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Amazing Grace

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I’ve met some of the most amazing people in my life while playing my guitar and singing my songs on the streets and in the subways of San Francisco and here in Maryland.  In fact, I’ll go as far as to say that some of the best people I’ve met in my life, I met while busking. (um, that’s the universal term for playing music publicly.)

One of those people, Rich, contacted me on the facebook blog page and thanked me personally for the post I did last week about Grace McComas, the beautiful 15-year-old girl who took her own life, right here in Maryland, on Easter Sunday.  She was from his community and attended his church.  Talk about hitting close to home.

Rich reminded just how incredibly painful and tragic these teen suicides are.  I mean, I always knew, instinctively, how devastating they are.  I’ve been through it, myself.  However, actually knowing someone who’s close to a recent one brought back a flurry of emotion for me.  At the top of that list is deep sorrow.Grace McComas2Grace McComas was a beautiful young girl.  In the video eulogy her father, Dave, made as a tribute, you see this amazing girl, exuberant, full of life, happy.  Grace was surrounded by an incredibly loving family and lived in a picturesque home environment.  And, that’s what makes this all the more torturous.  A beautiful young girl, living in a loving, nurturing environment, surrounded by a family who adored her took her own life.  Why?  Because, in her mind, she couldn’t endure one more day of the relentless bullying she was being subjected to.

Surrounded by love, from family, friends, and even pets, all she could see was the nastiness that was being directed to her.  What that says, to me, at least, is that the level of bullying that was directed towards her was extraordinarily intense.  It was strong enough to overwhelm the amount of love and support she had.  And, she had a lot.  When the hatred is so strong that it tilts the balance to that degree, well, we’re seeing what the results can be.

I’ve talked to friends and family of Kenneth Weishuhn.  I’ve talked to a friend of Kenny Wolf.  My “sister” recalls seeing Kenny around often.  Rich knew Grace from his community.  The pain is very real.  These are real people, teenagers!, with real families, real friends, real people who love them but are now left to grieve, hurt, mourn…and try to make sense of the fact that their loved one is gone.  More to the point, their loved one is gone because of someone else’s carelessness, meanness, hatred.  There’s absolutely no way whatsoever of justifying the behavior known as bullying.  Period.

This is posted on the Grace McComas Memorial Webpage.

Grace McComas- 15 Maryland 4/8/12

Bullied For Being Vulnerable

You know the lyrics to the classic song. The line in “Amazing Grace” goes, “How precious did the grace appear…the hour I first believed.” Appear, she did. And, she made those around her believe. In the breathtaking video Grace’s dad produced and posted on YouTube to honor his daughter, the melody tears at your heart as you learn the story of a girl who won believers even before she could breathe.

The video sweetly opens with Grace thriving in her mother’s sonogramed womb. Next, beaming mommy introduces tiny Grace to her awestruck big sisters, Cara and Megan. In the touching string of photos and videos that follow, an adored and loved Grace laughs, surprises, teases and delights as part of a family that seems to have it all and which does it right. Grace is the girl you’d be proud to call your sister. Your daughter. Your friend. Her family says Grace was “tender hearted.” One friend remembers her as “the funniest person I ever met who changed my life forever.”

But, like Grace’s life, the tone of her memorial video unexpectedly changes toward an end you hope doesn’t come. The lyrics of “Saint Francis Prayer,” include “pain,” “sadness,” and “injury.” Grace’s family says the 15-year old had been brutally bullied on the Internet for four grueling months. They knew about it and documented it. But, like most loved ones, they couldn’t fathom how deadly it could be.

In her journal, Grace wrote, “My hope for the New Year is to find happiness and to forgive those who’ve hurt me.” But there won’t be a new year for Grace on this earth. On Easter Sunday, the mean comments, taunts and criticisms had taken an irreversible toll. Under attack by peers, the girl who once was found…was lost. The child whose eyes could see..became blind. Unable to focus on the love immediately around her, Grace took her own life.

As conveyed in the carefully chosen song ending Grace’s video eulogy, great good can come from tragedy. Sarah Mclachlan sings, “Where there is hatred, let me sow love.” Where there is injury, pardon. Where there is sadness; joy.

These describe Grace’s philosophy she’d learned at home. And, indeed, there is joy. Through Grace’s organ donation, she saved three lives. A 10 and a 15- year old boy and a woman now live on.

The news of Grace’s bullied suicide spread across the nation. Pro athlete, Ray Rice, of The Baltimore Ravens and “American Idol” runner up, Lauren Alaina, called for all memorial attendees to wear blue. It was Grace’s favorite color. A Nile of blue pins, jackets and dresses streamed onto the sidewalk of St. Michael Roman Catholic Church.

