Meredith C. Carroll: Local festivities glaring for attendance as well as absences
Last week in Aspen was like a giant bear hug of community euphoria. Local pride was on full display between Aspen Filmfest, the Golden Leaf Half Marathon, Maroon Bells sunrises, chubby bruins ambling through local streets, spirited homecoming events around campus and in town, and a rainbow of sunshine and vibrancy weaving it all together from the mountaintops on down.
However, worth mentioning is not just the merriment, but also the melancholy felt last week by those with tickets to nothing, those who weren’t engaging, running, playing, cheering, leaf peeping or dancing, because either they didn’t have the means to go, friends to go with, or their heads simply felt too heavy to rise up to greet the sun or savor the bluebird sky and exploding colors.
While depression and substance abuse among adults in the upper Roaring Fork Valley is an open secret, discussed far less frequently is the sadness and anxiety many of Aspen’s kids carry around, as well. Certainly depression among adolescents and teens is not unique to Aspen, a sad reminder of which was seen in the Washington Post on Monday with the headline: “A teen’s intimate messages to another boy were leaked by classmates. Hours later, he killed himself, his family says.”
Sexually explicit messages that Channing Smith, 16, of Manchester, Tennessee, exchanged with another boy had been shared on social media last week “by classmates who wanted to ‘humiliate and embarrass’ him,” said the Post article. Smith never publicly revealed details about his sexuality or came out as bisexual before his private messages were posted on Instagram and Snapchat.
“Being in a small, rural town in the middle of Tennessee, you can imagine being the laughingstock and having to go to school Monday morning,” his older brother, Joshua Smith, told WZTV in Nashville. “He couldn’t face the humiliation that was waiting on him when he got to school on Monday.”
There were no such heartbreaking absences in the Aspen schools Monday, although that doesn’t mean the weekend was without incident. Well over 1,000 students, parents and enthusiastic community members attended Aspen High School’s homecoming football game Friday night. The game itself was a success, with the Skiers reveling in a 44-0 victory over Grand Valley.
But the parts that didn’t make it into the next day’s headlines include the many parents who dropped off their kids at the game despite pleas from district administrators not to send unaccompanied middle schoolers based on recent past poor behavior, plus the dramatic rise in the number of teachers on the receiving end of obscenities shouted at the game (ditto for the amount of trash left at the game by people in a place that spends an awful lot of time patting itself on the back for Earth-friendly practices).
Chronically unsupervised free time and cellphone use give tweens and teens a false sense of maturity. Support for worthy causes, including the Aspen Hope Center, Aspen Strong, the Aspen Community Foundation and Aspen Buddy Program, remains critical. Giving away money, though, isn’t the same as time spent regularly talking to kids about their well-being and also that of their peers on the fringe, the ones whose faces may say one thing but whose energy cries a whole other one.
Not everyone gets to enjoy Aspen’s best days, whether by choice or circumstance. And to be sure, glorious stretches filled with happy events can be especially brutal for kids who look or feel different; the ones whose sexuality or gender identities make locker rooms, team sports, group activities, games and dances that much more fraught; the ones without the newest or most expensive clothes and accessories to show off; those kids whose idea of hell is the school bus, lunchroom or figuring out how to pass the time alone during recess or on the weekends; the kids whose hearts and heads are heavy with an invisible hopelessness made that much worse by expectations of happiness projected on them, often by virtue of who they are or where they live.
It’s bad out there, and unless your kids are voiceless luddites, chances are strong they are or have been part of the problem. It’s imperative to keep discussing the kids to whom mean comments are said in passing, and for whom the mean comments don’t actually pass. Read the story of Channing Smith and keep up the reminders about how just a few words in the hallway, a social snub or social media like, share or comment can ruin a day, if not end a life.
If you are in crisis or concerned about someone who may be, the Aspen Hope Center is available 24/7 at 970-925-5858.
Follow Meredith Carroll on Twitter @MCCarroll. More at MeredithCarroll.com.