Stephen knocked on the door, just a little after we finished breakfast, and we welcomed him into our suite at Carrog Mill. Stephen had participated a few days before in a workshop on dealing with bullying and teasing. In that workshop we taught the group Ruby's song, which was a song that I wrote as a young boy to sing myself some comfort. I'd only shared it recently when Ruby had started school and was experiencing being bullied. We'd put it on YouTube for her and discovered, quickly, how public that would be. We had intended it only to be seen by Ruby. Here's that clip .. (words to the song are in the text that follows)
The whole group loved the song and almost all of them got up to sing it. Stephen left after having asked us to write the words down for him. He was staying the weekend at the Mill and had come over to ask to have us practise singing the song with him. We were pleased and proud to do so. He asked about Ruby and having been bullied, he asked about my experiences as a child. Listening carefully to the answers quietly and then shared his own story.
We already knew a bit about Stephen, he's a wonderfully funny man, with a devastating sense of humour. He'd told us about his Sunday's acting as assisting the Vicar at the altar or as a side server every week in the Church of Wales. He told us about his work at a restaurant. His time spent helping out his favourite charity. His life - which he describes as a full and happy one ... but ... for his entire life - 47 years - he has experienced bullying and teasing.
"It Gets Better" .. rings hollow in Stephen's ear. He knows as a man with Down Syndrome, a visible disability, that it doesn't get better, in fact, it doesn't stop. He describes going out for walks, which he loves to do. He had travelled, himself alone, from where he lives in the city to the small village of Corwen to be there for the weekend and there to learn about bullying and teasing. He loved the workshop. He loved the idea that he could, like I did, find a source of comfort within. Because nothing else worked. He's told people. He's changed his route, trying to walk somewhere where bullies wouldn't invade his time.
They are everywhere.
He got up and showed us how they mock him. Holding his arm as if he had a physical disability, most probably cerebral palsy, and telling us how they walk behind him, mocking him, calling him 'Spaz.' He hates it. He hates the fact that their actions, their words, have taken root in him. The song, the workshop, mattered deeply to him. He sat with Joe, who has a wonderful singing voice, and the two of them sang the words to the song over and over and over again:
I'm OK with being me
There's no one I'd rather be
I've a peace within my heart
That your words can't break apart
I don't care what you say
You can't wreck my lovely day.
I can hear their two voices, entwined, singing as I type these words. I do not need the photograph to remember the two of them, intently, sitting together and singing. I could almost see the words enter into Stephen's memory. He wanted to remember. As they sang I thought of the little boy that I was when I first made up this simple rhyme - a boy who could never have imagined that one day he's be sitting watching another learn the words that he sung thousands of times to himself.
We visited with Stephen a number of other times over the weekend. We saw a remarkable strength in him. The strength to describe his life as full and happy, his parents and family as loving, his work fulfilling ... the strength to draw strength from his purpose - not to fall prey to the intention of bullies to knock down what he so carefully built. A life 47 years in the making, a life that cannot be destroyed no matter how often words strike at the foundation built.
Stephen went into town with some of the others, coming back and knocking on our door. In his hands he had small package. On a tag attached was written, "To Ruby." He and the others wanted us to take a gift back to the little girl who had been bullied and tell her that it came from those who wanted her to know, that it will either get better or she will get stronger.
That gift will be the first thing we deliver when we get home.