My 14 month old daughter was having a rough day (unforgiving teeth, mostly) which meant that the morning had been spent finding zen within the perma-cry and trying to encourage her to chew on appropriate teething toys rather than random shoes, tv remotes or her own fist.
I’m learning that the way forward is as much about following her lead as it is trying to control any given situation. Even though she can’t tell me exactly what’s wrong it’s my job – my calling – to read the signs and make things as painless and straightforward for her as I possibly can. I do this willingly, unflinchingly and often with a big dumb grin on my face, because the truth is right now, to me she’s nothing short of a living, breathing Disney character. She’s Puss in Boots from Shrek, looking up adoringly with those planet-sized eyes. She’s Gizmo the Mogwai appearing from his cage for the first time; all heartbreaking innocence and doe-eyed trust. She’s – well, you get the idea.
Right now my wife and I are her world, we’re everything she knows and trusts. She has nothing but our familiar dependable faces reminding her daily that she is loved and protected and that all is well. In turn she offers us assurance, albeit unspoken, that ‘so-far-so-good’. She’s happy, she’s safe, she’s grateful.
Of course, she won’t always be like that. She won’t always be my vulnerable, defenceless little tot. I’m fully aware that my current feelings are fervent but finite. Maybe too aware. Maybe it’s just me but I’m pretty sure a lot of parents would identify when I say that I already have flashes of how utterly cruel and unfair life will seem as she incrementally smashes my heart into a zillion pieces by simply growing up and venturing out into the world without me. She will at some point unknowingly and unwittingly, through no fault of her own leave me in the proverbial dust; a simpering, whimpering one-time superhero reduced to a crumbly old man with out-of-date wisdom and a bit less wind in his sails.
I remind myself of course that all that stuff is a long way off, and that the most important thing is to be in the now, to enjoy every single moment while it lasts, even days like today when it’s all about teething and tantrums. The screaming and the inconsolable outbursts are wonderfully tolerable because they are after all a huge part of the deal – they have just as much relevance as any of the ‘fun’ stuff and they are, in their own way further confirmation that things are going according to plan. Everything is as it should be.
Just thirteen years ago someone was thinking about Izzy Dix in exactly the same way. Feeling some if not all of the same wonder, fear, joy and hope as I’m feeling right now I would imagine.
Izzy was fourteen when she died in September of this year. She wasn’t ill or struck by some terrible accident. She took her own life as a result of being snubbed by schoolmates and becoming a target of cyber-bullying. She wrote a poem just before she died, the title of which was ‘I give up’.
It’s a pretty poem, one that clearly shows a girl in touch with and able to communicate her feelings. It is honest, heartfelt and concise. It is also her very last comment on the world, her last experience of what it was to be alive. Her legacy.
I didn’t know Izzy Dix but I miss her. I miss the idea of her. She was as real and as important as you and I, with just as much right to all the highs and lows life would have presented along her journey. She should have gotten through it. She should have had a chance. She should have had a future; the opportunity to look back on this time as a crazy misunderstood moment that she triumphed over and ultimately grew from.
But for whatever reason, she didn’t. And she’s gone.
I can’t begin to imagine what her mother is going through, and I’m not qualified to make guesswork out of such delicate subject matter. The fact that she has bravely allowed the poem to be published however clearly suggests that she is adamant Izzy’s passing won’t be in vain. It’s a beautiful gesture; a moment of hope amongst the blinding primary sadness that surely threatens to consume. It is a call to arms, asking “young people everywhere to think about the potential impact of their behaviour before they act”.
It also declares “We all need to be motivated by love and kindness, not nastiness and hate.”
When I reposted this story on Twitter I did it because I was so moved, so completely floored by it I felt compelled to share. Not because I take any pleasure in spreading sadness or negativity but because it seemed to me irresponsible not to. I needed others to see it, to experience it, because unlike illnesses, accidents, floods and hurricanes this is something we have created, and this is something we can and must begin a process to heal and to stop.
I personally don’t feel that blame is a solution. Whether it’s the fault of the website in question, or the school or society in general none of that will bring Izzy back. None of that will bring back Daniel perry, Hannah Smith or any of the increasing number of young people committing or attempting suicide due to bullying on and offline.
It’s estimated that 1 in 3 young people have experienced or are experiencing cyber bullying, and for every successful suicide there are between 50 and 200 attempts.
Our young people are in trouble. They are drowning in a sea of miscalculated disrespect and misjudged derision.
When I checked back on Twitter sometime later I noticed two things. One was that my tweet had received more retweets than any I can remember and secondly – most of the retweets had been made by young people – people around the same age as Izzy.
To those people – I see first hand how important this subject is to you, how deeply this affects you and how little persuasion you need to push the message further; to reach out and share this unjust and heartbreakingly serious illness that is bullying in an effort to seek understanding and find resolve.
I want nothing more for all of you than the sanctuary of knowing deep in your heart that no matter what you might be going through with your peers or your friends or your schoolmates at this time or any time in the future, this is not the sum total of who you are or what you are about or what you have yet to do in this world. You have only just begun. There is so much waiting for you. SO MUCH.
The people who lash out at you and others like you are terrified that you have stuff figured out and they don’t. They are crying out for help and the only language they know is ridicule. This is not their fault. Waste no time trying to figure out their personal motives for they have none. It is all about them. You are a name pulled out of a hat to them. They see in you only an image of the person they wish they were. They are not looking at the person you know yourself to be; the person your parents, your family and your true friends recognise and celebrate every day. Dare to celebrate with them – it’s not cheesy and it will empower you, I promise.
Know this also – you have a future self; a future you that you are unable to see or trust in yet. I know this because I am old and have caught up a bit with future me, so trust me.
Now is not everything, not at your age. Don’t surrender to this moment like it’s the only one on offer. Be in it, yes. Seek out the good stuff and allow yourself to bask in it, yes. Remember though that your life is in forward motion – the wheels are turning – everything is passing. Your future self isn’t a fantasy or a figment of imagination – it exists, and you have to know that you’re the only one with the power to get to it and when you do – when you connect with that older you, you will understand that you’ve always been there willing yourself to come through this and any other obstacles thrown in your path so that you can gather strength and keep pushing, because that’s what life is; a game of knocking obstacles down and gathering strength before the next one takes shape. In time it gets easier I promise.
The damage bullying does is real. It’s real and it hurts and it consumes every thought and makes us doubt our very place and purpose on this planet. No one should ever suggest otherwise.
The real truth however is that you are needed. You are absolutely needed in this world. From this very moment. Even if it’s a shitty moment. You have to stick around, because we can’t do it without you. None of us can. We don’t always admit it but we can’t keep things moving without you and your future self, because the reality is we haven’t figured enough of it all out yet, and without you bringing your experiences, opinions, attitudes and wisdom to the table we’re all just stumbling around in the dark. You are the future, we are waiting for you. Your future self is waiting for you.
Please don’t believe all the bad stuff. It simply isn’t true.
Please don’t for one second think that you are not needed in this life.
And most of all please, please don’t ever give up.