Charlie is a troubled teen suffering from blackouts and carrying a secret. His middle school years were difficult at best and his freshman year in high school gets off to a rocky start. He eats alone in the cafeteria, walks the hallways anonymously, and is in general, ignored. Finally, he’s befriended by a teacher who sees potential in him and feeds Charlie’s passion for books, literature and writing. He’s finally accepted by two seniors, Patrick and Sam, and Charlie confesses to them, “I didn’t think anyone noticed me.”
To say that Charlie is a fictional character from the movie, The Perks Of Being A Wallflower based upon a book written by Stephen Chbosky would be fooling myself and lying to you. Charlie is much more than that.
I’ve been in education for 37 years and I’ve seen, watched and spoken to many Charlies over the years. While The Perks Of Being A Wallflower is a work of fiction, kids like Charlie walk the hallways of any school in any city anywhere.
I’m thinking of a young man in particular. “Jeff” (not his real name) walks three laps each morning by himself. By that I mean, he makes a circuit from first floor, to second floor and back to first each morning, every morning, always walking past me before he heads up the stairs. He’s by himself. Always. In fact, I’ve never seen him walking or talking with any other students since September when the school year began. It took him six months to smile at me and say hello. As hard as I try to engage him in conversation, he resorts to one or two word answers. He’s pleasant enough. Dresses like the rest of the kids do. Nothing extraordinary about him, other than the fact that he is alone.
And, if these kids are walking hallways in a school, these same kids are sitting at your dinner tables, watching TV alongside you at night, sitting in their rooms doing homework, playing video games, texting and listening to music. They’re sleeping in their bedrooms each night only to get up each morning and do what they always do- walk the hallways of a school once again. Push play, repeat, play, repeat . . .
This past month, we sponsored what is called Challenge Day for our students. Students spend a day with adult volunteers and two facilitators who help kids understand they aren’t alone, unique, odd or different. They help kids come to realize that each of us- adults included- have fears, worries, challenges, good days and bad days. The stories these kids and adults share bring even the most hardened of hearts to mush. There are tears. There is laughter. Mostly, there is understanding and acceptance and tolerance. Above all, acceptance and tolerance.
There are kids like Charlie all over. Everywhere. Some we know because we see them every day. Some we know because they cut our lawn, wash our car, serve us fast food from the drive-through. Some we know because they sit quietly, passively in our classroom, eat in our cafeteria. Some we know because they are our own children. Perhaps they are, were, us. We know firsthand what they experience because we’ve been through it before them. Perhaps we’re still going through it even now as adults. Moving through our daily job, our daily tasks silently, quietly, passively. Not wanting to be bothered. Not wanting the spotlight. Not wanting to be noticed. But wanting to be bothered. Wanting the spotlight and most importantly, wanting to be noticed.
Push Play. Repeat. Play. Repeat. Day after day. Night after night. Week after week. Waiting for a kind word, a gentle touch, someone to notice us, to listen to us, to be with us.
Maybe it’s time to break that cycle. Maybe it’s time to help our children, help ourselves. Something to think about . . .
Live Your Life, and Make A Difference!