As I grow older I sometimes catch myself lost in reflection upon specific times of my life. Usually when this happens it is a pain point I am revisiting as I ponder a decision or lack thereof I have made during situations in my past.
His name was Josiah. We laughingly called him Messiah because that is funny right? Well it was to a bunch of teens and we were on the younger end of that category. Much of what occurred was bullying, but it was done in the innocently, vicious way that only teens know how to do. We teased and mocked this kid that we only met on church retreats when our churches would come together on some mountain… hill, or in the middle of a bunch of trees and camp. We slept in cabins, discussed the scripture, and were supposed to find comradery during these times.
When I reflect on these trips and more importantly Josiah, I feel like he probably dreaded coming to them and that was a shame for someone who obviously valued our faith. I stop myself from thinking that way because I don’t know for sure and it really does no good to burden one’s self with guilt if you aren’t sure you are guilty. I can say that I am somewhat ashamed that a boy going through his own journey of self-realization couldn’t recognize another person who was doing the same. More importantly my own experiences receiving daily bullying from my differing cultural surroundings did not create any sense of understanding at the time of what I was taking part in and that it was wrong. Like I said, we were children and children can be some of the most evil creatures on this planet when it comes to social drama and interaction.
I place constant teasing, mocking, or putting people down as a form of bullying. It is a pretty common thing and most adults won’t even be aware it is happening because they are all “inside jokes” and you all aren’t inside. This is particularly true when it comes to small groups such as “youth groups” in churches because depending on the religion those communities can literally become islands unto themselves. I’ve reflected some on this in previous posts about our Orthodox faith and culture, and how my family was fully immersed in it due to my father being a priest. I sometimes wonder what life would have been like outside of that bubble culture. There were some definite perks to growing up within such an environment, but there were definitely some downsides. One in particular is that you were stuck with the same friends (also known as church friends) for as long as they were a part of the church. Literally. Those became your best friends even if some of them weren’t. Even if most of them weren’t. I had my close friends or best friends, but it wasn’t everyone my age as was expected.
We were all expected to get along. We didn’t. There were different groups, different leaders… sometimes one leader. It was like Game of Thrones without the thrones. I did not know Josiah well at all. I simply knew he was an overly pious kid that expressed an interest in being a Priest or a Deacon. We would tease him about that of course because his name would have to be Father Messiah. It gets funnier as you say it I promise. We never physically harmed the kid, but I don’t think we were ever really nice to him. You see he was from a different church. He wasn’t part of our click and because of that I could not recognize the demons that haunted him. Many of his struggles probably mirrored my own, but I never once saw that.
My mother and father told me one day that Josiah had killed himself. My first thoughts were about the afterlife and how suicide might affect ones chances of entering Heaven. I was sad to hear about him die, but I didn’t recognize any part in it. I only saw the kid for a week of each Summer and it wasn’t consistently each Summer at that. Whatever happened to him must have been due to his everyday life. Something in his family or school. I quickly moved on and didn’t give him a second thought till later in life. It was only after knowing personal pain and struggle myself, after one suicide attempt and a few years of living life just not giving a shit. It was only after knowing what it felt like to want to die that I began to reflect on Josiah once more. And now I know that the day he died was the day we helped to kill Jesus.
Jason Chandler Cushman