Growing up, my Sunday School teacher, Barbara Marks, started nearly every lesson by reminding us of the Golden Rule:
Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you. This is the essence of all that is taught in the law and the prophets. – Matthew 7:12
“Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you.”
Be kind. Good-hearted. Respectful.
I grew up with this lesson deeply ingrained in me, not only by my Sunday School teacher, but by my parents and grandparents. I don’t know that it has ever occurred to me not to treat someone with kindness and respect, no matter how I may personally feel about them. In the world we reside in, I sometimes feel I’m the exception, rather than the rule. It’s easier to make a snide comment or post a rude reply on social media than to swallow down dislike and smile.
In the early hours of Friday morning, my stepdad’s nephew took his own life. It was his sixteenth birthday.
John-Ryan was the victim of cruel and vicious bullying.
I can’t write about how well I knew John-Ryan. His rural hometown was a bit of a drive from Charlottesville. I believe the last time I saw him was two Christmas ago, at his grandfather’s funeral. I can’t tell you about his favorite songs or movies or recall countless fond memories of him. In my mind, he will forever be the young elementary-aged boy, seated at his Nanny’s kitchen table, eating dessert.
What I can tell you about John-Ryan is that he was intelligent. I’ve been told he was an artist and loved animals. I know he looked remarkably like his older brother. His older brother who is heartbroken and questioning why, reckoning with regrets and wondering what he could have done differently, had he known the extend of the pain his younger brother was in.
John-Ryan was different. That was his flaw. Being different.
But, aren’t we all different?
We may share commonalities, like a love of reading or a similar fashion sense, but, we are all different. Created that way on purpose. Created to be unique individuals with our own gifts, our own passions, our own purposes.
Take my sister and I. We share DNA and a similar quick wit. But, I’m blonde, with blue eyes and stand a whole 5’2″ tall. She has dark hair, dark eyes, and is nearly 6″ tall. I love wearing dresses, reading books, and listening to indie bands. She loves art and photography, boy bands, and would rather have her teeth extracted without anesthesia than wear a dress.
We are different, unique. We are different from our brother, who looks a lot like my sister, but loves sports, video games, and has a knack with numbers. We are different from each of our many cousins. We are different from each of our friends.
John-Ryan was merely different, just like you and I.
On a day that should have been a milestone birthday celebration, his parents and family mourned him instead. They will continue to mourn him until they too take their last breaths. I’m not a parent yet, but I can’t imagine that you ever get over losing a child.
John-Ryan’s death was preventable. A kind word, a friendly smile in the hallway. Those simple gestures could have made all the difference in the world.
It is my hope, his family’s hope, that some good comes from his death. Bullying is not a new topic. John-Ryan isn’t the first teenager to take his life because of bullying and sadly, he won’t be the last. His death and the bullying that contributed to it reads just like any number of news stories – something we hear about, but don’t think would happen to anyone we know, until it does.
There is hope that his death will serve as a catalyst for change. That his death will cause his classmates and their families to consider their actions and how deep words can cut. That they may move forward with kindness, teach their future children to be kind to one another, no matter how different or unique an individual may be. Instead of pointing fingers and placing blame, there is a hope, an opportunity, for change.
Be kind to people. It’s not always the easy thing to do. Borrowing from a Carrie Underwood song, words aren’t like toy guns that merely click when the trigger is pulled. Words hurt.
Be kind. You don’t have to be everyone’s best friend. You don’t even have to like everyone. But, be kind. A polite nod of the head in passing will suffice. In a world where “you can’t sit with us” is printed on t-shirts and coffee mugs thanks to a pop culture phenomenon, give someone a simple smile. Slide over so they can sit next to you on the bus. Make small talk while waiting in line. You may make a unique, different, new friend.
You may save someone’s life by reminding them there are still good people in the world. You may never know you did it.
Given the circumstances and expenses, John-Ryan’s uncle has created a Go Fund Me page to help with funeral costs and anti-bullying messaging. I’ll leave the link here: John Ryan & Anti-Bullying Go Fund Me.
Please keep John-Ryan’s family, especially his parents and brother, in your prayers.
Please, be kind.