James was not fitting in with everyone else. During lunch, he sat alone, playing with his own toys. During group activities, the other campers always complained when paired with him. What was wrong? As camp counselor, I quietly observed his behavior—nothing out of the ordinary. I just couldn't fathom why the other campers treated him like a pariah. After three days of ostracism, James broke down during a game of soccer. Tears streaming down his cheeks, he slumped off the field, head in his hands. I jogged toward him; my forehead creased with concern. Some campers loudly remarked, “Why is that creep crying?” Furious indignation leaped into my heart. They were the ones who “accidentally” bumped into him and called him “James the Freak.” It was their cruelty that caused his meltdown, and now they were mocking him for it. I sharply told them to keep their thoughts to themselves. I squatted beside James and asked him what was wrong. Grunting, he turned his back to me. I had to stop his tears, had to make him feel comfortable. So, for the next hour, I talked about everything a seven-year-old boy might find interesting, from sports to Transformers. “I have a question,” I asked as James began to warm to me. I took a deep breath and dove right into the problem. “Why do the other campers exclude you?” Hesitantly, he took off his shoes and socks, and pointed at his left foot. One, two, three … four. He had four toes. We had gone swimming two days before: All the campers must have noticed. I remembered my childhood, when even the smallest abnormality—a bad haircut, a missing tooth—could cause others, including myself, to shrink away. I finally understood. But what could I do to help? I scoured my mind for the words to settle his demons. But nothing came to me. Impulsively, I hugged him—a gesture of intimacy we camp leaders were encouraged not to initiate, and an act I later discovered no friend had ever offered James before. Then, I put my hand on his shoulder and looked him straight in the eyes. I assured him that external features didn't matter, and that as long as he was friendly, people would eventually come around. I listed successful individuals who had not been hindered by their abnormalities. And finally, I told him he would always be my favorite camper, regardless of whether he had two, five, or a hundred toes. On the last day of camp, I was jubilant—James was starting to fit in. Although the teasing had not completely disappeared, James was speaking up and making friends. And when, as we were saying our good-byes, James gave me one last hug and proclaimed that I was his “his best friend in the whole wide world,” my heart swelled up. From my campers, I learned that working with children is simply awesome. And from James, I learned that a little love truly goes a long way.
It would be a huge lie to say that there is a person on Earth whose life was not affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and its consequences. To greater or lesser extent everyone's lives were divided into “before” and “after”. Of course, each of us will draw own lessons and own conclusions. But, since there is already enough sad and devastating things happened on Earth these days, I would like to concentrate on more positive things in my story. I would like to start with the fact that before the global lockdown my life could not be called any unusual or extraordinary. Like many of my peers, I went to university, worked out in the gym – you can me “generic” if you want. For me being at home is one of the best ways to spend time. I see nothing wrong with staying at home instead of going to the cinema and reading a book or watching the same movie while lying on the couch. So, I can't say that after the announcement of restrictions on attending events and everything else, my life rotated 180 degrees. “Loneliness” in this case gives you a lot of time and space to think, and sometimes you find your train of thoughts in the most unexpected place. And I found mine here, reflecting on what's changed in my life during the lockdown. Being all by myself allowed me to learn and rethink some things in my life. Here are some of them: 1. Cooking. Frankly, kitchen was the last place where I expected to find myself. But as it turned out, I'm not completely hopeless at cooking, and sometimes it's even very exciting to cook, especially if you set some goal, like, to treat yourself or your close ones. It can be anything, really. For me, it was about switching to more healthy food and simple recipes. 2. Languages. The pandemic allowed me to register for the Finnish language course, which I had wanted to study for a long time. The course, by the way, turned out to be very informative and contains many additional resources to continue learning the language. So, I hope to stick to my routine of learning Finnish as long as I can understand a word 😊 3. New training routines. Working out is what keeps me sane during my whole life. Therefore, when trainings at the stadium were canceled, I had to look for a replacement in order to keep my body ready for future competitions. As a result, I concentrated on basic exercises and techniques, and also included exercises to strengthen my weaknesses, for example, footwork, which is essential in order to increase your strength, and maximize your performance. Now I understand more about how my body should work during the run. 4. Planning. Of course, when you build huge plans in your head about how to spend the time during the pandemic as productively as possible, there will always be a confusion about their implementation of you lack time-management skills. Planning comes to the rescue here. As it turned out, all these nice little books can really help in the proper preparation of your schedule, and not just collect dust on your desk. 5. Last but not least is my realization that the thought expressed on paper sometimes helps to clear and reload my head. Therefore, for me, writing this post is a kind of catharsis, through the text I can see a retrospective and, having put on it the existing knowledge, draw the right conclusions in order to make my life better. I am in no way saying that this is the only true way, no. But it really worked for me. Keeping journals or diaries is like a therapy session in my case. If you are afraid to share your thoughts with someone else or can't talk about such things without being accused of whining, I suppose, this'll work for you, too. So, what I want to say is that, in the end of the day, I would like to see the people in the world being happy rather than depressed all the time. Therefore, it is so important and necessary to look for positive aspects in any situation, because in the end you are the sum of choices made in your whole life. And it is very short to spend it on doubts, suffering and distress over the fact that you did not try something or did not learn. Therefore, it is not so important that my experience cannot be fully applied to others, because this is a normal process, since we are all unique. The most important thing is to think about whether you are really happy with how your life goes. Because now is the high time to do it.
