Required Reading: What Made Maddy Run

I haven’t visited Anne Frank’s house in Amsterdam and seen where she and her family hid in the annex until the Gestapo found them. I have, however, imagined many times what it was like for her father to return to that place and find her diary. I understand if you visit the house, you will watch a television clip of Otto Frank saying how surprised he was to finally read Anne’s “deep thoughts, the seriousness, especially the self-criticism.” I am always so amazed at the honesty, the humility it must have taken this loving father who had lived in the closest of proximity that any parent could imagine to occupy with his or her teenager for years to say, “My conclusion is…that most parents don’t know –really–their children.”

Madison Holleran kept an Anne Frank quotation in her inspiration log on her MacBook. This is what journalist Kate Fagan found after Holleran committed suicide and Holleran’s family gave Fagan the laptop. Fagan first reported on Holleran’s tragic death in an excellent feature, “Split Image” on espnW. Fagan has expanded the piece into a book, What Made Maddy Run: The Secret Struggles and Tragic Death of an All-American Teen that I believe should be required reading for anyone living in 2017.

I think this book is so important because Maddy is every kid who has ever put pressure on himself or herself to not just do well but to be excellent in order to make her parents proud. This passage by Fagan resonated with me:

Those lucky enough to grow up envisioning college start hearing about the building blocks of a college resume (the boxes that need checking, the optics that need preserving) from the moment they enter high school, and sometimes even sooner. Too often, kids are herded into commitments and activities that are born not of passion but of obligation. These obligations can continue for years because stopping is not seen as a possibility. Those who do stop risk being perceived as lacking fortitude to push through when the going gets tough.

I was Maddy to the nth degree, working two jobs in high school while pulling a 4.0, leading every imaginable service club, and crushing it with the extra-curriculars. The chief difference is that I slid into my depression/anxiety valley in which I stopped eating and menstruating and generally wanting to be alive well before I left for college. My parents helped me to get the extra support I needed. I believe my story could have been Maddy’s story had I not already been in therapy by the time I left for school.

The other chief difference is that Maddy came of age on social media. Fagan does a first-rate job of explaining the paradox of overconnection and undercommunication. Although we are in touch with one another all day, few of us are engaged in face-to-face communication with each other, or hearing the deep, heaving sigh on the phone. We are constantly decoding what is uttered between the emoji. Fagan’s indictment of this 24/7 texting, posting culture is accurate and she concedes that she has admittedly perpetuated it at times.

What Made Maddy Run is part communication scholarship, part journalism, and part mental health exposition. It is a book that comes alongside a grieving family and asks them to share what they knew then and what they know now. It is not a parenting guide for how to launch a teen into a safe Instagram filter. It is not a playbook for suicide prevention. It is simply a necessary book that has made me feel less alone, not only as one who battles generalized anxiety/depression, but as one who is shepherding kids through uncharted territory. Like every parent who has gone before me, I’m just trying not to be in the dark.

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An open letter to the white supremacist

Dear White Supremacist:

You are not faceless or voiceless or nameless–but on this last account, you are most certainly wrongly named. Chief among reasons, I am compelled to write you to suggest a better category under which to file yourself.

***
When I was in my early 20s, I worked with young people at a community center.  Timmy was one of the youths who came to the center every day. It’s immaterial to discuss Timmy’s family, his race, his hopes, the grades he earned in school. What you need to know is that Timmy was an average size for a boy in the ninth grade who had not yet hit his growth spurt. He had noodle arms and walked with a forward tilt to his feet. He was not, at first glance, a fearsome presence. But when he played basketball, he told himself that he was the best. He wouldn’t let anyone get inside his head. Timmy could not dunk. He was not the most legendary of ball-handlers. He wasn’t in danger of being drafted out of seventh grade to the NBA. But he played as though he were. He would stick one, resolute, pointer finger in the air when he made a basket. He was Number One and could not have been convinced otherwise.

Timmy, delusional or not, inspired me. He threw his whole body into a game and played with all of his soul, and told the haters where to go.

***

The difference between Timmy and you, a so-called white supremacist, is that your delusion is in vain. Where Timmy threw up a pointer finger, you carry a tiki torch aflame. Timmy’s torch was more powerful because it sprang forth from a confidence that he was, indeed, supreme at being Timmy on a basketball court. Whereas your torch, carried under darkness of night when it is hard to ascertain your supposed supremacy, is merely the implement of a coward.

I know so little about you, and yet I know what I need to know in order to decide how wrongly you’ve been categorized, White Supremacist. I don’t know if you care for an ailing parent, if you’ve served in the armed forces, if you are a vegetarian. Given your affiliation, though, I know that you are hellbent on the eradication of any whose skin’s melanin exceeds your own.

Given that you are human, I know you didn’t enter into the world this way.

Instead, I know you entered into this beautiful, fractured world with all the wholeness and wellness your birth afforded you. You arrived uncloaked and tethered only to a life source. You came not yet having learned the words of hatred and violence; you were not hard-wired to delight in scourge and plunder.

You could show me the topographic map of your life from your innocence to your decision to adorn the proverbial or actual hood of cowardice. There, I might ascertain the peaks and valleys that delivered you to this plateau where you identify as a White Supremacist. But your geography is still disoriented, inscrutable. For your cause, your aim is not, in my view, White Supremacy.

It is rather Bald-Faced Inferiority.

