Saturday, April 20, 2013

On YOLO and a post-4/20 world

My 8th graders have a new saying this year: YOLO. 

You Only Live Once.  As in, Oh man, I got an F on that test in math.  Oh well, YOLO.

For the record, I really despise this particular acronym.  (I also despise the word SWAG, as in Hey Mrs. Strassner, those shoes are really swag.  I got rid of it in my classroom by using the everloving crap out of it, because if there's one sure-fire thing that will make adolescents think something is totally uncool, it's when an adult adopts it as their own.  YOLO.)

Much like it's early predecessor, carpe diem, YOLO is all about the live-for-today attitude, but without the redemptive, inspirational undertones.

It's difficult to express to a teenager just why this phrase is so darned obnoxious to me.  Perhaps because I know firsthand exactly how true the sentiment is. 

YOLO wasn't a saying we adopted.  It was laid out for us as teenagers.  Right there, smack-me-in-the-face obvious.  And at 14 years old, the question of why some of us did and some of us didn't (live, that is) was never especially clear.

The last several months have been tough on that front.  It feels to me like we've been hit numerous times with tragedies - tragedies I can't help but take extremely personally.  There were shootings at a theatre in Aurora, there was the all-too awful elementary school shooting, and, at the beginning of this week, bombings in Boston. 

I spent a lot of time after that day 14 years ago thinking about who I was in light of what had happened to me.  Many hours were devoted to figuring out who I was and how I wanted to deal with the cards I'd been dealt.  The truth was, I didn't want it to define me.  It was something that happened, and it was very sad.  But it would not become who I was and what I was about. 

I wasn't naiive enough to think that I could get away entirely unscathed - I absolutely spent the next two years searching out exits in every single building I ever entered.  It got to a point that my brain could monitor that without me consciously thinking about it (which is why, ironically, I've always had a fear of movie theatres.  No exit in a mass-shooter type scenario.) - but I saw the obstacles that lay in my path as a result of Columbine, and I doubled my efforts to consciously overcome them anyway. 

As a teen, I went to see movies, even though there was never a single time that I didn't carefully monitor every person that walked in from a bathroom break, just in case they might actually be a shooter.  Sounds paranoid, right?  That's what trauma does to you.  The point, though, is that I went.  I never let the fear get the best of me or stop me from doing something that would have been easy if my life hadn't included Columbine.

Oh, how things change when you're a mom. 

Now I admit to the part where I let the fear rule: After Aurora, I don't think I'll ever go to a movie theatre again. 

Perhaps, maybe.  Sometime in the distant future.  The variable that's changed here is that I'm no longer living just for me.  I no longer feel the need to do something just to prove that I can.  I've dealt with the parts I need to deal with for myself.  I've been tough and strong. 

Walking this road with kids is, like, a thousand times more difficult and complicated than it was when it was simply my own heart I was protecting. 

The irrational part of me wants to snatch them up, stick them in a closet and keep them there until... well, until the world isn't so crazy, unpredictable and dangerous.  So, forever. 

To keep them S-A-F-E.

Unfortunately, S-A-F-E literally requires me to lock them up in a closet for forever.  And that's not even close to the life I want for my kids. 

Because it's the moments in life where there is much at stake that character is forged.  It is these experiences that teach us the greatest of life's gifts: compassion, empathy, wisdom, love, beauty, faith, determination.  So often they are borne out of trial.  They are borne out of struggle.

Sometimes we make a friend who betrays us.  Sometimes we bet on the wrong man.  Sometimes we go to school or the movies and get shot at.  Sometimes we get picked on.  Sometimes our parents disappoint us.  Sometimes we get sick.  Sometimes we lose people we love.  Sometimes we end up as sobbing heaps on the floor because of the cards this world deals us.

But the kicker - the most important part of all this unpredictability - is that it isn't about what happens to us, it's about the choices we make as a result.  The life we choose, the people we decide to be after the world falls down around our ears. 

S-A-F-E isn't realistic, because if they are safe, they never have a chance to grow.  They never have a chance to choose.  They never have the priviledge of falling down - and the lesson that comes with knowing that they are capable of picking themselves up.

It is here, I would tell my 8th graders, that I take issue with your casual and cavalier use of YOLO.  If you're justifying outrageous and stupid things with the rational that it doesn't matter since you only live once, you've missed the entire point. 

The lesson is: You only live onceOne lifetime to become our best selves.  The lesson is: keep a careful eye on your choices, words and actions, because it is these that will one day make up the tapestry of your life for better or worse.  The lesson is: Life doesn't just happen, passively, to any of us.  It is a series of choices we make for ourselves that determines our character, even in the face of events we can't control. 

The lesson is: Live the life you've imagined for yourself, take chances when it's worth it - even when you are afraid.  Even when there is much to loose.   

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