I knew Better But Did Nothing
I have been having a tough time deciding what to write about lately. With all that is going on in the world, that may be hard to believe. Between the pandemic and a contentious election heating up, I should have plenty. It is not writer’s block, its something else.
I had been sitting in front of my keyboard for hours. I started a couple of threads, eventually losing interest in each. Something from seventh-grade kept coming back to me.
Teresa Foley, (fictitious name-real story) was a girl in my seventh-grade class who was bullied. My conscience is suggesting I need to tell that story. It will not leave me alone.
Teresa was a small girl, who looked more like a fifth than seventh-grader, she was also quiet. She arrived in our class mid-year. Being new and shy, she needed someone to reach out and welcome her, anyone. That never happened. Unfortunately, she didn’t have it in her to make friends on her own. Teresa was isolated, almost always alone. She seldom was invited to parties. Once or twice, she went to the ice rink on Friday night, which was the big social event of a seventh-graders week. She skated alone and was subject to finger-pointing and giggles. It was terrible.
Some parents were aware of what was happening. My mother implored me to befriend Teresa. I didn’t, although I knew it was the right thing to do. I was not about to go against the tide for fear of ending up on the same socially outcast island as Teresa. Peer acceptance is paramount at that age. It was much easier to follow the mob.
Summer recess came, Teresa did not return to our school the following fall. Her family may have moved. Maybe she and her parents just had enough of us. They hardly owed us an explanation.
I wish I had been brave enough to walk across the schoolyard and sit with that little girl who spent her lunch hours alone. I will always remember that I did not. That’s Karma.
Why do I still think of her fifty-three years later? Is it the price Karma demands, for treating someone poorly? Maybe it keeps rising in my consciousness because I have not fully learned the lesson Teresa was there to teach me.
As with any skill or habit, we refine and hone it. Could it be that I still treat people the way my class treated Teresa, but more subtly and with more finesse? Did I trade in the cruelty of seventh- grade for dismissiveness and indifference? I would like to believe that whoever I meet, I treat equally and with an open heart. Truth be told; I do not.
I snicker, I criticize under my breath, and I am still willing to let others suffer on their lonely island, so long as my spot in the mob is safe. I like to think I have gotten better, but that is not enough.
My family belonged to a church in New York before moving south. Our congregation was involved in an organization called Midnight Run. Once a month, anywhere from a handful to twenty people would load up vans and head into Midtown Manhattan. We brought hot meals and clothing for the homeless community. That was only part of the mission. Anyone who went was expected to have a conversation with at least one of the folks we were serving. Find out a little about them and let them know something about us. You know, be human.
We met introverts and extroverts, some were leaders others were followers. With some, it was easy to strike up a conversation others required more patience. If we met thirty people, there were 30 different personalities, just like a seventh-grade classroom.
We went on “the run” often, and so did our kids. It was always a very positive experience. They are a group of people who get it right. The philosophy of Midnight Run is mutual respect.
You can learn more about this great organization at midnightrun.org
It is easy to write about others, criticize and break down their shortcomings. I have, and I am sure I will again. But, if I don’t take a moment to look at my part in what ills our world, I am part of the problem. There are too many members of our society who feel outcast or ignored, all too often with tragic results.
Some who come across this story will think I am making much of an unpleasant childhood memory. “That’s just how kids are.” There are others, both men and women, who may read this and say, “I was Teresa.” I was treated and bullied like that. If you were Teresa or someone like her, I apologize for making that school year so miserable for you. I am sorry I didn’t get to know you better, and I hope you found a friendlier group of classmates after you left us.