The air around her smelled of ink, paper, and pencil lead. She scribbled her thoughts down but not even then could she even begin to fully understand. The people around her understood so why didn't she. It was like they had created a contract that contained an unsaid rule that everyone around her must never say anything and allow her to destroy the light inside on her own so they wouldn't leave evidence of their crime against her. It didn't take long for the light to almost completely diminish itself entirely. So while the world around her was filled with color, she herself slowly became as gray as the sky before a storm. Though sound was rare in her color drained mind, it still managed to be made by sinking into her invisible world of song. They never heard it fore it was there somewhere deep in her soul, somewhere where the light hadn't yet been extinguished. That little light was the only thing left in her. The only thing that kept her from completely disappearing. The light kept her from giving up on herself and gave her the slightest bit of hope that one day things would get better. Two years later, you can now find that same girl with a smile on her face and a friend or two by her side. It took some time but that little light soon became a flame that regained its strength creating a fire. A fire that she hopes to share with those who have let their light burn too low so they too can become the star they are meant to be. You don't have to be lonely like that little girl was. You don't have to be lonely like I was.
How many of you grew up without someone who was supposed to be there for you? How many of you lost friends as you grew older, or people you just really cared about? How did it make you feel? Age 3. My earliest memory was waking up in a bed that seemed familiar, but I could not figure out where I was. I left the mattress and explored the apartment that I strangely knew like the back of my hand. I came face-to-face with an elderly couple. I had called the woman my mother, and the man my grandpa. I did not know why. I assumed they were my parents. It wasn't until later that I gained a memory I can still recall: meeting my biological mother and brothers. I know I must have met them before, but my mind at that time had deemed them as strangers claiming to be my family, and all I can think was "why wasn't I raised with you guys?" Age 5. My mother took me and my little brother to a strange place past a fire station (I now recognize it was a police station). We stood there for a whole boring hour until a strange man wearing a black baseball cap and dark sunglasses walked in. He spoke to my mother before coming over to us. He introduced himself as our biological father. I accepted it without question. I expected him to be in my life again like my mother. However, after a few months of constant visits, we stopped going to the station to meet him and I didn't see him for a long time afterwards. By age 6 I began to wonder why he wasn't with my mother anymore, and by age 9 I had almost forgotten he existed until he finally returned to us again. This cycle continues to this very day. Age 10. I now only have a selective group of friends. We were a group of four with a couple of extras we liked hanging out with individually. Then one of us left, never to come back. I can barely remember her face now. Age 12. I was in one of the best relationships of my life. Granted, I had wronged someone, and I regret it to this very day. But we were happy together. That was until someone took him away from me. He went on to a better life (I can only hope so at least), and the night I heard the news I had lost all faith in God and the angels above. I had run back to the man who I had wronged, and in turn he did twice what I had done to him. My love life afterwards had been rocky and unknown. To this day I still refuse to worship such a god, but that boy gives me a hope that perhaps there is an afterlife. He sure as hell deserves the best of them. Age 14. I had made the biggest mistake of my life, and everyone I had once thought cared about me left. Friends turned on friends, relationships broke and mended, and I was shown a pain unlike any other that still haunts me to this very day. In the end, some of them came back and we promised a new life for ourselves. However, the betrayal has me weary and I still cannot trust him with everything I know and love. Not with my whole heart anyway. Age 15. These experiences still mess with my head. As I lay in bed late at night, I am kept awake until the early hours of dawn with these memories playing in my head. The pain becomes hurt, which in turn becomes rage, and eventually settles to sorrow if not quenched with revenge, and it all returns to a stinging numbness that makes me feel both everything and nothing at the same time. I fear closeness to those I care for most in the case of them betraying and leaving me behind just like all the others. As my 16th birthday approaches, I cannot help but wonder how different my life may have been if the choices we all made weren't the ones we had chosen. Would it be better? Would it be worse? Would I still think of the "what ifs" in the end? What is it like? What am I like? Will I ever know, or be kept in this darkness until my dying days? Would I ever be the patient and trusting person I hope to be one day, the person I am working to become, that everyone loves? Would I continue to be a shame to my family and an embarrassment to them, or would I give them nothing but pride? So much could have been different, but would I want it that way?
