Monday, September 30, 2013

The Power of One ~ A Story about a Boy Named Mark

This is a longer post than normal, and it won't hurt my feelings if you don't have time or inclination to linger here. Sometimes, you feel the urge to share things, and there's no rest until you do. 

The following is a column of mine that appeared first in the Dallas Morning News, then again a week ago in the Beaumont Enterprise. I resurrected it, following a fatal stabbing at the high school where my daughter spent part of her school years, the same school that is mentioned in this column.

Here's the column, in its entirety, a story about Mark, and the power of one.

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When my daughter entered high school, the thought of her roaming the halls with 2,800 high school students—each possessing assorted and sundry temperaments—unsettled me. I knew I would feel better about the whole situation if I could rearrange my schedule in a way where I could get involved at the school, mixing and mingling with both students and teachers, on a regular basis.

I mentioned my feelings to the school counselor, and she suggested I might want to become a mentor. The mentoring program is for students who are at risk of dropping out of school. I would be required to attend a training program, then I’d be paired with a student whose interests and personality matched mine. We would meet on campus every other Friday for a few hours. She gave me an application and told me to think about it.

I really didn’t need to think about it. I knew right away that I wanted to do this. I have a genuine fondness for teenagers—especially those who have seemingly slipped through the cracks and been forgotten.

That evening, as I filled out the application, I was drawn to one question in particular: “Why do you want to be a mentor?” There was only a small space in which to write my answer, so I wrote down the edited version. But let me share the unedited account of why I chose to volunteer a few hours a month, mentoring an at-risk student.

In her poignant book, Voices, Beatrice Sparks interviewed four teenagers who talked candidly about their lives. Although this book is now out of print, it had a lasting effect upon me, and upon how I live my life. The story of “Mark” was especially compelling.

Mark said he never felt loved as a young child. His parents constantly fought, and seemed to have little time for anyone's needs—except their own. 

When he was ten, his mother was admitted to the hospital for various recurring health problems. Mark was sent to stay with his grandparents in Dallas. 

While there, he fondly recalled going to Sunday school. "It was like peace and love and security, and all the things I'd ever needed and wanted," he remembered. "I didn't want the meetings to ever end, didn't want to leave that nice, safe, comfortable feeling.  I wished Mom and Dad would take us every Sunday." But Mark’s parents didn’t believe in God.

When  Mark's mother was released from the hospital, she promptly filed for a divorce from her husband. Mark—against his will—was forced to move with his father to New York City.

Things did not go well for Mark in the big city. His dad spent most of his time away from home, leaving Mark to his own devices. By the time he was 14, Mark was using drugs. It was not long before he ran away from home.

At the age of fifteen, while hitch-hiking through New Mexico, Mark was picked up by what he called a "long-haired sicko in a van." When Mark would not get in the back of the van for "fun and games," the man pushed him out onto the highway.

Mark recalled being crumpled up on the shoulder of the road, “crying like a baby.”  He said he wanted to die and wondered if he would, right there in that desert place.

Several cars drove by, but none stopped. Soon, under a scorching sun, Mark began to feel faint. On the side of the highway, with a broken stick, he scratched these words: "I love you." He said he wanted to pass away loving somebody. "Anybody, anywhere, I love you," he wrote. "Please, love me. Please, somebody love me." He said he remembered thinking that surely at least one person in the world had to love him.

Eventually Mark was rescued by a sheriff. Shortly after, he moved back to Texas to live with his mom, who had remarried.

Mark recalled being happy for a while, but it wasn’t long before the emptiness returned. The longing for love overwhelmed him. His thoughts turned to death.

In the epilogue of Voices, Ms. Sparks reveals what became of each teenager she interviewed—two years later. Sadly, she discovered that Mark had committed suicide. 

His suicide note read: "Dear Anybody: If anybody cares, please stop me. Please, please stop me! Please Dad... please Mom... please relatives... please teachers... please religious people... please God. I've needed you all. I still need you. Anybody, please... please help me."

