July 19, 2001
Tempest Smith: Darwinism in Schools
I don't know what it is about Tempest Smith's story that strikes such a chord. Maybe it's because that could have been me at 13. I attempted suicide. I was Goth. I was Pagan. I felt all alone too. Maybe it's because I wouldn't have even heard of Tempest if it wasn't for the Pagan community. To me, this is an OUTRAGE. The Columbines and Jonesburos we still hear about but nobody here even mentioned this poor girl. Why? Because she was actually Pagan, unlike the others? Because she choose to end her own life instead of the lives of others? Maybe it is because it makes me wonder what we give up for religious freedom and freedom of expression. Is it really worth it to be "free"? I would give up my religious freedom, go to church every Sunday, dress like and be like a "good" Christian if just one Tempest could forgo the tortures of modern life. But no, that's not what this about. It's not about Pagan vs. Christian. It's about twisted Darwianism. Survival of the fittest. Kids scavenging on other kids and being allowed to do it. Rarely does a species target and kill itself like a predator as humans do. We are a sick species. I hope someday we find a cure.
Tempest was a 12 year old girl who went to school in Michigan. She was different than the other kids. She dressed in black. She had become interested in Wicca (often associated with witchcraft). She was basically deemed a gothic witch by her fellow students. She used to be taunted for her personality (she was said to be a shy girl), her clothing and her religion by almost her entire school. On Feb. 20, 2001, she hung herself. Her mother is now suing the school because they did nothing about the discrimination. In my humble opinion, the school had to know.
Her story reminds me a lot of my own. At that age, I went through a Goth phase. That is the age that I first became interested in Wicca. Kids at school used to torment me, not because of my religion or dress (I never talked about my religion to anyone but a few friends), because I was shy and different. I stuck out. At the age of 13, I tried to kill myself. I'm glad I didn't succeed. I'm sure Tempest didn't really want to succeed either. She just wanted to get away.
The most striking thing about the whole story is that I only heard about it by accident. I was searching for something else and found this story (on a Pagan page, not a news website) and I was shocked. I hadn't heard a thing abut this girl. I still hear about Columbine almost every day. We hear about how the kids were tormented; how their "Pagan" dress and CDs encouraged them to kill. I know, more people were killed at Columbine. However, I would expect one mention of Tempest, a real Pagan, who choose to kill herself. A life is a life. An outrage is an outrage. Maybe the press didn't feature her because they can't vilify Pagans in this story. The culprits were Christians. The "weapons" were found in the Bible and Sunday school instead of a Manson CD.
I'm sure dozens of kids kill themselves every year because of harassment at school and even more attempt or think about it. It's dangerous to be different. It's dangerous not to be Christian. It's dangerous not to wear "Gap" or whatever is in fashion in your area. This is one reason why I'm never having kids. I'm sure mine would odd. I'm sure mine would think outside the box. I'm sure they would go through the same hell that so many kids have gone through before them. School leaves emotional scars that aren't easily forgotten. Things that you said to that little "freak" when you were 12 probably still haunt her today. She probably will never get over it.
I don't blame Christianity. It's not about religion. Pagans even discriminate amongst themselves. "You're not a real witch because you don't do it this way" "You have to be descended from [insert someone] to call yourself part of my group." "The way you believe is wrong, my way is right." I was recently told that I had rejected the Goddess once and, therefore, wasn't fit to be a Wiccan anymore. To me, religion is, at its base, about loving the divine, knowing yourself and accepting the ways of the Divine. Accepting others who are on that same journey is part of accepting the Divinity. I wish more saw it that way (Pagan and Christian alike).
I don't blame CDs, video games and TV. In my opinion, these things merely mirror our problems, they don't cause them. The world was screwed up before Marylin Manson.
So, where does this hate come from? Human nature? I don't think humans are inherently evil. I don't think the kids mean to force their classmates into suicides. I think they are just doing what they have to do to fit in. They probably worry that if they don't play the bully, they'll be the bullied. It's dangerous to stand up and say "stop" in a school. You make yourself a target. It's only when the majority, the silent majority, stands up and says "STOP" that the cry will be heard. The people who sit by and watch, not participating, not doing anything, need to say something. There are more of you. There are more people in the silence of the halls than there are being bullied or bullying.
I've had people who used to tease me come up to me and apologize now that they are older. They say they didn't mean to be such asses, they just were afraid that they wouldn't be accepted. I understand, however it doesn't make the scars hurt any less. I guess, somehow, the bullying still haunts them too. They were just as insecure as I was. They just expressed it differently. Instead of cowering in fear of their insecurity, they struck out at someone who they saw as weaker.
Too bad Tempest will never get the chance to confront her attackers when she is stronger. Too bad she can't see that it gets better. To all those Tempests on the web who might read this, it does get better. Life isn't all Jr. High. Life goes on afterwards. Even outcasts get married, get good jobs, have friends, get great lives. To some, school is the best years of their lives. They get to push people around, be popular, have lots of friends and dates...I think there is something else in store for those who don't get this chance. Life is a balance. Honestly, I'm glad the best years of my life are now and in the future and not back in school. It's more fun living in the present than dwelling in the past like some of the people I know who were "popular" throughout High School.
As much as I bitch on here, I do have a good life. I'm happy. I have a few close friends (who needs more than a few). It wasn't all the bullies. I had to find myself too. I had to find my voice. Something I couldn't do at a public school.
From now on, I'm going to try and smile more at people who seem to need it. I'm going to try and radiate positive energy towards them. You never know what will mean the difference between life and death to someone. Perhaps had someone given Tempest a little smile, she would still be here today.
Posted by vixen at July 19, 2001 06:16 PM
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When I heard about her (when Silver RavenWolf's book came out) and read what happened, I cried. It was so heartbreaking. I've thought about killing myself before (I'm 16 now) and didn't succeed. The said thing was I never heard about her on the news once.
Goddess bless her family.
i nearly cryed when i heard this im 14 and go high school if any one did what they did to that poor girl i would probably do the same goddess bless tempest smith