Dear high school student,
I have always had a heart for you and your friends. In fact even when I was a teenager, I recall telling my parents I wanted to work with teenagers someday. Call it a calling, call it destiny-I have always felt like you are my people. I have had the privilege of walking through life with you for a very long time in a variety of capacities. It hasn’t always been easy to earn your trust. It hasn’t always been comfortable to show up to your games to say hi. It hasn’t always been easy to hear your pain, your struggles, your story and feel helpless. But you are my people.
I wouldn’t say that being a teenager has ever been easy. But I feel confident in saying that it has ever been so hard than it is today. You live a world with endless access to knowledge. We are able to live vicariously through others from the comfort of our own home. Yet, even though we can’t pry our eyes away from the screen, we feel empty. We feel less than, like we are missing out. You live in a world that tells you that if you don’t start playing a sport by 5, you shouldn’t even try. You can be the busiest people around. Or not. You may have started playing video games as a hobby, just a simple interest, but now it has become the only place you feel safe. You are able to enter into people’s lives on Netflix instead of living your own. You have never lived in a world that doesn’t know war. The Great Recession happened. And then there is school. I am aware that a lot of people have never safe at school. But lately things have gone to a different level.
I have a privilege of working at a local high school. Unfortunately, this past week we had a threat. A snap chat was sent claiming that on Monday something is going to happen. This person is seeking revenge. It has been declared a hoax, a false alarm. But the looks on your faces yesterday told me you weren’t convinced. Your faces were full of questions and confusion. Your faces and words expressed anger and fear. I saw panic, disbelief and exhaustion.
There has been a lot said over the last few weeks as we have watched the horrible incident go down in Florida. We have watched people march and take a stand. I’ve read numerous blogs about gun control and mental illness. I have heard people sling blame across the aisle.
But one thing that I have not heard is, I’m sorry.
I’m sorry that this is happening. I’m sorry that you have to think about your safety each day as you go to school. I’m sorry you have to lay awake in bed and wonder what you would do if someone came into the school and started shooting. I’m sorry that we try to calm your emotions and say “We are fine, that won’t happen here.” It’s not true, it might. We just don’t know how to handle all of this either. The more we say it won’t happen, the more we can convince ourselves. I’m sorry if you feel like you cannot express your emotions: your anger, your fear, your exhaustion. You can, we won’t always know right answer-but we will listen. I’m sorry we revert to fighting about gun control and mental illness, when we just need to focus on you. I’m sorry we haven’t gotten this all figured out.
As I said, you have grown up in a world that has only known war. You have grown in a world that has financially unstable. And in the midst of it all, you have risen above. You celebrate people’s individuality. You created more safe space for people to find freedom to be themselves than ever before. You don’t want to be talked at, you want to talk with. With the global access you have, you want to be part of the conversation. You have things to contribute, you want to be heard. You watched those before you make mistakes and struggle through tough times. Because of that you are a bit more careful, a bit wiser. But you know what I like about you the most, you want to make a difference. You want to leave a mark. You want to leave the worlds better than it was. You want your story to matter.
You know, the thing that stuck me the most about the fake snapchat is that the “person” said that they were tired to being treated poorly and that it was time to take revenge. That particular snapchat turned out to not be true. But I know there are people out there that feel that way. They don’t feel celebrated and heard. They feel lost and alone.
As tomorrow as you go to school, don’t walk in fear, do what you do best.
Show up. Make a mark, write a story. Your story, a story that matters. Write a story that is full of compassion and understanding. Write a story that is full of bravery and grit. Say hi to someone new. Remember someone’s name. Listen to their fear. Hug someone. Buy them coffee. Tell a teacher if you feel concerned for a friend. Be present.
Find that person that seems lost and alone. Enter into their story. Celebrate who they are. Listen. Add compassion and grace in their lives. Sit with them at lunch, walk in their shoes. Remember their name. And if you do that, I guarantee you will both walk away better.
And those are the best stories.
Let’s write some good stories together.