People believe, I think, that emotional pain in youth is somehow less devastating because the things involved are normal “kid stuff,” but I actually believe the opposite is true. Teenage pain in many ways is more intense, exactly because that pain occurs at a time in our lives when we have no perspective of our future. We have little experience that tells us: “Hey, this will pass” or “This is going to feel better over time” or “Life is full of ups and downs, and you have to get through the downs to get the ups.” It feels, instead, like we will never recover, never get past it, never be able to move on. We just don’t have the same vision at 13, 16, 19, 22, etc…that we do at 40, 50, 60… Plus, the raging of our hormones magnifies all of our feelings – both the euphoria as well as the depths of sorrow. The intensity of emotional pain at this stage of life is crappy timing, as it occurs when the most important people in our lives, our peers, have little sensitivity to other’s emotional state. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that teenagers are hypersensitive to their own feelings and insensitive to how their words and actions can impact the feelings of others. But we learn and we grow and we realize all of this a little later down the road.
At twelve and thirteen, I had a best friend named Katy. She and I did everything together. During junior high, I enjoyed her company and our time together. But I changed significantly between ages 12 to 14, and I noticed I felt less and less close to her. One day, I sent her a note to say that I just didn’t feel the same way about her anymore and that I wanted to branch out and make new friends. This seemed perfectly reasonable to me at the time. I saw her at school and she looked sad and upset. I felt badly, but I also felt free to be away from someone who was getting on my nerves. She and I never spoke again after that, even though we went to high school together and graduated together. It was cruel, I realize now, but I had not yet figured that out. Soon I would.
Fast forward a year or more. Now I’m fifteen, and I have two best friends in high school. I am a sophomore, and happy, and all is well. One morning, I go to my locker and find a six page letter from one of two girls telling me what a horror show of a friend I was, that she just didn’t want to be my friend anymore, and neither did the other girl. I was shocked, hurt, stunned – simply devastated. I went home, via the nurse’s office, I was so distraught I thought I was going to be sick. When I got home I cried hard enough to break a few blood vessels in the whites of my eyes. I even tried to call the friend who divorced me (at that time there were no cell phones or texting or email) but her mother said she would not take my call. I was terrified to go to school the next day. Where would I sit at lunch? Who would I talk to? Who would I pass notes to? What would I do when I saw her? I just did not know how I would get through the next day. It was so hard. Very slowly, I found a few other people that I knew from my music classes and from sports and started to create new friendships, but it was a truly painful time in my life. Those two girls did not speak to me again for the next three years. Even after we graduated we didn’t even say hello (though interestingly we are now friends on Facebook). It was in those weeks after I received the poison pen letter in my locker, that I started to realize how harsh and hard I had been on my friend Katy. It was not until I was hit by a sledgehammer myself that I realized how painful that hit is to the person on the receiving end.
Those feelings of grief were so intense that even now, more than 30 years later, I remember exactly how I felt. I am not sure if any extremely difficult adult moments have hit me as hard as that did. Yes, there are more intense problems as an adult, but the depth of pain has not been any deeper than that experience. I felt it to my core.
So now I have three daughters, two of them teens, one a pre-teen. When they have come home with similar stories (and they all have), besides listening to them and comforting them, I have said the only thing I know to be true from where I sit in life, even though in the moment I know it doesn’t help at all: “This too shall pass.” It has taken me 50 years to figure that one out. Praying it doesn’t take them that long, but until they get some life experience under their belts, I know I will not be able to temper the depths of their grief.