So, it’s fairly certain that one of the biggest fires in Oregon at the moment was started by a 15-year-old boy playfully throwing a smoke bomb into a ravine while hiking in the woods. To hell with burn bans. The world is one big video game! Woo hoo! If we destroy everything, we just hit the reset button, right?
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. The vast majority of the crime and destruction in this world is perpetrated by boys between the ages of 15 and 24, regardless of race or religion. It’s like they take out their brains and set them on a dusty shelf in the back of their closets for a decade.
I know that’s a sweeping generalization. I’m sure there are plenty of good kids wandering around. But from a statistical standpoint, I wouldn’t bet the farm on any of them. When it comes to violence, theft, graffiti, traffic accidents, bar fights, rape, DUI, and general stupidity, the numbers bear me out.
I hope there are consequences for this kid. I hope he has to help fight this fire. I hope he has to walk through the devastated landscape afterwards and see what he’s done. Somehow, someone has to get through to him.
He won’t be in the stupid stage forever. How will he feel in his 30’s about what he did? This may sound strange, but I hope he regrets it quite a lot. Because that will show that he has developed some sort of a moral compass, as painful as it will be for him. If, on the other hand, he laughs it off, is allowed to get over it, or becomes angry and bitter and stays stuck in his stupidity, then heaven help us all.
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I can’t even begin to tell you how happy I am that I’m not who I was as a teenager. Sure, I have many things in common with that girl, but frankly I don’t think I’d want to be stuck on an elevator with her. She was so dramatic it exhausts me to think about it. She was also very, very damaged and love-starved and therefore made a lot of really bad choices. Looking back at myself makes me cringe.
But we all have a past, don’t we? Some of us have more regrets than others. On the other hand, some people actually wish they were their young selves again. These people fascinate me. It must be sad to think that it’s all been downhill from there, that in the intervening years no progress has been made and no lessons have been learned. It must take quite a bit of effort to not move forward, even an inch, after years of living.
The other day I was thinking about the boy I went to school with who listed the KKK as one of his clubs in my junior high school yearbook. I didn’t know him well. I can’t imagine we moved in the same circles. Not even a little bit. But I wonder about the man he became.
Does that man look back at that yearbook entry with pride or with shame? What has he done with his life? Does he have kids? Have they seen that yearbook? My mother’s yearbook entry simply says, “A sweet and simple lass was she.” I suspect that’s a much easier legacy to live up to. It certainly doesn’t require justification or explanation.
I thought about trying to track that guy down, but to be honest, I’m afraid of what I might find. It would be wonderful if he came to his senses and dedicated his life to some form of public service, but I’m afraid that, with such a rotten core, the resulting apple might not be particularly healthy. Hate warps you. Then again, people can change. Who knows.
But then, having come from an educational system that allowed someone to list the KKK as one of their clubs in the yearbook means that none of us, from that rural southern town, had the best start. I think many of us turned out well in spite of, not because of, that twisted beginning. Your role models help to set your stage, but only you can star in the play that is your life.
I am who I am partly because the teenage me was who she was. But I’d like to think I’m so much more than that now. I’ve had life experiences. I’ve grown. I’ve evolved. She was just a part of the overall process. Because of that, I’m grateful for her. But I wouldn’t want to be her. I just wish I still had her pert little behind.
One of my rear tires was looking slightly flat. Again. It would never lose enough pressure to set off alarm bells in my mind, but it really was starting to annoy me.
The gas station’s mechanic must have seen me muttering to myself at the air pump, and he came over to investigate. He offered to remove the tire and inspect it for free, and sure enough, I had picked up a nail somewhere along the way. He repaired the tire for 16 dollars and off I went. That’s excellent customer service.
I must have been driving around with that nail for months. How amazing that something could have such a low grade negative impact on my life and yet I hadn’t noticed for so long. It made me wonder what other “nails” I carry around without even realizing it.
Almost immediately after having that thought, I stumbled across my journal from my senior year in high school. I sat down to read it for the first time since I had written it. It was a painful read.
I had forgotten how miserable I was as a teenager. My self-esteem was at rock bottom. I was so starved for love and validation that I went looking for those things in all the wrong places. For example, I described an excruciating date in which the boy in question had treated me horribly. I mean, really, there was no excuse for his disrespectful behavior. And then I wailed, “And he didn’t even kiss me good night!” Ah, teenage angst.
I practically had “welcome” tattooed across my forehead. I was a bleeding fish among sharks. I was so easy to victimize that I drew unscrupulous people into my orbit. The 52 year old me weeps for the 17 year old me. But the 17 year old me did not know any better. She had no frame of reference that would lead her to believe that she deserved more.
Those old journals are heartbreaking. But I’m going to continue to read them, because I cannot affect repairs on myself until I know exactly how many nails I’ve been driving through life with. I think I have some customer service I need to apply to myself, and it’s long overdue.
I was in the DVD section of the library the other day and I heard two teenagers talking. The girl was saying to the boy in an authoritative tone, “No, you can’t check out that movie. It has too much gratuitous violence.” The boy, who was obviously trying to make an impression, said, “You’re right. I hate that.” And then after a long pause he asked, “What if the guy in the movie is a hero, and he’s being violent to save someone?” The girl said, “No, that’s still gratuitous.” Clearly that was her new vocabulary word and she planned to use it to full advantage to get the poor boy to check out some chick flicks.
Finally, he pulled a couple DVDs off the shelf and said, “How about these?” She let out a long-suffering sigh and said, “I’m still looking. Go and stand over there, and when I’m ready I’ll look at your movies and let you know.” He scuttled off.
Such self-assurance. Such arrogance. Only teenagers and really bad bosses can get away with talking to people like that. I kind of had to chuckle to myself. That girl is going to have a really hard road ahead of her. She’s going to have to learn that her way isn’t the only way. She’ll discover that as she gets older, men are not going to put up with that sort of treatment. Someday she’ll realize that she isn’t always going to be right.
I was really tempted to pull her aside and say, “Honey, you’ll be a lot better off when you sacrifice just a little bit of that confidence for some kindness. And if you allow for the fact that sometimes you’re wrong, an open mind will come flooding forth, and you’ll be grateful for it. And the older you get, the fewer people are going to have a crush on you, so you might want to consider appreciating it when it comes your way.”
I almost said those things, but why bother? She isn’t going to get it. Not for a few years, anyway.