Will you please take the picture?
Will you please take the picture?
When I was 15 I went to sleep away camp in Durban, South Africa. It was terribly exiting but had a tremendous social pressure component. I was definitely an awkward gawky teen, ill dressed and rather on the depressive side. Camp became what school was like for me. A competition of fitting in, which means you have to act in a way that the group wants you to or live on the outside.
In the classroom it was pretty consistent for 4 years. The day before school all the students would come and pick a seat. If you were in the “in” crowd that meant that the first of the clique to get there would “reserve all the seats for her 10 friends.” That left all the “others” or outsiders to choose from the front or back row. The first year or so I chose the front, the last 2 years I was all the way in the back. I had a massive window and that’s where my mind wondered most of the time. Socially it was just too painful to be an outsider. In 10th grade half of my class left to either Manchester/Gateshead so that pretty much left me as one of the only “outsiders”
I’d conveniently be forgotten to be invited to class parties and conversations would stop when I was nearby. I used to think that I deserved to be treated like that because if everyone did not value me, then I had no value. Only as an older adult do I see how everyone could have be mistaken in their judgement and treatment others.
Back to camp. It started the same way. One of the in crowd made it into the bunk house and booked 10 beds for all her friends who were yet to come. I was told repeatedly that I could not choose one bed or another, although those people weren’t even there. It’s really hard to describe what rejection feels like on that level. It almost felt normal. There was excruciating heartbreak, but not recognizing or understanding why. A feeling of injustice would bubble up, but the suck it up component would take over.
We went on some incredibly scenic trips. At one massive gorge, my entire class stood together for a picture and one of them asked me if I’d mind taking the picture of them with all of their cameras. I really did mind way more than anyone could imagine, but I took the pictures anyway. My heart shouted out, “hey, I’m here, please invite me into the class picture, please see me.”
I then decided to get a picture of just myself so I scooted to the edge of a rock overhanging a 1000 foot drop. I let my legs hang down. Slowly I edged myself to a point where I was unstable enough to drop. I didn’t care. I was edging myself on, stretching my limits with absolutely nothing to lose. I remember crying and thinking that no one would miss me if I “dropped.” For about 20 minutes I had this massive inner battle within myself whether I should drop over the edge or not. I heard a few voices in my fog saying “you are too close to the edge, come back.” Those voices drowned by my inner voice screaming “you have nothing to lose, do it!”
Thank G-d I did not do it, but it has probably been the closest in my life to “doing it.” Perhaps I had a guardian angel that knew my time was not done. Having experience perhaps it is a mission of mine to bring awareness to others what excluding others could do. It does not take much to call that kid on the fringe, a text, an invite. Does it hurt if he/she is part of your class picture despite being part of your class? Many times we hear of teenage suicides and everyone is full of remorse, they had no idea. You don’t have to have an idea to make someone feel welcome, wanted and loved.