Students looking after one another

by Dave Matthews

I live in an older neighborhood.  I used to know everybody and we looked out for each other.  All the neighborhood kids played together, we collected mail and newspapers when a neighbor was away. That sort of community.  We didn’t have a “Neighborhood Watch’, though.  We didn’t really feel like we needed one back then.  We genuinely cared for our neighbors.

Some 40 odd years later we still look out for each other. But now, in the era of  “Me Too” and BLM and wearing masks to protect one another, it seems to take on a new meaning and that sense of community has heightened significance. 

I recently observed two police cars outside of a neighbor’s house. I was both concerned and curious.  It didn’t appear to be an emergency since lights were not flashing. 

After the officers left, I waited the appropriate amount of time – an interminable five minutes – before going to inquire of my friend.  We are in fact very close so it was not a problem for me to ask what was going on.  He is bipolar and it was not uncommon for his house to be a focus of neighborhood attention. 

This time, however, it was another’s mental health issue that brought out the police.

My neighbor has a Middle School student who had just gotten off the bus.  When my friend and neighbor asked about his day, he learned that his son had had an conversation with a classmate that concerned him.  The classmate friend has been struggling and questioning his gender identity and had been struggling to make friends and trying to avoid bullies at a sensitive and vulnerable time in his life. The neighbor’s son was one of the few friends this classmate had and he indicated in the conversation he had with my neighbor’s child that he was contemplating self harm.

It would have been very easy for my neighbor and his son, on a Friday afternoon before a holiday weekend, to ignore this cry for help and resume their lives without interuption. 

Instead, my neighbor first reached out to the Middle School staff without success.  Then he tried to reach out to the Mental Health staff he frequently worked with.  Failing there as well, he persevered and called the police for their help in reaching out to the school and classmate.

In a culture that is largely self-absorbed, I was gratified that this young man cared enough to try to help his classmate.  With news stories of teens being bullied which is often a contributing factor to many suicide attempts by LGBTQ youth, this act of compassion gives new meaning to “See Something – Say Something.” 

“And a little child shall lead them (Isiaha 11:6}.”

Note to remember: When you are in a situation with someone who is Questioning gender identity (that’s the Q in LGBTQ), remember not to “out” the teen to his parents. They may not know or be ready to share this aspect. Doing so could result in the teen being thrown out of the house and therefore homeless leading to more trauma.

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