Last night, you see, was another of those moments. A moment where another lesson is learned. A wake-up call when something 'pops' and all of a sudden a lightbulb goes on. Typical. These moments have a habit of happening when least expected!
We were having an impromptu barbeque at home with my dearest friends and neighbours as it was their last night here before they head back home to the UK. Wine and conversation was flowing, and somehow we got on to the subject of bullying. My friends have three sons - aged 13, 15 and 19 - so together with Dylan at 14, discussions had quite naturally moved on to school, university and teachers. The difference between France and UK, the move from school to university (Tim is in his first year) and the way to deal with bullies.
Dylan, you see, has been dealing with a particularly obnoxious roommate this year. The teachers are aware of the problem and have promised to do something about it. Hmmm..... suffice it to say I'm having a further meeting with his form teacher next week.
It seems that the UK is further ahead on this subject, and the boys have all experienced some kind of intervention or focus on how to overcome bullying at school. There have been competitions to design posters, talks from teachers, and strong statements given that "Bullying will not be tolerated here!" And yet, if last night's conversation is anything to go by, there is still little faith that anything will actually be done. Because the teachers don't have the right or sufficient support to take sufficient action against the bullies. It's an emotive subject and we all became very animated. Voices were getting louder, and opinions stronger, as we all put our energy in to debating the entire issue from varying viewpoints. I felt we were likely to need a gavel and someone to shout "Order!" if we were to carry on in the sam way for much longer!
And then a calm, measured and relatively quiet voice silenced the table. It was Tim.
"You can't actually be bullied unless you feel it" he said, picking at the tomatoes from his third bruschetta. We all shut up and turned to look at him. Encouraged to explain further he continued "Bullying's not a THING. It's a reaction you choose. It's nothing to do with what's happening, it's to do with how you choose to feel about it"
And that was the lightbulb moment. Firstly, Tim had explained so succinctly exactly where, in my opinion, any focus for combatting bullying needs to be placed. Secondly, and on a personal level, he'd just reminded me that I am totally in charge of how I choose to react to whatever is and has been happening around me. Not a new lesson, but certainly one that needed re-stating. And I suddenly felt both humbled and inspired at the same time.
I listened intently as Tim continued to share his opinions, his wisdom and calm approach seeming to include everyone's point of view whilst at the same time presenting some workable and well-reasoned alternative solutions to the problem. We may not have solved the whole problem last night, but we certainly left the table feeling more able to deal with the issue. For me, I also came away with two personal intentions: determination to take things much further with Dylan's school, and also commitment to keep calmly focused on where I am heading. And realising that, actually, I'm doing pretty darned well!
As an aside, I also discovered during the course of the conversation that this incredibly wise, centred and modest young man had been awarded a prize last year for being the person who had given the most contribution to his school. That's quite some achievement by anyone's standards, and yet Tim had kept it very quiet. I hope, like me, that you'll agree he's a very special person. And for me, he's one of the biggest inspirations in my life, and he never ceases to amaze me. For there's one small thing that I've omitted to explain about Tim.
And that is that he was born with the condition known as SMA - Spinal Muscular Atrophy. He has never been able to walk, and he needs 24-hour care, because he is totally reliant on others. Without them he is unable to do the most simple things that you and I take for granted - wash, get dressed, cut up his food. Even just turning over in bed is impossible for him on his own. He has had countless operations over the years, including one to fuse his spine and insert metal rods either side to prevent his internal organs being crushed because he cannot hold himself straight. But he never lets things phase him.
I didn't explain Tim's condition earlier, because to Tim, his family and his friends, it doesn't count. He is just like everyone else, and is treated in exactly the same way. This young man is living with a crippling disability, but he's discovered a way to take everything in his stride. He grasps life with more energy and determination than I see in most people, and he's making an absolute success of his life - as well as inspiring others along the way! And because of that, people see past his very large motorised wheelchair - it becomes invisible. Here is a typical example:
A couple of years ago we arranged a massive Easter treasure hunt here in France, with a whole gang of people rushing around the village finding clues. One of the younger members, a 6 year old boy, had taken a particular shine to Tim, and had stuck by his side for most of the day. He was still filled with excitement when explaining the day to other members of his family. When asked to point him out in the photographs of the day, he replied "Oh, he's the one with the big smile. He's got darker hair than the others - can you see him?"
Note to self: Wake up, think of Tim, and smell the roses!