While Grace’s school remained mum and police said little about the bullying or any investigation, mourners raised their voices with words of comfort meant for nobody else:

“When this flesh and heart shall fail
and mortal life shall cease,
I shall possess within the veil,
life of joy and peace.“

R.I.P Amazing Grace.

Written by Ron Kemp

April 22, 2012 at 8:12 am

They Wore Blue: Grace McComas, 15-years-old, Death by Suicide

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Last week, while we here in Maryland, and around the world, were mourning the suicide of Kenny Wolf, there was yet another event here.  Fifteen-year-old Grace McComas, of Glenelg High School, ended her young life because of cyberbullying two days following Kenny.  Both were laid to rest within moments of each other Saturday, April 14th.

Specific details of the cyberbullying were not reported by The Baltimore Sun because of an ongoing police investigation.

What is apparent was that blue was Grace’s favorite color.  Her friends started a cyber campaign, #blue4grace, which quickly went viral and attracted the attention of such notables as Lauren Alaina, the 2011 “American Idol” runner-up and Baltimore Ravens’ running back, Ray Rice.  Mourners were asked to wear blue for the visitation, but it didn’t stop there.  People as far away as Ireland and the Czech Republican were participating in the event.  The message is getting out:  this has to end.  And, to be sure, there ARE many people doing a lot of great things in an effort to end the bullying that’s claiming far too many teens’ lives.  One teen suicide because of bullying is one too many.  I’ve had 2 here in my own backyard within the past 10 days.  Enough.

Footballer Ray Rice has become proactive in the campaign against bullying.  He’s hosting an anti-bullying event in Howard County, where Grace was from.  I’m in the process of getting more information about that right now.  I’ve messaged Ray via his personally-run facebook page.  And, as the information becomes available to me, it will be passed along via the blog and on the facebook blog page.

It’s been said in conversations I’ve had with some people that today’s young people should have thicker skin and just understand that bullying is a part of growing up.  When I hear that, I seeth as I listen to their opinion.  But, listen, I do.  See, on the one hand, I do understand where they think they’re coming from with this logic.  Bullying has been around for as long as I can remember and, I’m sure, well before that.  My own dealings with the bullying and violence is well-documented here.  And, speaking from a personal standpoint, suicide wasn’t even a word in my vocabulary when I was a teen.  I coped.  I moved on.  But, as I’ve been figuring out over the past 10 years or so, I didn’t really “cope”.  The subconscious scars were very slow to heal.  And, that’s because I didn’t even realize they were there until, well, 10 years ago or so.  So, that said, it isn’t just a matter of today’s young people “getting over it”.  It just needs to end.  Period.  Parry Aftab, an Internet privacy and security lawyer who advises Facebook and MTV on online safety, had this to say about it:

“I don’t want the kids to be more resilient”. “I want the kids who are doing it to stop. I want friends of the kids being bullied to stand up and say, ‘I am with you.’ The popular kids, the smart kids, the big kids need to stand up and say, ‘Stop.'”

That’s the correct answer.  Damned needing tougher skin!!  They shouldn’t have to be dealing with it at all.

And, of course, there have been naysayers who believe this is all much ado about nothing.  To them, I say “think again”.  This is a real-life, real-time problem, and it’s costing lives.

In the most recent report, released March 31, the Maryland State Department of Education cited nearly 4,700 incidents of bullying, harassment and intimidation in the 2010-2011 school year, up from about 3,800 in 2009-2010 and 2,100 in 2008-2009.(The Baltimore Sun)

What that statistic clearly shows that bullying has increased in each of the past three school years in Maryland, alone!  Understanding that that’s only from the cases that are reported really puts it all in perspective.  We’re in the midst of a crisis that’s causing teens to end their own lives.  And, even in the cases where they aren’t committing suicide, sometimes the psychological scars they’re left with can last a lifetime.

A lot is being done, now, and by many people, to address the issue.  However, a lot more needs to be done, and by many more people.  And, we start by a.) re-educating the adults; and, b.) making sure our lawmakers and school officials understand that this issue needs to be taken with the same gravity of, say, an outbreak of a deadly viral infection that’s hitting teens around the country and around the world.  How quickly would “they” find a cure if that were the issue instead of bullying?  That same intensity needs to be focused on the issue with bullying.

To the family and friends of Grace McComas, I’m so sorry that you’re having to go through this.  My heart and condolences go out to you.  And, to you, Grace, the world will now never know what gifts you had to offer.  Rest in peace.