So this picture. This encounter. Was very emotional.
When I started my current job, 5 years ago, working with youth with complex severe obesity, i found myself regularly listening to heart breaking stories of bullying. Relentless bullying. In the school yard, in their neighbourhoods, on the bus. And it made me reflect on my own childhood. I had always had lots of friends and don’t remember ever being bullied…but had I bullied anyone…or, equally as bad, had I stood by as someone else was bullied and did nothing to stop it?
Yes. The answer was yes. Probably more than once. But the memory that stuck out the most was this boy named Thomas who, in grade 7, new to the school that year and starting 2 weeks late, was bullied daily. He was your classic nerd. Thick glasses, greasy hair, much smarter than any of us, and had absolutely no idea how to socialize with kids his age. And I know my male friends bullied him while I stood by and did nothing and I, more than likely, laughed as they did it. Mostly because I didn’t want to make myself a target of their teasing.
I felt an incredible sense of guilt. And felt compelled to reach out to Thomas and attempt to make amends for what I didn’t do almost 25 years ago. But I hadn’t seen Thomas since grade 8 – he had gone to a different high school and I had no idea where he had gone after that. Through the power of social media, I found him and last year, sent him a note. Here is part of what I said to him:
I wasn’t even sure I would hear back from him. Perhaps he remembered me as horrible. Perhaps he wanted nothing to do with the past. Perhaps he didn’t even remember me. But, 3 weeks later, I heard back from him. Here’s an excerpt of his message:
Fast forward to a few weeks ago when I heard from him again…letting me know his father had passed away and he was returning from Australia (where he now lives) to pack up his father’s belongings, etc…he still remained touched by my message and did I want to meet up for a drink or meal? And that’s how Sunday brunch came about this past weekend. After not seeing him for almost 25 years, I was able to apologize in person and I was able to get to know Tom, something I had missed out on so many years ago.
As a sad twist to the story, I learned that he had transferred to my school in grade 7 because he was being horrifically bullied at another school…and he said that what the kids in my school put him through was nothing compared to what he had come from. And, it was him who had orchestrated the school transfer because his parents were relatively new immigrants to Canada, didn’t speak the language well and had no idea how to advocate for their child. I teared up listening to him tell me this. It was a reminder that you really often have no idea what someone else is going through.
The upside to the story is that he has been incredibly successful in his career, has a good core group of friends and is happy. It was just a bumpy road to get there. And for me, I feel at least like I made some kind of amends for my role in the bumpy road.
The sunset last night.