You Are Not Alone
The first time I saw the video I was shocked! The students who were in the video weren't your typical "theater geeks" who excel at oral presentations and turn up the volume with their easily expressed opinions and performances, oozing with confidence. The kids in the video were the quiet kids. They were the students who avoid the spotlight. The ones who rarely raise their hands to respond to the question, but always know the answer. The ones who not only play by the rules, but also write them down. They were the kids who represented that awkward blend of humility and intensity. I was understandably shocked when I received the email with the video attachment: "Thought you might enjoy this video made by my friends and I. It's for a competition my church is involved in."
I watched the video during the five minutes at the end of my lunch break out of curiosity, and definitely expecting to be underwhelmed. The video began with individual shots of the somber faces of several teenagers. As the piano released the powerful melody, the words "loser," "worthless," and "freak" replaced the teenaged faces. And just as I felt myself getting involved in the video story, the familiarity of the lyrics to a song that I had never heard before pulled me in even deeper.
"I'm tired, I'm worn. My heart is heavy, from the work it takes to keep on breathing."
Even if that wasn't how I was feeling that day, I've been there more than once in my life - everyone has, so I kept listening and watching. The video captured the mostly silent suffering of each person, and the difficult battles that contribute to the feeling of being worn, "even before the day begins." But this wasn't just another sad song or documentary of defeat; this video ended with a promise that "the sun can rise." The thread that united each person in the video was a simple and small white piece of paper. When the group assembled at the end of the video, the papers all put together created the sentence, "You are not alone."
I was so thrilled and inspired by every aspect of this four minute video created by a group of teens that I showed it to every class that followed, and I was even more excited when one of my colleagues forwarded the video to the rest of the faculty. In a time that often seems dominated by the latest news of who's twerking who, I was moved by the simplicity, power, and hope of such a positive message.
I guess I temporarily forgot that we were also living in the age of post political correctness. During the hard-core politically correct years we got away from calling folks "niggers," "bitches," "fags," and "retards," but most of those words ended up being resurrected, and often by the people who would likely have been the targets of the offending terms. In the residue of this age of post political correctness, it's not cool to talk about God, Jesus, or basically anything that might relate back to the bible. We wouldn't want to offend anyone, and the voices of reason reminded our faculty of this in follow-up emails requesting that we not share the video with students. The objections to the video had little to do with the images of bullying, cutting and the palpability of the sense of hopelessness. The objections were to the message that we are not alone and that the spirit that causes the sun to rise each day will never abandon us. The tremendous irony of the suggestion that someone would be offended by an offering of hope, love and understanding left me speechless.
Back in the day, we were instructed not to say anything at all if we didn't have anything nice to say, but the more criticism becomes the language of choice, the old adage seems to have morphed into the idea that we just shouldn't say anything nice. I watched the video several more times throughout that week, and failed to find the offense in it. I even tried to watch it through the lens of someone who isn't a believer in God, and still...came up with nothing. After watching it so many times, I felt bad for people who hadn't watched it and had missed the opportunity to receive a wonderful gift: encouragement.
A few days ago one of the students sent an email to the faculty. It read, "...the short film that my friend created won first place in the national competition! Thank you for watching it and supporting us!"
I sure hope no one was offended.