#PlayVirtualLiveReal | Five Years On
I’ve sat here for a while, wondering how best to start this blog post. How to write this respectfully, thoughtfully, but also genuinely. I’ve wondered whether or not I should write it at all. But; I’ve also realised that I can’t let this pass by unnoticed, or unmentioned.
I guess this is as good a place as any to begin. When something tragic happens; isn’t it interesting to see how people become reduced to headlines or summary sentences in order to explain what happened? Or labels are assigned, and they stick. In the case of Breck – it’ll take time to dig beneath the surface of what happened to find the real person – the friend, student, and gamer.
This is one such description, found on The Breck Foundation’s website.
“Breck Bednar was a 14 year old boy, from Caterham, Surrey, who loved technology and online gaming. He was groomed via the internet and murdered on February 17th 2014 by someone he met online.”
What happened to Breck shocked us all. It was unexpected, horrific, and the kind of thing that you hear about, but never think it would happen to someone you know.
I think, for many of us at school, it acted as a wake-up call. The innocent world of childhood was shattered in an instant – and it only continued to change as we were left processing and working through what had happened.
Yet, Breck continued to be known to us by our own individual interactions. For me, he was the person I sat next to in science, or one of the group I hung around with while on the Spanish Exchange. If you asked, I wouldn’t be able to tell you who else I sat next to in a specific lesson at school – but in this case, I can tell you the exact table.
See – I’m not sure the 17th February will ever come round without being reminded of the events of 2014.
Why is this important?
Talking about Breck, about what happened, and about what the Breck Foundation have been doing since is really important. Part of this comes down to education.
I’m fully aware of the irony of talking about this online, with my own blog – and having a platform which I interact with people over the internet. But I’m also aware of the dangers; and approach this with caution. You can never really know who’s behind the screen, whether that be phone or computer – and it’s always worth thinking twice before you post something online.
Play Virtual; Live Real.
I think a lot can be taken from those four words. Not only do they form the slogan for the Breck Foundation, but they’re a good reminder of how we should be trying to live our lives. The importance of keeping our eyes on reality; on real life – and not getting too caught up in the web that is the internet. I also think, as well as the really important message it spreads about internet safety, there’s a real challenge of trying to live in the present – to be real in our lives, rather than constantly affixed to our phones, or a screen.
If you’ve never really thought about how to be safe online, or you’ve thought about it, and don’t know what you would do in a situation where you felt threatened, then I’m going to share what the foundation’s message is. If you’re interested in more information, I’d highly recommend going to their website – http://www.breckfoundation.org/, or Think U Know – https://www.thinkuknow.co.uk/14_plus/ or CEOP – https://www.ceop.police.uk/safety-centre/ .
There are five points to think about when using the internet; and it’s a really simple format to try and remember!
- Be aware
- Report it
- Keep Safe
What can you do?
Breck’s mum, Lorin, has dedicated her life to sharing Breck’s story, and educating others, especially school children, about internet safety, and what to do in a situation where someone may feel threatened. Fundamentally, sharing this story brings home the reality that these things really do happen – and it’s not just ‘to some random stranger who I’ll never meet’ – but could very well happen to someone you know. Living our lives in a state of oblivion can be nice, but at the same time, can be really damaging. To a certain extent, we need to be aware of what is going on in our world.
Part of this, is, I guess, a plea from me to be prepared to share this. Start conversations with friends, or with family. If you’ve got children who are at the age where online gaming, or messaging, or even just social media are coming into play, chat to them about it.
Social media can often be presented as the best thing that’s happened to this generation, or as a total positive – but there are generally more negative things lurking beneath the surface, that we either ignore, or don’t realise are there.
Like so many things, there are pros and cons to social media, and the internet. I know for one, I can’t imagine trying to do university without the internet or technology… (so much respect for people who found books for EVERYTHING). I’ve also found a really special part of the internet with my blog; and the ability to use my words and thoughts to start conversations, and to share life in a real way. But I do it all with an awareness of the potential that is lurking.
But, if we’re going to be the digital generation – at least let us use it for good. Bring light to your own space on the internet; to social media. Start conversations and discussions about the things that are important, and that matter to you. And, get behind sharing people’s stories – often personal stories can be the most powerful; because we know that there are REAL people behind the words on a screen.
No Fear In Death:
I don’t know if any of you will be able to relate to what I’m about to say; but I truly believe that music is incredibly powerful. It has the ability to invoke the recall of memories, that can be very much associated to certain songs or pieces of music. This can be a blessing, but sometimes a challenge too, if songs are associated with certain emotions, or difficult events.
For me, one of those songs that just flood my senses and memories is “In Christ Alone”. We sang this at Breck’s funeral, and again at the memorial service at school the following day. A year later, we sang it at my Granny’s funeral – and so this hymn conjures up some pretty powerful emotions and memories.
That said – there’s a reason it’s often chosen for funerals, and that’s because it’s a real reminder of the truth that we can cling onto at times that otherwise seem out of our control.
Every single word in the song is grounded in rich, biblical truth, and can be anchoring when I feel like I’m drifting. Yet, the verse that gets me every time, is the final verse.
“No guilt in life, no fear in death,
This is the power of Christ in me;
From life’s first cry to final breath,
Jesus commands my destiny.
No power of hell, no scheme of man,
Can ever pluck me from His hand:
Till He returns or calls me home,
Here in the power of Christ I’ll stand.”
(Stuart Townend & Keith Getty, 2001)
I’m not finishing with this to sugar coat what I’ve been talking about. Breck’s death, and the months following, were tough – and I only felt a tiny proportion of the grief that his family and close friends would have lived. I’m not writing this to demean their pain – but only to share what hope and refuge I found in these verses.
Even when life seems utterly broken, and that devastation is reigning – I know, that I cannot be taken out of God’s hand. I know, that ultimately God has the victory – but that while I’m in this life, a battle is ongoing, meaning we face hardship, struggles, and death. Life with God doesn’t promise a life free of pain, of sorrow, or a walk in the park. But it does promise a time where there will be no more tears or sorrow – and gives us hope for this life.
“I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand.” John 10:28
“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels or demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:38-39
I’ll continue to remember Breck on 17th February each year; but especially this year, as five years are marked. I hope you will too.