Long after I heard about the suicide of sixteen-year-old David Molak, I couldn’t speak of it without a flood of tears. As a mother, I felt as if my heart were being ripped out. As a change agent, I felt even more determined to never quit.
When I read Cliff Molak’s gut-wrenching FaceBook post following his brother’s death, I resonated with his call to action that focused on the need for character development in young children. He was absolutely right. His brother could have survived if we had a kinder culture; if only kids understood that hurt people hurt people, and that the cruel words really have nothing to do with them, even when they are the target. I wanted to shout from the rooftops, “Cliff, I hear you! You hear me! And, I’ve been trying!”
When I left corporate America on a mission to make the world a kinder place, one child at a time, I was a single mom with no child support or trust fund. I simply could no longer look at Emma (5) and Jake (2) and accept my role in the world as it was evolving, so I went all in. I launched Tacky Box to teach children how to take responsibility for their own words and actions and their responses to the words and actions of others. I’d scratched by for almost 3 years, delivering over 10,000 Tacky Boxes out of the back of my Volvo, two kids in tow. I was spiritually full, but almost broke and physically exhausted, just about to throw in the towel, when Cliff threw me a Hail Mary. Through his post I heard God say, “Get up, dust yourself off, and keep goin’ girl.” So I did.
Fast forward to the day, several years later, when I was scheduled to speak with David’s mom, the mother I’m not sure I could ever muster the strength to be. She was a powerhouse who’d succeeded in getting the Texas legislature to outlaw cyber-bullying, built a nonprofit called David’s Legacy, and been featured in People Magazine, all in the first year or two of losing her son; a son that could have been mine. I was nervous to the point of sweating when she answered. What would I say? (I had no clue.) Could I keep my composure? (I didn’t…cried like a baby.) Would she deem my work with Tacky Box worthy of her involvement? (She so did!!!) The rest is history, and two motivated mommas became soul sisters, aligning our visions to benefit children through the law (David’s Legacy) and a cultural shift (Tacky Box). This video created by the United Way highlights that shared vision for positive change, and it makes me proud.
Proud of our work? Yes. But even more than that, proud to be friends with this woman who actually made me sweat, and then cry, but whose tragic loss fueled the continuation of my purpose driven life and allowed me to reach over 50,000 children and counting. When we shot this video, Maurine told me she’d stayed on the couch for 6 months after she lost David, staring at the ceiling, wondering how she could go on. What I admire most is that she got up off the couch when she didn’t think she could. God threw Maurine Molak a Hail Mary and asked her to fight for our kids – yours and mine. She stepped up through her pain, caught the pass with courage, and accepted the challenge. I’m so grateful to stand beside her in our mission to bring awareness to the power of words and actions.
So, mothers (fathers, brothers, sisters, aunts uncles, mentors, grandparents, Big Brothers/Big Sisters you name it), for Maurine who will never again hold her youngest child, hold your loved ones close. Cover your children with your love. And then, gently, teach them that they will be the brunt of unkind words. Know, at some point, your child will also dish it out—it’s our flawed human nature. The good news is that we can be trained, with acknowledgment followed by effort. Teach your children that what is said about them or to them does not define them. Adopt the phrase “hurt people, hurt people,” so they understand that those barbs and cruelties have little to do with them, at least most of the time. And, just as important, give them tools to let those instances go.
It takes immeasurable strength to refrain from reacting when wounded, and to offer tolerance, to your neighbor and to yourself. These are the muscles we need to train. These are the conversations we need to have continuously. In my experience, providing children with this awareness, helps them think twice about what they dish out, and to see themselves in the one who hurts them. The day we can look at the “other” and see ourselves, accepting our innate human nature and the need to train it, is the day we find peace.
I can say without a doubt that if I had not read the Molak family’s Facebook post 3 years ago, Tacky Box would not still exist today, I’d have no United Way video to post, and I might have given up on my idealistic mission. So, to David Molak, I tip my hat. In your memory, let us all press on together to be kind, compassionate, defenders of truth – and most importantly each other.