at football games and hanging out at the mall talking about what college was the ideal distance away from my parent's house.

Instead, my daughter tried to hide from the public shaming. She avoided the city we lived in at all cost. She deactivated her Facebook. We prohibited her from going online.

And, one day, when I thought maybe, just maybe, we could start moving forward again, the Twitter feed was found. Post after agonizingly awful post.

Ironic, right? That just when I thought we could move on and into a better future, the internet shoved everything from the past back into the forefront again. It's relentless, these interwebs. Unforgiving. Always, always ready to strike.

But there were bright lights in my daughter's path during those dark, dark months. A couple dear friends that wouldn't release their grip on her. A girl she had met years ago at bible camp who would drive hours from the city just to spend the weekend attempting normalcy. A young man who had recently lost his father in a way that seemed to make the public salivate, who drove her to school so that she wouldn't have to walk in alone. Another friend who, instead of gossiping with the rest, saw my daughter's strength and told others about it. Even nominating her for a special award that was presented to her on graduation. Grace and compassion standing in front of that entire gymnasium, speaking about the strength and goodness of my daughter.

You see, you can discount Monica Lewinsky's message because you think she's the sum total of who she was twenty years ago, quoting stories and clips that you can still find online; and you can choose to ignore her words because you feel she's unworthy of saying them based on who you think she is from what you read online, but the truth is, we have an epidemic that can no longer be ignored.

In our small community alone, there have been too many young adults who have not survived the public shaming of whatever it was the online community deemed them guilty of. Some were too fat and should have been embarrassed to be living. Others thought they were too high and mighty and needed to be knocked down a few pegs. And for others, the ones everyone thought were beautiful, well, they needed to be reminded about that one night they got too drunk and made a fool of themselves so they were nothing but a little whore.

There are too many kids not surviving.

Personally, I don't care who Monica Lewinsky was twenty years ago, or two years ago, or even who she was the last week when she walked into her bathroom. But I do care that she spoke out and reminded us that we, as participants of an online community, hold some responsibility to how we make others feel. She offered us an invitation to choose whether we participate in this world as bystanders or as upstanders.

And, maybe she is only talking about this because she's a narcissistic opportunist and likes to see herself in the limelight. To be honest, I don't care. Because there is hard truth to her words.

Ask Tyler  Clementi's family.

Ask Megan Meier's family.

Ask Amanda Todd's family.

Ask Ryan Halligan's family.

Ask Viviana Aguirre's family.

I think you get the point. And if you don't, well, it's pretty easy to add more names. Beautiful, precious children that should still be here, like Erin GallagherPhoebe Prince and Ronin Shimizu.

We've gotten to the point in our society where we believe that our opinion must be spoken out loud - regardless of how hurtful or damaging it may be to someone else. As if our need to speak our mind deserves to trump the heart of the person we're attacking.

Where our compulsive need to speak our opinion supersedes our potential for compassion. 

Maybe it's time we started think before we speak and follow some simple rules:

Is what I'm about to say TRUE?

Is what I'm about to say HELPFUL?

Is what I'm about to say INSPIRING?

Is what I'm about to say NECESSARY?

Is what I'm about to say KIND?

Regardless of how one feels about Monica Lewinsky, there is a dialogue that has been started. A dialogue that affects too many young people in our world today. A dialogue that deserves to take place.

So, you can either take place in the dialogue about cyber bullying and the effects of public humiliation and shaming, or you can choose to make comments about how awful you think that woman is and how anyone who shares her words are perpetuating an opportunist. That choice is yours to make.

And, for those of you who really need to know the nitty gritty details: no, there were no traces of drugs or alcohol; there was no cell phone usage - calls, texting or pictures; there was no speeding, and there was no negligent driving. In fact, it was proven she was driving 5 miles under the posted speed limit. And that comes from our District Attorney. There were no charges and no tickets issued. It was simply, an accident. One that God was well aware was going to happen on that day, at that time, and in that manner. And the moment Avery turned and looked into the face of Jesus, there were no tears. Just an incredible, unbelievable,  joyful reunion between a little faith-filled girl and her beloved Heavenly Father!

Monday, March 9, 2015

The Melting of Snow and Sadness

There are times when I get so inside myself I don't know how to come back out. I hurt. It's only expected, of course. Ask any parent who has lost a child and they will tell you the hurt never goes away.

