Watching Bowling For Columbine, finally. They’re talking about school violence, and I still wonder what I would have turned out like, had I not been delivered from my own little hellish experience in Glenwood. I know the three years I was there did enough damage on my ability to relate to people –I still assume people think the worst of me and I’ll never fit in. It’s taken decades of willfully deciding not to listen to the voices of self-consciousness picking myself apart to finally approach people with some semblance of self-confidence. It took me about five years to discover that the things for which I was kicked around there were not things to be ashamed of, but to embrace. So, when I heard the news about Columbine back when it happened, after the initial shock, I felt ashamed that I sort of understood -maybe- what would make someone at least think that way. My thoughts of violence never went beyond harming myself, but there’s something really sick and evil about an environment that makes a 5th grader listen to Simon and Garfunkel’s “Richard Cory” and wonder what it would fix to off oneself. I wish I were kidding. Better, I wish I could go back and tell my classmates that this is the way their words, their behavior, their ignoring me felt.
I went back to Glenwood years later, can’t remember for what, and ran into a school group going through the park. Fifth graders, I’d guess, and I watched them. Watched as a boy mocked the girl in front of him, and watched in third person replay the sort of crap that happened to me. Watched the teacher completely ignore what happened. Wanted to pull that little punk by the collar, slam him into a picnic table and tell him exactly what I thought of little boys who couldn’t keep their punk mouths shut and leave people alone. But I didn’t. And I guess that’s a good thing. Because it likely wouldn’t have fixed anything except my overdeveloped sense of vengeance.
Since then, I’ve discovered that forgiveness really is far better than vengeance, and I’ve healed. Some. I still have that little mocking, name-calling voice, courtesy of the students in my class, that I frequently channel that vengeance on –telling it to shut up and leave me alone. But, really, that experience made me who I am today. It gave me the strength (even if a strength through scar tissue) that really doesn’t give a rip what people think, in the end, if I’m doing what I know to be right. It gave me an appreciation for who I am. It helped me learn when to speak up and when to shut up. It gave me the eyes that see the ignored, the picked on, the overlooked. What got me through those years was, in my own childish, maybe silly way, standing up for the Heather Lebishaks and John Shulls of the world. What did I think when I heard the story of Columbine? There but for the grace of God go I. And I am thankful every day that He didn’t let me go there.
Sigh. My kids go back to classroom school tomorrow after two years of school at home. One of the things I desperately loved about keeping them home was being able to keep them from what I’d experienced. But I can’t keep them in a closet forever, and I’m not always going to be the one able to teach them the lessons they need. Sometimes those lessons come through some really crappy experiences, like my years in Glenwood. And as much as I will do my best to protect, defend, walk with them through those crappy experiences, I can’t prevent them. But you can bet for sure I’ll be waiting for them here at home, hugs, cookies, milk and listening ear at the ready. And I’ll know to tell them that maybe punk little kids have a story of pain they’re not letting on. If my kids know they’re loved by God and loved by their family and know the things that make them awesome, maybe they’ll be able to discern that that punk little kid is a liar, and they won’t believe his lies because they’ll know the truth, and can kick it in his face. Lovingly, of course :).
endnote: Of course, we know a bit more about Eric and Dylan now. It looks more like there was some very real mental illness going on there, beyond the usual family issues and teen angst of being an outsider. Millions of kids survive an outcast existence in school and never think of violence. Some do. Either way, I will always view Columbine more about the evil behind the eyes of the person holding the gun than about the gun itself.