Saturday, December 31, 2005

on forgiveness

Fifth grade was the year I discovered the effects of bullying.

I had been picked on before, by people who made fun of my stutter or my allergies, and I had even dealt with a few bullies who had loved to make fun of me for being so small and unathletic. But in fifth grade, we had assigned seats at lunchtime. I had to sit across from Matt D'Ambrosio


What is it with bullies? Like other predators, they always strike when their victim is alone and has no one to help. Only 10 years old and in a new school where I had no friends, I couldn't have been an easier target if I had been soaked with blood and leaving a trail a mile long in the snow.

Lunchtime was when Matt would turn me into a fly and delight in pulling off my wings. Then he would pin me down in his display case for the other students to see, and the torture would really begin.

Matt D'Ambrosio is the first person who showed me that you could use something as simple as a person's name to put them down and make them feel small. No insulting nicknames, no perverted twists on the name to make you squirm and resent the name your parents gave you. Just a subtly twisted knife hidden in the pitch and the tone that makes your very identity odious to you. It was all in the delivery, a way of saying a name in way that said how stupid, useless and utterly worthless you were.

Trying to join in a conversation was useless. I liked the wrong music, wore the wrong clothes, played the trombone, had the misfortune of having been labeled "gifted," liked to read and often doodled on blank paper, and, what was probably worst of all, the teachers thought I was a good student.

Every day, I would eat my peanut butter and jelly sandwich and drink my milk, wishing just once that Matt would forget I was there, that everyone would forget I was there. Every day I wanted to escape, but escape was never an option, and surviving lunch became my chief goal each day.

When we finally were allowed to change seats, four months later, I was across the room like a shot. I wanted to be as far away from Matt D'Ambrosio and his ilk as I could.

I don't know if I can make you understand how awful an experience this was. I would have given anything to leave the lunchroom and Matt D'Ambrosio behind me. It was awful, and I hated it, and I hated him.

To my shame, I still do. Even during those priceless moments when life is like sailing a vessel across a crystal-smooth sea, the monster will strike. Without warning, chance association will stir a memory, and anger twenty-five years old will rise to the surface, its hide thick and scarred by years of bullying, insensitivity and cruelty at the hands of people like Matt. All around, the water boils and threatens to wreck the ship.

I would like to know what Jesus meant when he taught us to pray, "Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who have sinned against us."

Surely he didn't mean that we should ask God to forgive us the way we forgive others. Surely he meant just that we should ask God to forgive us our sins, that we should promise God we'd make our best effort to forgive others if he forgave us first, or that we should ask for God's forgiveness while we pretend that we've forgiven people and try to act like they don't still get under our skin.

Surely he didn't mean what he said. That would be impossible.

O Lord, if I enter heaven, it will be by the narrowest margin possible and with the greatest mercy you can extend.

Give me grace, Lord. There is no other way.

Copyright รป 2005 by David Learn. Used with permission.

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