I met a 91-year old woman who lost her son when he was 11. She told me not a day goes by where she doesn't think of him. She remembers him as if he were here yesterday.

You can, externally, appear very put together. Very well adjusted. Very okay. Possibly even very thriving. But sometimes, sometimes the hurt is too much to bear.

It might last seconds, like when triggered by a smell. Or minutes, like when triggered by a song on the radio.

It might last an hour as you flip through the pages of a photo album remembering with great fondness that time you went camping.

For some, the hurt pulls you down and holds you hostage for days, weeks even, sometimes months, threatening to never leave.

Sometimes the only way to escape is to talk yourself out. But family is tired of hearing the same sadnesses repeated and friends are busy and the therapist was on vacation and is now scheduled two weeks out.

And it's tempting to feel defeated. As if the sadness is winning by an overwhelming margin. And it's too late in the game to make a comeback.

I remember sitting in my car in front of a man-made lake. Just staring out. It was such a beautiful, beautiful day. And I was 22 and had a baby and the father fluctuated between nonexistent and threatening and my paycheck didn't pay for anything and I was constantly reminded of what a mess up I was because I wasn't in college getting my degree in marketing or economics and I felt alone and like a failure and I was tired, so very, very tired.

And I sat looking at this beautiful water, reflecting back the rays of this incredible golden sun, wild flowers blooming all around. And it was so incredibly perfect that it made me remember how incredibly tarnished and ugly I felt.

And I just wanted to be done. Done with everything.

Done with the 3 a.m. phone calls that I would never see my baby again. Done with the snide comments that no one would ever want me now that I had a kid. Done with feeling like a leper every time I walked into my church. Done with electric bills that went unpaid and water that kept getting shut off and formula that was too expensive to buy. Done with feeling absolutely alone in this beautiful world filled with beautiful people.

I just wanted to be done. To just not feel it all anymore.

I closed my eyes, started my car, and backed out of the parking stall.

And I headed home.

I can't say it got easier. Not overnight. In fact, it got harder. Life did. Much harder. Custody disputes, crazy new wives, braces and glasses. A sham marriage and a ridiculous divorce. Moving from apartment to apartment. Taking on two jobs, then three. It was hard.

But I kept doing it.

And I don't know when it was exactly, but one day I happened to be driving by that man-made lake and I remember thinking, "the last time I was here I was so incredibly depressed it threaten to keep me. I wouldn't let it."

Maybe I was too stubborn.

Or maybe there was still this teeny, tiny speck of hope that still glowed from deep within. One that I couldn't see at the time but somehow just knew was there and knew that if I kept putting one foot in front of the other there was a small chance it would finally ignite and my darkness would be illuminated. And I would finally be able to see truth.

Because depression lies.

Deep, loud lies.

And I, somehow, without grand knowledge or great fanfare, had made a comeback.

A quiet, slow, inch by painful inch comeback. Like a man learning to walk again after a stroke. With the physical therapist beside him, encouraging him on. You're doing great today, sir! Look at you! Much stronger than you were yesterday! My, have you got the fighter spirit in you! 

How important it is, that encouragement.

And I think that if more people made it a point to be bold and tell others about the good they see in them, maybe, just maybe, those truths would drown out the lies we hear in our heads.

And I think that if more people made it a point to be bold and speak truth out loud and write it on someone's Facebook page or send it in a card in the mail, or leave it on a note in their coat pocket, then maybe, just maybe, those truths would drown out the lies we hear in our heads.

And I think that if more people made it a point to be bold and say, "hey, I see that you've been riding that person really hard lately and that's not right" then maybe, just maybe, fewer and fewer people would think it's okay to be purposefully demeaning to others. And maybe, just maybe, that respect would drown out the lies we hear in our heads.

The sun is out today and the snow here is finally beginning to melt. My prayer is that everyone's sadness and depression melts away, too. But just as the snow needs the warmth of the sun to melt, so sadness needs the warmth of family, friends and especially strangers to melt.

So, starting today, go out at give three honest, heartfelt compliments to someone you think might not hear them as often as they should. Post on their Facebook page. Stop them in the hall. Leave a note on their desk.

Be the sun to melt someone's sadness. Because that encouragement will light the way for someone else's comeback.

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