Perhaps the most heartbreaking thing about Mark’s tragic life is that during his interview with Ms. Sparks, two years before his suicide, he said these words: "If someone just knew and cared enough to protect us from ourselves for a couple of hours, or a couple of weeks, or whatever, I think most kids would make it through the dark lonely valleys in their lives."

So, as I considered the question, “Why do you want to be a mentor?” on the application, I remembered Mark’s words, and I wrote, “Because I believe one person can make a difference.”

Whether you are a mother, a father, a teacher, a pastor, an aunt, an uncle, a grandparent, a Sunday school teacher, a classmate, or a neighbor, the world is awash with boys and girls just like Mark. You could be the one who helps them find the strength to make it through the “dark, lonely valleys” of life.


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After reviewing this piece for publication, my editor wrote to me and said, "If only someone would have been there for Mark, he could have been saved! This is such a heartbreaking story!" 

Yes, it is a heartbreaking story. Sometimes, as a writer, you have to tell those, too, and you hope with all your might that it will make a difference.


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All images in this post courtesy of Google search. Photos not credited.




11 comments:

  1. I read every word. What a heartbreaking story, Dayle. I do believe that we never know how much an encouraging word can change someone's life. If we only knew what burdens some of these kids are carrying we would be first in line to give them a hug and tell them we cared. It is a sad situation when the kids in the family come last-after Mom & Dad's own selfish purposes have been satisfied. Great story, Dayle. xo Diana

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  2. I read it too, Dayle. I have a teenage grandson and one that will be in another few months. Everytime I hear about a young person being so troubled, even to the point of suicide, I just think of their little hearts and pray that they will be able to make it through this life. I sometimes wonder how much longer Jesus will tarry. Thank you for posting this.

    Blessings,
    Debby

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  3. That's such a heartbreaking story and for every one child you hear about, how many hundreds are there out there that you don't hear about??

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  4. This post is hurtful but helpful.
    We need to get out of warm homes and go touch someone!

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  5. This story brought tears. It brought back memories of tough times and I am thankful all over again for God's grace and mercy. Thanks for sharing. We all need to be reminded that there are people hurting who need someone to just simply care.

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  6. Such a tragic way to live and die. So many Marks are in our personal worlds. God, help us find them.

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  7. This is such a sad story! And I am afraid there are similar ones everywhere! We ALL need to take the time to touch others and show them someone cares. Thanks for writing this!

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  8. Hello Dear Dayle....That was, indeed, a heartbreaking story. There are truly many Marks in the world. I have worked with troubled teens forever....my heart breaks for them and continues to this day. I believe that even if we can do a LITTLE bit, it's better than nothing. And sometimes what is "little" to us is a LOT to a troubled teen who is loney, rejected and depressed.

    On a positive note, Dayle, I made your recipe for chicken and dumplings today and it came out GREAT. Ohhhhh, it was absolutely delicious.

    Only one problem and that is I want to eat the whole pan. ha hahhahaha Served it to hubs for lunch, too, and he ate every smidgeon. Thanks so much for that lovely recipe. Much better than making the chicken in a crock pot. (The chicken tends to get mealy in crocks. The one from your recipe was moist and delish).

    Just thought you'd like to know. Susan

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    1. Susan, how lovely to hear you enjoyed the chicken and dumplings. Thanks for letting me know.

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  9. I, too, read every single word ... early this AM via my phone ... but couldn't respond there. Mark has stayed with me much of the day ... and to be honest, I hope he never goes away. Thank you for reminding us that just one person CAN make a difference!
    Hugs,
    Myra

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  10. I read every syllable, and then I stared at the page unable to conjure up the words of my own to respond. There are so many swirling around in my head right now, and I can't seem to get them to sound right on the keyboard. Maybe it's because you said it all?

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Dear Readers, I adore your company and your comments. If you ask questions here, I respond to them here, so please check back when you have a chance. Kind regards, Dayle