Stories Untold, Heroes Unsung

I just finished watching 13 Reasons Why, primarily because I am a high school teacher and I know my kids are watching it, and as an ACE teacher, I deal with all of the issues brought up in this series. Of course, I can’t watch it as a teenager. I can only watch it as one who has been a teenager and who is now a parent and a teacher. This adds layers. Add to that a recent event that occurred when I was about halfway through the show and that impacts my students and me. Anyway, this blog is for teens, so I hope readers share it as they see fit, especially with kids.

My first impulse is, of course, to point out that a school would never allow the kind of memorializing that is done for Hannah in the show. I want to emphasize all that Hannah misses out on—the chance to work things out with the boy she cared about and to see the suffering she caused, whether to appreciate and savor it or regret it and make amends.

But those things actually matter less than what this series tells us about people’s stories. In ACE, students have the chance to learn in each other’s stories, for years in small groups, last year through an anonymous reading of stories, which they could opt out of if they chose. I share my own story with them. In 13 Reasons Why, we see the stories of many of the kids, which makes Hannah’s understandable self-absorption more poignant.

I watched and thought of all the adult stories kids don’t know. According to RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network), one in six American women has been the victim of an attempted or completed rape in her lifetime. How many female teachers have you had? If you can count six female adults in your life—parents, friends’ parents, neighbors, bosses, counselors, teachers, assistant principals, food service workers, custodians, secretaries, classroom aides—statistics suggest that at least one of them has survived this crime. As your list of adult females grows, then the stats keep climbing. About three percent of American men have experienced an attempted or completed rape in their lifetime. Do you know 33 adult men? Then there is a chance you know a male survivor.

It’s hard to pin down statistics on incest and child sexual abuse, because this is a vastly underreported crime, but current estimates indicate one in three-to-four girls, and one in five-to-seven boys are sexually abused before they turn 18. Most of these kids grow up. Some commit suicide. Some you never meet because they become drug addicts and sex workers and enter the corrections system before you ever meet them. Many of them become your teachers, or your friends’ parents, or even your parents. Some become abusers themselves, but most do not, and if you don’t know those survivors’ stories, you will never know what they have survived.

About 3.7 percent of the population has seriously contemplated suicide. Of them, about .5 percent attempt it. Fewer complete the act. That means roughly three out of every 100 adults you know (and I’ll bet you know at least 100) have contemplated suicide. They’ve been in that dark place. And they are still here.

Go beyond the adults you know. Think about the ones you pass in the street, the ones at the grocery store, the ones bringing you dinner at a restaurant, the ones who smile and take your name at the orthodontist’s office and tell you to have a seat.

Sometimes life is a huge struggle, and it feels like you have to have the strength of Hercules to make it from one day to the next. If you think you can’t do it, look around you at all the people who have made it to adulthood. You have no idea how many of them are epic heroes, just for being there. When you think of all the shit that can go really, really wrong in life, the truth is that almost every adult you know has fought a monumental battle to stand before you or even pass you at the mall. They don’t look like heroes. They look like you or like your parents or grandparents. They are beautiful and confident or small and almost invisible, and everything in between, but they are there.

You don’t know their stories, but they have them, and before you do what the teens in 13 Reasons Why (and in real life) do and assume that adults won’t understand and should be kept out of the loop, consider for a moment what you do not know about them.

And if one of us proves inadequate to the task, look around some more, because we are here, we survivors. If you fall in the street, sure, some people will pass you by. Some will ask, “Are you OK?” and then quickly assume everything is fine if you’re too embarrassed to say “No, I need help.” But you won’t be on the pavement long before someone stops to help you to your feet. After all, hardly a soul walking around you has gone a lifetime without falling. No one is without scars. It really is human nature to want to help. I do. I have heard callous comments from colleagues, sure, but I hear far more compassionate talk about students in the teacher’s workroom. Why? Because we care, and because no matter what you’re going through, one of us has probably been there and come out the other side.

One more thing, should this find its way to my students this summer: Live in peace, all friends and classmates of Matt, whom we lost last week. I want to see the rest of you back next year.

About admin

Paula is an author of historical fiction as well as a wife, mom, and teacher.
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3 Responses to Stories Untold, Heroes Unsung

  1. Dale Munholland says:

    Fantastic blog Paula. Really hit home for me as we went through similar struggles with our oldest son the past two years. Depression is a dark, crippling beast. Thankfully, he is better now and much happier. However, I am going to have him read this blog as a reminder that all of us carry baggage and all of us have lost at some point in our lives. And how you react to losing is far more important than how you react when you win.

  2. Tony Tochtrop says:

    So True about heroes who struggle everyday to make it to the next day. So many of us have worn the mask (or wear the mask now) that tells the rest of the world that everything is okay – when our lives may be anything but okay. Few of us feel safe enough to remove the mask, to anyone, most of all to ourselves.
    Can we do anything? Don’t wait until it is too late. Be generous with “How are you today?” in an way that means you really want to know. Be especially generous with “I love you” to those for whom that really applies.

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