My life is so weird. It's always been weird. That's probably because I was born in 1949, the 3rd child of a family that wanted to stop at two. I was constantly told that I was worthless and was always costing my family money. In those days, children had no social security numbers and if somebody had the right connections they could sell an unwanted child in a black market adoption or even worse, sexual slavery. I think I was three at the time but my parents left me with the baby-sitter on Christmas. The baby-sitter, I found out later from my older sister was also the contact for back-street abortions and black-market adoptions. The babysitter who was an older woman, left me alone with a book filled with Christmas stickers. In those days, there was no self-stick stickers. You had to lick them glued back to make them work. This was the first time I was away from my parents and I was scared. My anxiety increased as I stuck stickers everywhere, hoping my parents would return soon and be proud of my handiwork. Instead a young couple arrived. I remember the woman had long blonde hair and a red dress under her fur coat. My babysitter picked me up so she could hold me when all that anxiety and glue backed up on me and I threw up all over her red dress. She yelled something like "How dare you give me a sick baby!" and pushed me back into the babysitter's arms. I was put into a crib in a dark room after a lot of angry talk and I stayed there until my parents picked me up. I don't remember much of what happened next, but I was very sick because the next thing I knew was that I was in a hospital, being stuck with needles by angry nurses. The story I heard later in life was that my parents left me with the baby-sitter so they could attend my sister's Christmas pagent and was sick with something that was called "glandular fever." My mother said I spent eight days in the hospital. The first seven days I was given sulfa drugs that had little effect on my sickness. The end of that week, the doctor told my parents that he could give me a new drug that was still largely experimental, but my father would have to sign a permission slip because the new drug could cure me or kill me. My father signed the paper and they gave me another giant needle of the new drug. That night I flew. I flew around the hospital. I saw what looked like a woman having an operation. I saw lines of cars and trucks on the roads outside. Finally, I was back in my crib I was coloring in a coloring book and throwing crayons back and forth over the tops of our cribs which lay head to head with a kid named Mikey. The next day, I stood up in my crib and tried to see over the huge wooden top, but I was too short. When the nurses came in, I asked where Mikey was. The younger nurse burst into tears and said "Mikey's dead!" I went home that day. When my mother told that part of the story to my sister and me, she asked "Guess what that medicine was?" We shook our heads. "Penicillin." Our life was rough after that. My father had a successful machine shop but he drank all his profits. My mother took in ironing. Later, I found out she was also turning tricks. When she wanted to insult me, she'd tell me I was "just like my father." For a long time I wondered what she meant by that because weren't we supposed to be like our parents? It wasn't until much later that I found out about the visiting "insurance men." We had dogs but the one assigned to me suddenly disappeared. My mother said it was all my fault because I didn't take care of her and she ran away. Years later my sister told me that she wasn't going to keep a female dog that wasn't spayed. The male dog was never the same. He always kept to himself and never wanted to play. My mother did some darker things to try to "turn me out" but I was too defensive and would say I'd jump out into traffic before I'd go along with that scheme. And I said it while in a moving car going down the Long Island Expressway. My parents bad habits were backing up on them. I got into constant fights at school. Nobody wanted to be my friend. My mother kept trying to get into the local social scene by joining a church but the gossip got about and she was shunned. I was shunned too. Finally, my father lost his temper one last time and decided to move from New York to Florida. In Florida, he bought a bar and had my mother help him run it. I had always wondered why they stayed together for so long. She said it was because he was the only man who offered to marry her. I always wondered why a man would stay with a woman who fooled around. I found out later, he fooled around, too--with other men. The whole marriage thing was one big made-for-social-acceptance sham. My mother liked playing the diva at the bar and my father spent a lot of his spare time fishing. My brother only stayed for the first month when he turned 21 and flew back to New York to stay with friends until he got a place of his own.