In the Shadows (for Amy)

The most common question I get with this song is, “Who is Amy?” The name appears in the title and in the very end of the song. I know that dedicating a song to an individual and including the name of that person in the title and song is a risky thing to do as a songwriter. There is the risk that a song personalized in such a way could distance the audience, or make it harder to relate to. But in this case, I hope it does just the opposite. Because this song is personal, but it is also about a universal subject that affects so many individuals. And that is why I left it in.

So, “Who is Amy?” To answer that question, I must give the background of the song, or more accurately, what inspired me to write it in the first place.

At a young age, while I was in elementary school (or primary school, as some might call it), I learned very quickly how cruel kids could be. As happens in almost any school in the world, whether consciously or not, a hierarchy was formed among the students. One might call it a pecking order. Kids who find themselves nearer to the bottom of this pecking order, for whatever reason, often find themselves “left out.” Left out of the game. Left out of the group. Left out of friendships. But at the bottom of this pecking order, you find the unlucky and forlorn that are not only “left out,” but are also actively bullied. Amy was one of these individuals.

And according to my recollection, she was not just one of the “bottom” kids. She was at the very bottom. It was as if all the ridicule and cruelty filtered down through this pecking order and landed directly on her. And I don’t remember all of the reasons why she was placed at the bottom of this hierarchy. I am sure that none of them were valid. There never is a valid reason. And I remember her as being a sweet and beautiful girl. Nonetheless, the hierarchy had established that she was at the bottom, and she paid for it dearly.

Now, as a child, I was quiet. One might even say that I was shy. And everyone knows that this is a characteristic that can cause you to end up near the bottom of this established hierarchy. But I also learned early on that I had a talent for sports. This seemed to save me from ending up with a fate similar to Amy’s. And while I took some consolation in my own deliverance, I remember often feeling uneasy about how other kids were treated, especially Amy.

As a result, I don’t remember once ever participating in the bullying of another child. But I also don’t remember stepping in and taking an active role to stop it. I didn’t do as I should have. I didn’t take a stand against those who were at the top of this social hierarchy. I didn’t stand up for those who were bullied. I didn’t stand up for Amy.

I have had to live with the “could have” and “should have.” And I certainly have lived with it. But living with these memories over the years has helped to form me into whom I am today. I guess you could say that I have a personality that viciously roots for the “underdog” in life.

Now I don’t know what happened to Amy after elementary school, or where she ended up. I would like to believe that she eventually recovered from all the torment she endured as a child. I hope that she did. I hope she realized her own self-worth and that her life doesn’t have to be determined by how others saw her or treated her. I hope she realized, somewhere along the road, that she was always important, that she was always special, that she was always beautiful.

That is the story. But it is truly only the beginning.

As time moved on and elementary school turned into middle school, and middle school turned into high school, I realized that this social hierarchy still existed. Occasionally the offenders and the victims would change, but the hierarchy stayed intact.

The great revelation for me came as high school gave way to college, career, and “life”. I began to understand that a similar hierarchy, in some form or another, still existed. The rules of the game may have changed, but a pecking order still prevailed. In essence, I realized that bullying doesn’t end with graduation.

In fact, I realized that adults have perfected this dirty business of bullying. It exists in politics. It exists in business. It exists in personal relationships. It exists in cities, in communities, even in some families and marriages. And it exists because of differences in social status, race, religion, mental or physical challenges, sexual orientation, and on and on…

And often, as adults, we perpetuate this idea that it is just “part of life”, and that there is nothing we can do about it. This sounds eerily familiar to the popular notions that, “It is just part of growing up,” or “Boys will be boys,” or “Girls will be girls.” Well, it shouldn’t be “part of growing up,” and it shouldn’t be “part of life.” It is that way because we as individuals and communities have decided that it is or have allowed it to be. And too many of us have either taken the side of the offenders, or are found joining the ranks of the apathetic. It seems that so many are content to simply stand by and watch, just grateful that they are not as much of a victim as the person next to them. This is similar to the position I found myself in elementary school. Well, no more.

I dearly wish that I had had the courage to stand up for the victim when I was younger. I wish that I had stood by Amy and been a friend to her. But I can’t go back. However, I can look ahead and become a voice against bullying in any of it's obscene forms.

I admit, the notion of standing up to the “bullies” in society can seem overwhelming. Often, those who are the greatest offenders also seem to be those who have the most power, the most money, the most influence, and/or the loudest voice. But I am also reminded that when everyone was terrified of the mighty Goliath, young David went over to the nearest brook and gathered stones.

To me, this song is about gathering stones.

And this song is for Amy.