Tag Archives: acceptance

The Strange, Painted Lady

One day, I saw the most unique woman sitting by the door at Starbucks.  She was sitting at a table by herself and immediately caught my attention with her thick eyeliner, which was applied well below her lash line, dark pink blush that almost looked painted on and her bright, scarlet lipstick.  Her clothes were worn and out of date, and her hair was unruly.  At first glance, it was easy to dismiss her as “some crazy lady” or “just another homeless woman”.  The look in her eyes, however, told another story altogether.

The painted lady sat alone at the table.  No one in the store seemed to notice her yet she noticed everyone who walked by.  When I first saw her, she was staring at my friend’s very obviously pregnant belly.  It’s hard to accurately describe the look on her face but despondent comes to mind.  The longing in her face was palpable and something in that look touched something deep within me.  Suddenly, I was no longer staring at a stranger, but rather a sister-soul who had seen her share of hard times in this life.  I was looking at a daughter, a sister, and maybe even a mother and I knew, instinctively, that she was hurting.

After that, I couldn’t take my eyes off of this woman sitting in the middle of a busy Boston Starbucks.  I watched her unsmilingly observe everyone who walked by.  She listened to the conversations and even tried to make eye contact a few times.  Nobody in the store seemed to even notice her, except me.  For reasons that I can’t explain, I was moved by this woman.  I was overcome with the need to let her know that I knew she was there, that I noticed her.

As we were walking out of the store, I made eye contact with my painted sister.  I smiled and gave her the slightest wink.  She returned my favor with the kindest, warmest smile that I’ve ever seen.  Her face truly lit up and for that moment, a matter of seconds, she and I understood each other perfectly.

My reason for sharing this story with you is simple; it was a powerful moment that I wish happened more often.  We’ve all been programmed to judge our neighbors.  It’s so ingrained that we never even bother to question the absurdity of assuming that we know everything about a person without ever speaking to them.  Life is too short to spend it disconnected.  If I had gone with my initial reflex, to judge, I would have missed that fleeting yet beautiful moment.

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I watched a TED talk about bullying by Shane Koyczan that talks about the effects of being bullied from his personal experience.  Toward the end of his speech, he performs his poem “To This Day”.  I’ve watched the video countless times and I’m still moved to tears.  His message is powerful and from the heart.  I want to share this video with you and  to help spread his message but, before I did, I also wanted to do a little research to see exactly how widespread this issue is.  As a parent, and a human being, what I found was alarming and cut me to the core.

This morning, I’ve seen the face of a promising, young singer who will never reach her dreams of fame.  I’ve seen candles lit for a beautiful young woman who threw herself in front of a train just to escape her tormenters.  I’ve seen the innocent face of a nine year old who hung himself after weeks of torment at school.  Coincidentally, he is the second youngest in Britain to commit suicide – the youngest was eight.

I have witnessed firsthand the effects of bullying with my son Keigan.  He suffered culture shock when we moved from the rural, northern part of the state to the urban, southern part of the state.  Keigan was, and still is to a degree, a country bumpkin and his peers were ruthless.  Keigan was acting out every day, being sent to the office, and even sometimes skipping school to avoid his bullies.  In spite of my attempts to teach Keigan empathy and a thick skin, words still hurt – especially when you’re little and feel all alone in a new environment.

In his speech, Shane remembers hating himself for becoming that very thing he loathed the most: a bully.  I saw this same change occur in Keigan during the seventh grade as he tried to fit in with his previous tormenters.  It was heart breaking to see my wonderful, creative, emotive boy turn into the same surly, unkind young person that I was trying so hard to protect him from.  Of course, things are different now.  At age 16, Keigan is around 6’2” and closing in on 190 pounds.  Thanks to his size, he doesn’t get teased anymore to but there’s a wall between his heart and the world.  I can only hope that he learns to lower the wall to let the right people in.

We watched Shane’s speech together and I asked Keigan for his opinion.  This is what he said to me about bullying:

“…If everyone had a better home life, and were taught to appreciate their flaws, rather than hate them, the bullying would stop…”

Trite as it may seem, the biblical expression “from the mouths of babes” has never seemed truer than it did when I heard these words come from my son’s mouth.

As parents, we all want what’s best for our children but we sometimes lose what’s sight of what’s truly best for them in our attempts to “guide them towards a happier, more fulfilling life.”  If we want this horrendous bullying, and its terrible consequences to stop, then we must start in our own households.  We have to teach our children love and compassion.  We need to teach them to take a stand not only for themselves, but also for others.  We need to learn to accept ourselves so we can teach them to do the same.  Please, watch this video with your children and encourage open dialogue about bullying.  Please encourage them to share this video with their friends and spread Shane’s powerful, important message.


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