“The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.”
― Mahatma Gandhi, All Men are Brothers: Autobiographical Reflections
Remember that time we were in fourth grade and we…and then in sixth grade we…wow that was nuts when…those were the days right?
If you have ever been in a conversation like this where people are referencing childhood memories like they just took place a few weeks ago, then you will have experienced something I rarely am able to grasp. I have forever joked that I must have been abducted by aliens a number of times when I was younger, because when it comes to happy childhood memories most of them are a collection of images that I have either done a good job at repeating in my head (staring out the window of the family car as we drove somewhere far away because we couldn’t afford to fly, and wondering if the trees could communicate, as they danced slowly back and forth as if they were whispering to each other some ancient secrets), or they are a collection of fake images that I have compiled through parents and family members telling stories of my childhood. I am not even sure if they are real, but I have created them to fill in those gaps in my memory.
Gaps. It would be more appropriate to call them craters, as I can honestly say the daily routine of getting up, going to school, and playing with friends continues to be a mystery to me.
As I became older I realized why my memory was so poor during most of my childhood. As many are aware of today our brains actively work to erase or suppress bad memories. Let me first say I grew up in a privileged environment. Great schools, blocks (ok a decent amount of blocks) from the beach, and loving parents. Yet I am mature enough and have done enough inner reflection to say I did not have a happy childhood. For some reason, and to this day I don’t know why or how it started exactly, I became a target. Maybe I was the weakest of the group or maybe it was because at that time I was the shyest (yes I was shy for people who actually know me personally), whatever the reason, my “friends” as far back as 2nd grade decided to make me the main target for ridicule and bullying. Living in a small town I grew up with these same friends for almost my entire school existence, only shedding many of them my last few years in high school. Primarily this shedding occurred due to football, and the confidence it gave me to stand up and be strong both mentally and physically, but that is a different story for a different day. Before that I can remember the bad memories. Some of them are seared very deeply in my mind, and I use them as reminders to fuel the many passions that drive me to seek out great accomplishments.
Some of the highlights include being piled on every single day of baseball practice by the entire team (every single practice by every single player every day of the week), having rocks thrown at the back of my head as I walked anywhere near rocks it seemed, being whipped with a chain as I was tied up and blindfolded, being shoved in a box that was then filled with sand and insects, being nearly drowned in a pool so I could be humiliated by being stripped of my clothes in front of tourists, and many other wonderful experiences my very creative “friends” came up with to destroy whatever confidence I could ever garner on my own from my parents or activities. Yet those physical acts were nothing compared to the constant verbal attacks. Any ability to make people laugh or my now famous garrulous nature, much like the poison dart frog, was merely an adaptation to distract my “friends” from making fun of me and verbally attacking me. It is very important to note that many, many, people have gone through far worse, and in no means am I telling this story to garner sympathy, as my story is one of millions.
I tell my story, because in this age of awareness to bullying it is important to understand the lessons it taught me, and the many others who have gone on to do greater things than I. “Life is pain…anyone who says differently is selling something.” The pain that I endured has both made me the person I am today, and for better or worse affected my life in positive and negative ways. My constant pursuit to make others smile, to care for those who are weak, especially those with low self-esteems, and my overall mission to shine light on the little guy or gal, and root for the underdog or the downtrodden are all traits I can attribute to my childhood memories or lack thereof. Bullying is a problem and with social media, and many other variables I don’t have time to delve into now (lack of a family structure and shame, political correctness gone awry, etc.), it is something that should be addressed. Yet without some level of bullying many of the greats throughout history would be unknown to us, because the motivation and determination those experiences unearthed may have lain dormant inside them forever. As with anything a little bit of bullying is different than severe traumatizing bullying that pushes one to end their own life, or take the lives of others as we have seen too many times in this past decade. In the end I am thankful to those “friends” who hardened my skin, and fueled my fire inside to show them that I am something worth respecting.
When I have achieved all that I plan on achieving in this world I will know that those lack of memories made me the person I am today, and the experiences I had will make me fight against the strong abusing the weak until I breathe my last breath. Would I have liked to remember my childhood fondly, sure, but I would rather remember my adulthood as a time where I changed the world for the better every day I had the chance. Sometimes it is as simple as smiling to another as you walk by letting them know that every person deserves happiness and there is always someone out there willing to help. Bullying will always exist in the world at a micro and macro level, but it is what we do with our lives when challenged or faced with pain that defines us. Every day you have the power to change the world and stand up for the weak, including that bully who probably needs the most help in the end.