I share this not to dwell on the problems I have had in life, but as a way perhaps of helping others. When I look back it is to remember how far I’ve come and how it’s possible to rise above those things that can hold you back.
Nor do I wish to use my own modest success in overcoming my own difficulties as a cudgel to beat those who may be in a state where they are in need of help or are not succeeding. I appreciate that everyone’s story is different. I write this in the hope that it might help others to find the answers they need to find, the support everyone needs at some point in their lives, the belief in themselves that allows them to be the people they want to be, need to be and deserve to be.
Growing up was hard for me, at least my high school years. I could indulge in navel gazing and work through my history in order to explain exactly why that was, but it’s important really only to me. The point is I found myself in high school with no friends and failing or nearly failing every class I had. In short, I was a screw-up.
Seeing as I was a screw up, there was no shortage of people who would ask “What’s wrong with you?” or “What’s your problem?” But that never helped me because I was already asking those questions of myself all the time. I had no critic harsher than myself. I didn’t need someone to tell me to toughen up. What I really needed was someone to tell me to loosen up. I needed someone to tell me that life wasn’t purgatory, that happiness was a viable goal and that if I screwed up, if I failed, I was allowed to forgive myself and try again. You see, I never really gave myself the opportunity to succeed. I demanded perfection of myself, and if I fell, I told myself it was because I wasn’t good enough, wasn’t strong enough. And demanding perfection meant I was never going to be good enough, because I was never going to be perfect.
I don’t know what made me fall into that trap, I really don’t. But somehow I ended up repeating the same negative processes over and over. Whenever I met a new person I would automatically believe that they saw the absolute worst possible version of myself. If I seemed to make an initial good impression, it only heightened the discomfort I felt as I awaited the total collapse that I was sure to make.
When someone is doing as poorly as I was in school, a visit to the guidance counselor is inevitable. I was shy to the degree that having to talk to anyone was painful enough, having to talk about myself was worse, and having to confront the facts of my inability to cope with my own life was almost unbearable.
But I was fortunate. I had a counselor who was nice. Nice seems such a neutral word, it doesn’t get the respect it deserves. When you’re a fifteen year old screw up, nice can mean the world to you. And Mrs. Feiler was nice. Mrs. Feiler, I still remember how to spell her name. “It’s relief spelled backwards,” she once told me. Funny what you remember 34 years later.
At any rate, I hated having to go in front of people and explaining why it was I was a screw-up because I myself didn’t know what my problem was. I could only tell people that I’d try harder next time and try to give the vibe that said, “Yeah, I hate me too.” That was the best I could do, self-hatred. I figured I was worthy of it.
But see, Mrs. Feiler was a kind and caring person. She saw things in me that others didn’t or chose not to because the possibility that I might actually have potential would have required some real effort and commitment from them. She would see that I carried around books that weren’t school books. She saw I had interests that school and apparently no one else was addressing and we would talk about things that mattered to this kid that didn’t matter.
And then, one day, in the lengthy process of trying to figure out what the hell was wrong with me, she said these words: “You’ll be okay”. Just like that. God knows how she knew I’d be okay, or even if she really meant it, but she said it. And it stuck. It stuck somewhere deep down in me. Oh, it didn’t show itself right away, but it never left. Somebody believed in me. Somebody planted a seed of faith in me that grows until this day. And that’s all it took, just a few words from a single person.
Thank you doesn’t cut it. And I don’t want to paint one individual as some great hero, but she was to me on this one day. I hope she can appreciate that she played such a role in this wonderful adventure that is life, that she did something that is considered by someone as profound and life-changing.
But as I said, thank you is not enough. I want to go further than that. I want to pass on what she gave to me. I want to show her that her kindness and concern goes far beyond an individual act of kindness, that everything we do has echoes and repercussions far beyond the individual that started it. Not that such a thing can be accredited to any one person. For the part you played, Mrs. Feiler, is the link in an immense chain, of something larger and more beautiful than any of us can imagine yet can feel in our hearts once the light has been lit.
So to all of you out there, I wish to share with you what was once shared with me. I believe in you. You are not a bad person, you are not a screw-up. I may not approve of some things you have done, but I don’t believe you are condemned to repeat the failures of your past. It won’t be easy, it wasn’t easy for me, but the journey is worth the effort. You are part of this whole human race thing and you have a part, a necessary part to play in it. Believe, achieve, and pass it on.