Recently the news has been filled reports about the YA book turned Netflix miniseries, 13 Reasons Why. I’ve read quite a few articles about the series and understand the potential for the program to “trigger” a reaction in those overwhelmed by depression and other issues that leave them vulnerable to the suggestion that suicide is a resolution to their struggles. I’ve already expressed my thoughts about suicide and the impact on those who are left behind to carry the weight of loss. That’s not my topic today.
I want to share something that happened yesterday that I can’t stop thinking about.
Each year at “my” library we are fortunate enough to schedule an author visit for our students. In the past we’ve targeted a particular grade, carefully rotating things around so that no class graduates without having had the opportunity to listen to a published author share their work and life story. This year we “split” an author, Ben Mikaelsen, with another suburban school district. Mr. Mikaelsen lives in Montana and being able to divide his expenses with another district made it possible for us to meet his honorarium and travel costs. It was kind of a big deal for us to have such an established author visit and we maximized our time with him by scheduling three individual presentations. All of our students would be able to listen to our special guest, and some would even be able to have lunch with him.
Lunch seems like such a simple thing, but I’m now convinced it can be so much more.
The presentations were engaging and the students were a great audience. Mikaelsen shared stories from his own childhood about being bullied and being a bully himself. He talked about the inherent weakness of bullies and the importance of writing our own stories, life stories that we create and reside within. He implored students to begin writing their own life stories the very minute they walked out of the auditorium and I could see the kids mulling the weightiness of his words.
Midday we had a couple of dozen students join the author for sandwiches and conversation in the Library Media Center, including one last minute addition that our principal sent down because he felt it would be a positive and meaningful experience for the child. After we ate, students filtered through getting their books signed until only one student remained, the one selected by the principal. The student approached Ben Mikaelsen and quietly said “I have a question for you.” After receiving an encouraging nod from the author, the child continued. “When does the bullying stop?”
I stepped away, tears in my eyes, to give them time to talk. Their conversation lasted a few minutes, enough time for me to grab an extra copy of one of Ben’s books, Touching Spirit Bear, and my camera. Ben signed the book for the child and they posed together for a photo. I’d like to think that young person left the library with far more than they had when they had arrived. And a book, too.