Many times in our life we will know tragedy and heartbreak. We will struggle with it and why this happened to us, and when we can overcome it. The greatest tragedy that can happen to a family is to lose a loved one, especially when it was to suicide. Today as the end of Yom Kippur approached, I focused on a story written in today's Newsday (the local daily where I live) and reflected on the story of Alexis Pilkington. Alexis was a very gifted athlete especially in the game of soccer. Not unlike many high school seniors, she was well-liked, attractive, had a bright future. Her catch phrase "Give everything, but up" was a rallying cry for her team to achieve the goals they sought out for. Yet in spite of all this, she was struggling mightily with depression. Her parents insisted that cyberbullying has nothing to do with the fact that their daughter took their own life, but rumors still persist to this day. Still, the Pilkington family can take solace in the fact that in light of this tragedy, her family established a foundation to promote suicide awareness and numerous resources that can help people in trouble.
I think it's appropriate that I open this today because I was thinking about it while I was in synagogue today. Today is the most holiest day on the Jewish calendar, known as the "Day of Atonement." On this day we ask for our sins and transgressions to be forgiven, and to strive to make this year even better than last. It is a time for fasting and great reflection. I also realized that I never ever considered forgiving those people in my life who had teased me and felt I was an object to be humiliated. Until today.
The Dixie Chicks start off their song "Not Ready To Make Nice" with this line: "Forgive sounds good, forget...I'm not sure I could." For me, I never was able to forgive those bullies in high school and college because I couldn't understand the concept of what it means to forgive. It's about looking down into yourself and seeing that you have the capability to be a human being. As a person who stutters, we're often our own worst enemies. We see our flaws more harshly than others. I could remember the times I kept quiet in class, because I didn't want to embarrass myself at all. I knew at that point in life, I wasn't ready to forgive.
I went to services on Rosh Hashanah and saw many of the same classmates I graduated with. Some were single, some were married and had kids of their own. I wonder if they ever started teaching them about what it means to act respectful. But when the time came to blow the Shofar, I felt my heart began to tremble. Not because I was scared, but because I knew was about to take a giant step and forgive. I forgave those in my past for the Porky Pig jokes. I forgave them for calling me the world champion pen-flipper because they had no idea why I was doing it. And most importantly, I forgave them for the laughing and mimicking, which I struggled to get over.
As the sun went down today, I struggled with my emotions because I was at one time feeling the way Alexis was. I give all the glory in my life to the National Stuttering Association, for they have been very instrumental in so many things I have going for me. But I challenge you to do something: Forgive. I know it can hurt, and it can be excruciating to do so, especially if you have been tormented and bullied. But when you forgive, you will grow stronger than you know. And to the Pilkington family, "Give everything but up" is a statement that gives you great power in innumerable ways!!!
My name is Steven Kaufman and I am a person who stutters. Until next time, stand up and be counted. Make your voice heard.