Sticks and stones can break my bones, but names will never hurt me. This is the mantra I was given as a child to help me navigate the harsh realities of being a round kid with glasses. Who liked to read more than he liked to play sports. Who didn't have a date until he was sixteen. Who was painfully shy. Who was exactly the kind of child who needed that sort of wisdom. I needed that kind of wisdom because I could not understand why anyone, especially another kid, would want to inflict any kind of pain on me.
I want to tell you that this phrase helped me through my formative years and made every interaction with cruelty. I want to believe that my sterling character was buoyed by a sense of my own self-esteem. I want to say that I was able to develop a Teflon-coated soul onto which no evil thoughts would stick. That's the thing about evil thoughts. They don't have to stick. They just have to leave a dent.
The dent that was left by all the words I heard when I was that round kid with glasses has made me hyper-vigilant on the behalf of round kids with glasses everywhere. And thin kids. Even kids with chicken pox or who happen to like Armour hot dogs. Growing up is horribly difficult, and all my worldly perspective tells me what my parents tried to clue me in on all those years ago: Those kids who are doing the teasing and bullying are terribly unhappy themselves, and even if misery doesn't exactly love company, there seems to be some sort of symbiotic relationship between the two.
When I read about Rebecca Sedwick, I thought about how easy I had it back in the day. There was no Facebook. There was no cyberbullying. If you wanted to torment someone, you were pretty much left to your own face-to-face torture. Sure, you might have somebody write about you in a note or the bathroom wall, but the way word spreads these days, it would only take a couple hours for the Internet to circulate globally the news that Bobby eats boogers. I've seen a rumor fly through three hundred sixty kids in an elementary school over the course of a lunch recess. Toss a few smart phones into the mix and that brush fire has turned into a raging inferno.
Sticks and stones won't break your bones, but a cell phone just might break your heart.