For Teenagers on Red Ribbon Week

My room was on the second floor and it overlooked the lake that still brings me comfort, much like the ocean and the streams. The windows were bordered by curtains made of lace, and the wallpaper was a purple and green pastel floral design. I had an antique four-poster bed and a fireplace with a mantel decorated with child- and family-perfect pictures. I know now that pictures are not what counts. Whether my windows are covered with lace or yours are covered with metal bars, the fear and anxiety inside is the same, it is that feeling that hurts a lot: teenage angst. You can't see it and you can't define it, but it is there. And it never seems to go away.

Truth be told, what I didn't know then, is that the idea was to choose closeness, choose people, choose the basics of human relatedness and realness. Even in all of the moments of angst, the moments of confusion and chaos, the moments when you really don't know, or the moments of joy as well, always choose people.

If you choose drugs and alcohol, you don't choose closeness, you don't choose connectedness, and you don't choose people.

The year 2013 is your world and it is a world that is coded out. Everything is a number: phones, cell phones or telephones, modems, computers, e-mail, texting, iPhones, iPads, answering machines, bank cards, debit cards, credit cards, and more. You are growing up in the world of a sound byte. Everything is about the future... and tomorrow and faster and more. The world says keep up or you will miss out; hurry or you will be forgotten, left behind. On top of it all, you have to make sure you are looking good, very good, and definitely not afraid, no matter what the cost. Your issues are threatening and multi-faceted. They are social, familial, sexual, physical and spiritual -- all based on the search for who you are and how you can realize your wishes and dreams. Life today can feel like it is not patient or forgiving. Its demands are colder and unkind and there is not much room to talk about true feelings or to find a way to live in your heart.

There is an outright juxtaposition for all of us, but especially for you; on one hand, society is presenting a movement, a new world, a huge quest toward uniting, joining together, being closer, and family love, no matter what your family looks like, it is all about closeness. On the other hand, society is presenting an expansive life, pierced and punctured with social media where our iPhones offer comfort and isolation both at the same time, where we can find our way back from disappointments by listening to a song but it can also isolate us by giving us a love affair with a picture, and merely a fantasy.

In the middle of it all, drugs and alcohol chooses separateness and aloneness, even if it looks glamorous and cool, it defies the face of love; with drugs and alcohol there is no room for love; with drugs and alcohol, in a second you can turn your back on your heart. When you put your head on your pillow at night, you're alone with all this stuff.

Snapshots, moments and some passageways of life changing decisions, where journeys and destinies were suddenly and shockingly decided upon, just because of not knowing, can be as simple as the world of cheerleaders, ponytails, sports teams and friendly competition, to finding out that a friend betrayed you when you thought they were your BFF. A fight with your mom or your dad, or both, losing your goldfish or your 10-year-old dog, finding out you're adopted, or struggling in school, worried about your first kiss or if you're eating at the right restaurant, a boy trying to be cool or a girl trying to look good or any kind of conflict that makes your stomach ache, can be the final straw to that coping that just does not work anymore.

Choose faith in your angst, even when the moment will tell you that drugs and alcohol are the best way to go.

According to, innocence is freedom from moral wrong.

Keep your eye on your innocence and your vulnerability: it's your power, even in your angst remember that your innocence is what it is about, it is what gives you the vision to dream all of your wishes and dreams and imagine that they can all come true.

The iridescent ribbon, the magic that ties the truth about all of you kids together is the fact that you are all important. You are sometimes emotional rescues, sometimes our heroes, sometimes reminders and connectors, sometimes teachers, but you're always messengers. You have innocence, and innocence is the sort of rainbow at the end of every storm, even if you created that storm, it's what we all look forward to, what we count on.

The new world is full of connection and connectedness, combat and crossfire. The idea is to have them both, but in the end, reach out, choose people... Choose your heart, choose your parents, choose your counselors and teachers, choose your church, choose your faith, choose love, choose the human contact, and choose your innocence. Keep your eye on it, it is your gift, it is your grace, it is what each one of us looks to you for. You, all of you are luminous. All of you kids are our lights.