Old Bay Seasoning
By Nancy Lincoln Reynolds
We are anxious about a unique aspect of environmental protection in some of our Bay communities. We’re not talking about flora or fauna in that sense, but one of our most important resources is endangered. Teen suicide is threatening to undermine the future of our young population. A recent upswing in self-injury and completed suicide attempts among teens is alarming. It has resulted in at least one community’s cooperative effort to address sources of stress and make prevention possible. Youths themselves in Severna Park/Broadneck are calling academic and parental pressures to excel in school and get into “the best” colleges as the culprits. Some explain that bullying and peer criticism (beginning in middle school and sometimes, earlier) shame and humiliate them so that they condemn themselves and give up. Choosing risky behaviors, including cutting, eating disorders and depression, is having devastating results. Teens are self-medicating with illegal drugs, prescribed medications and alcohol in order to counter a growing sense of futility. Community emphasis on perfection and performance may set such stellar standards that youth see the bar as too high to attempt anymore.
Usually, when a Bay species is endangered, we look for causes and seek intervention. While this area may experience mass wildlife die-offs (as in the millions of fish washed up on the Bay’s banks last year), the deaths are usually the consequence of poison, illness or trauma. It is not self-inflicted. Most people would declare that the human species is the only one able to make conscious decisions to end life. Intervention requires insight, consistent treatment and diligence. So what is happening to our young people, and what can we do about it?
In an effort to gain insight, I began some informal research by asking people over 60 for their perspectives. The question was simple: “What ‘tools’ did you have growing up that allowed you to persevere in your life rather than to end it?” Interestingly enough, the number one answer tended to hover around “discipline.” People used terms like “the woodshed” and “restrictions,” and cited punishment for bad behavior, disrespect or disobedience. When young people are given too many options without accompanying limitations, they may become overwhelmed and feel inadequate to handle what life brings. Hovering parents can shield them from having to bear the costs of their behaviors. Having to recognize and honor limitations that are imposed or just natural help us discover potential instead of drowning when we are allowed to go beyond it. Boundaries and structure are actually reassuring lessons about life.
These older folks seem to know with certainty that actions have consequences and that it is a parent’s responsibility to impart that lesson to their children from the ‘”git-go.” My dad often warned me, “Look before you leap,” because the results of an impulsive jump can be irreversible. Better to learn that at a really young age when the temptation involves an inviting mud puddle and new shoes, rather than getting behind the wheel of a car after happy hour.
Preserving family integrity in terms of quantity of time, not just quality, was another tool of preservation identified. “Having chores and an overall sense of responsibility for some aspect of the family’s household gave everyone a sense of belonging and value,” recalled a 64year-old woman. “Regular mealtimes where everyone sat at the table let you know each other’s business and gave us a way to share and care about each other,” said a man in his late 70’s.
I call my informal research, “Old Bay Seasoning,” in deference to the wisdom of the older Bay residents who have been around long enough to have been seasoned by experience. They have watched things change over time; and learned the inevitability of things getting better, going bad and getting better again. Seasoned people are convinced by experience that Spring follows Winter, and morning follows night. They know that even the worst that happens can be redeemed if one looks for and is open to it. They have learned to expect imperfections, respect boundaries and welcome challenges with excitement rather than trepidation or defensiveness. They are able to rest comfortably in the notion of “home.”
There is an underlying confidence in the Bay’s native resident species that emerges from these lessons and the cycle and rhythm of life. The species that are the hardiest and most enduring are those that both expect life to be challenging and are equipped to deal with change. They are nurtured in a way to promote their adaptability and their rootedness, not passivity and perfection. An implicit statement of faith invites no self-imposed end to life. Rather, this faith thrives on being grounded in the legacy of that which came before and the structure of a wise Creator.