"I was young and caught in a crowd
I didn't know then, what I know now
I was dumb, and I was proud
and I'm sorry..."
A new reader sent me a link to this video clip of Kate Miller-Heidke's "Caught in a Crowd" and I love it. I remember being on both sides of this coin. Both the girl-child who put acceptance and popularity above what she truly felt was right, and the teenager who felt forsaken by those she thought she could count on as friends.
But then there is another "me" who watches this video. It is the one who has stood up for a friend, when others turned their back. This is the me I wish I'd always allowed to show up, every moment...and whose face I seek in the mirror each day, as I navigate the waters of my community and the world I live in.
As most readers know, my childhood was a seemingly endless series of moves. New houses, neighborhoods, towns, schools. As a girl, I was small, shy, and bookish...and I was teased. I now know, that some children think teasing is funny, and use it as a way of reaching out to someone they want to know. But this certainly wasn't something I was aware of then. As a little girl, being teased felt like being hated.
At other times, children at a new school would try to intimidate me, and make me feel embarrassed about my academic accomplishments or creativity. Whenever I would ace a spelling test or receive a compliment from a teacher or a dance coach, I would experience rejection, which sometimes felt like the whole world was in opposition to my identity.
But it wasn't the teasing that was most painful. Or even the feeling of having an entire class of fellow students making fun of me. Since I was only being me...quiet, bookish, artistic. It was none of those things that hurt the most. It was simply being ignored.
Being ignored was the worst. It was sitting in the lunch room and looking up as each girl came away from the lunchline...tray loaded with jello, mac and cheese, tomato soup, cupcakes...hoping, as they walked towards me, that they would join me at my otherwise empty table, only to have them look through me and make happy eye contact with the girls across the room. It was the horror of having finally found the courage to pass a note to the girl who had played with me on the playground that morning, hoping it was the beginning of a new friendship, only to see her slide it under her binder and never look back.
Early on, my mom taught me a little poem that went with me to school every day...and I think saved my heart from breaking:
"When others hate, oppose, ignore...
Help me Lord to love them more."
I think Mom knew that as long as my heart was still beating, still trying to love more and more, it couldn't atrophy, get hard and brittle, shatter and break. It would stay warm and alive, and would feel like it, my heart, had a vital role to play in saving its host...me.
I can also remember one of those times. I was a junior in high school. I think it might have been one of the first years I'd everreturned to the same school for a second September. I knew a few kids, had made some friends the previous spring, and I think a boy might have even liked me. I felt like I could, perhaps...maybe, just be me and not have to work so hard at making people like me.
One day I was standing at the counter of the student council "store" (a window outside the lunchroom where you could buy t-shirts and spirit pennants with our school's name and mascot blazoned across the front in green and gold) when a very serious boy I sat next to in my typing class came out of the lunchroom, and as he turned to say, "hi," he tripped and dropped his books. As I bent to help him pick up his papers and splayed binders, one of the popular boys who played football kicked one of those books across the corridor just as he reached for it. It sent the rest of the football team, also standing around the student council store, into gales of self-congratulatory, mean-spirited laughter.
Only moments before I had been on the verge, the very cusp, of acceptance and popularity. I had on my favorite box-pleated blue plaid mini skirt (or at least it was as mini as I could get, hemming it, in fast whip stitches, on the short bus ride from our house to school that morning) and the boy I liked was paying attention to me.
But somthing much deeper kicked into gear that day. I had been the new girl way too often, and had suffered so horribly at the hand of the popular kids in every other school I'd attended, to let my typing class friend become the object of their derision, all alone.
So I shot Mr. Fullback a look of disappointed pity mixed with my best version of compassion, helped Thomas gather the last of his chemistry notes, and walked with him to the library....my favorite room in the building. Leaving my new, and once hoped for, football and cheerleader friends laughing and teasing us about being the new "Mr. and Mrs. Four Eyes Brainiacs." But rather than actually become the latest butt of Mr. Fullback's jokes the next day, and for the rest of the semester (something I was almost sure would happen) he actually seemed to like, or perhaps even respect, me a little after that day. Or perhaps I didn't care quite as much as I thought I did.
Of all the lessons I remember from that year of "not being the new girl," that day outside the lunch room was one of my favorite moments of self-realization. Unfortunately, there were also times when I was "caught in a crowd" and didn't stand up to the way my new more popular friends were behaving. For those times I am truly sorry.
Bottom line, I have learned that being ignored is more painful than either hatred or opposition. It is a dismissal of our identity. It says "you don't deserve my response" and it just plain hurts. But I have also learned that it is only practiced by those who are afraid of being associated with what they fear will reveal their own self-doubts and insecurities...and so, what it now says to me is that they just need to be loved more.
A young friend contacted me recently. She had been praying for the spiritual strength to rise above the hurt of being verbally bullied at her school. She felt that, so far, she'd been able to navigate her days with poise and courage, and without tears. But this day she was absolutely shattered. After her sobbing subsided a bit, she was able to explain that she felt as if the other girls at school looked right through her as if she wasn't even there. But even though that hurt...alot...she still felt that could handle it most of the time. But what had her at the very edge of the abyss, unable to hold on, was a week of waiting for one of the girls she'd "friended" on Facebook, to accept her invitation.
Each day she would rush home from school to check in, and see if the girl's profile picture had appeared in her friends list. It hadn't. She said that, "being ignored was worse than being bullied." She felt helpless. "What is wrong with me? What have I done? What can I do to make it better?" It was the not knowing that made her feel terribly helpless, and alone.
I was so grateful that I could share my mom's little poem with her. We talked for a bit until she was more peaceful. I knew I had given her one of my "five smooth stones"...something I'd proven in my own battle with the Goliath of self-doubt. She reported the next day that she no longer felt like a victim of "being ignored," but as if she was "like David, only a girl." God was asking her to just be herself, and "love more." It made her feel like she "had the power!"
And she did.
As Bonnie Raitt says in her song, "I Can't Make you Love Me":
"Here in the dark, in these lonely hours
I wil lay down my heart, and I'll feel the power.
But you won't, no you wont...
Cause I can't make you love me, if you don't..."
The goal is not to make someone love us. It is to love, love, love...and love more, because it is our identity, our only way of truly feeling the power of God as Love, coursing through our veins as the animating, revitalizing, restorative, regenerative current of true Being.
Thanks, Mom, for giving me this little poem, and for teaching me how to use the most lovely "smooth stones" in battling indifference, and becoming me...the true me, the real me, the me that can stand alone with God, and without fear...it's much better than just getting "caught in a crowd."
love you Mommy,
Kate Robertson, CS