Whereas Timmy with his noodle arms and tilted gait suppressed no one while asserting his own superiority, he became a supreme noodle-armed being dribbling a basketball.

But your animus as a so-called White Supremacists is born of your own inferiority complex. For if you, as a crusader, were truly convinced of you own supremacy, you would recognize your privilege is already guaranteed by the star under which you were born. You are effectively cloaked (no hood required) by the countless privileges afforded your white-skinnedness. You need not be threatened by the perceived encroachment of other populations, of seemingly unmerited opportunities of said populations, of the removal of the so-called emblems of your supremacy. Supreme beings are secure in their supremacy. Supremacy is found within, not in contrast to others. Supremely satisfied within themselves such that they enjoy the good that comes to others who are not just like they. Supremely secure in their position such that they enjoy helping others who are not just alike.

I myself have reached no such supreme nirvana. I am no Timmy on the basketball court. I waver, I doubt, I am a chaotic place. What I am certain about, what I believe to be the supremacy I’m striving for, is recognizing the Imago Dei in all of humanity: the stamp of divinity in each person created by God. In this way, my finger is pointed up in the manner of Timmy. Pointed toward the Truly Supreme who breathed life into each one of us, born whole, innocent, tethered only to a life source.

Sincerely,
Kendra

 

 

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The Acceptable Overdose

Most folks, regardless of religion, don’t encourage binge-drinking on a regular basis. Most of us tend to look askance when a friend habitually runs up credit bills. Overdosing on any substance, illegal or otherwise, is usually cause for serious concern.
Yet, regular binge-watching has become a perfectly acceptable way to pass the time, in Christendom and beyond. In fact, any stigma or shame around the word “binge” has seemingly dissolved to the great delight of Netflix, Hulu, and other streaming services to which we subscribe.
Zombie-like he stares at the screen
OH SNAP. NO SHE DI-INT. Ol’ prudeyface Kendra just yanked the plug on the joy cord.

Hah. Oh, dear friend. If only that were true.

If anything, this is a missive to myself on my own habits, an examination of my own penchant for blazing through the latest program on my queue like it’s my full-time job with bennies. I love me a good drama (“Six Feet Under,” “The Wire,” and “13 Reasons Why”), and have been known to drop out of life for the sake of a compelling documentary, e.g. “Making a Murderer.” My attention rapt, I go to sleep hypothesizing about what will happen next and wake up having dreamt about D’Angelo Barksdale and Hannah Baker. But it’s all well and removed from my life and no one gets hurt, right?
Family watching TV on their boat - Fort Lauderdale

The danger of writing about a seemingly innocuous habit, e.g. binge-watching all 7 seasons of “Parks and Rec,” is sounding overly pious and adding more killjoy rhetoric to an already heaping pile of legalism. So few of us respond well to rules for the sake of rules. Change that is sustainable begins in the heart. And as far as binge-watching, my heart is good, right? Who’s saying anything about change? You’re the one titling this post, Kendra. Maybe we don’t agree on the definition of overdose. After all, even Christian publications endorse binge-watching. CT Women recently featured the interview with Andy Couch, “How to Binge-Watch like a Believer.” However, the piece was technology-focused and did not address actual binge-watching. Even Relevant Magazine endorses binge-watching for believers.

And this, I think, is the problem. We have bandied around the term “binge” so freely in recent years that it has lost some of its potency. For example, I expect most of us would be troubled if a friend mentioned that she spent all weekend watching porn. I mean, all weekend. Like, barely slept. Concern for her would abound, surely. But it’s all good in the ‘hood if she spent all weekend watching “Parks and Rec.”

‘What’s happened to the man I married?’

So what you’re saying, Kendra, is that Hard-Core Porn and hard-core watching Amy Poehler are the same thing.

Well, are they?

I heard writer David Dark speak at the Festival of Faith and Writing a couple years ago. Dark, whose writing I admire, said his “guilty pleasure was binge-watching” certain shows. We could unpack what it is to have something that is both pleasurable and guilt-inducing but Dark had done his own unpacking of this paradox. He observed that in his own life, this meant that he was drawn to particular story lines. For example, he wondered aloud, “Is there some unacknowledged despair in my own life that is better articulated in ‘Breaking Bad’?”

That resonated with me. A season of NBC’s “Parenthood,” for example, had once felt eerily pulled from my life’s narrative. It was a balm to watch the show, to see a clean resolution in their stories in contrast to the raggedy edges of my own life.

Dark’s identifying of being drawn to story lines was a great point to begin my own self-examination. What I took from Dark was that we should not deny the inner situation that draws us to certain stories. Whether it’s resonance or total escape from our reality, we should not be afraid to examine the reason for our intake of stories. Because that is, after all, what binge-watching is all about: stories. Whether fact or fiction, whether in short spurts or long-binges, we should not fear walking past a mirror on our lives.

This was incredibly freeing. Especially because we know addictions are often rooted in shame. What good can come of more shame?

I believe Proverbs 4 is not meant to shame us, but to call us to this very kind of freedom. We are exhorted to guard our hearts. Above all else. Above our time, above our physical health, above our money. Maybe this is because, as the verse continues, “everything you do flows from it.” Everything you do is a heart matter. So guard your heart. To me, this is a better petri dish for examining how we spend our time, and how we populate our Netflix queues.

The question is not, how many episodes of “When Calls the Heart” have you watched this week, but how is the calling on your own heart?

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