This post is not what I originally intended it to be, not the original thoughts or plans that I had. Nevertheless, it is my heart, and my current thoughts on “Calling Out The Humanity.” It is much later than I had anticipated, but it is here. This is the close of the series. (At least, for now.)
Calling Out The Humanity: Even When Bullied (by Charity)
I was my chubby, short, twelve year-old self. My huge teeth with an overbite were probably coming over my bottom lip, and my shoulders most likely in their nearly constant tensed up position. I could feel my heart pounding in my chest, and could feel my face going pale and painted with fear. As I looked around me, I saw over half of my gym class, girls with stern faces, surrounding me in a circle, with one girl in the middle – facing me.
I despised gym. I couldn’t keep up, my body was so weird at twelve, and I never felt comfortable in my own skin. Add to that the dreaded locker room, where girls were changing and I needed a place to look and a place to hide and not be seen or to see. Just the week before, I had gone to the bathroom to find my wallet, and some of my other belongings floating in a toilet. My worth and my value to the other girls was clear – I was shit to them.
The girl in the middle of the circle who was facing me had flashed a pen at me, one from my purse which she and whomever else had gone through and taken what they wanted, while dumping the rest in toilet water. She was angry that I called her out on it, and now she was threatening me. She told me she was going to beat me up, and she had her fist in the air. I tried to get out of the ring around me, but the other girls blocked me, even girls who I thought were my friends.
I was filled with fear, shame, and defeat. I haven’t felt like that in years.
Until this week.
Bullying makes the news all the time, and I recently read a beautiful article in our local paper about a high school bully who regretted his actions, and sought out his victim to apologize. It seems there are a lot of stories like that – about the remorse people feel when they finally “grow up.”
But bullying takes many forms, and happens in places that should be safe, and it happens to adults, by adults. It happens in hate speech, in maltreatment, in discrimination, and in gritted teeth and hateful looks and tones. It happens in threats and in abuse of power. It happens in the workplace, in houses of worship, in families, and in organizations and groups.
I found my heart pounding in my chest, fear gripping me, and tears running from my eyes, and I couldn’t stop. All I could do was lean on my wife, very literally, while she tried to console me. Through my tears, I sobbed, “I feel like I’m twelve again, and there is a bully after me.”
The very next day, I had a doctor’s appointment. What through me off guard was the kindness of every single person – the receptionist, the insurance specialist, the phlebotomist who had a hard time finding my veins because I was dehydrated from crying, and the practitioner who saw me that day. I felt surrounded by care and warmth, and felt respected and seen and heard. And somehow, I left there feeling a little better, and a little more hopeful, and as D drove me back to work and I was still fighting my anxiety a little, I started to think on this series.
What do we do when we can’t reason with someone? How in the world do we see humanity in bullies, much less try to appeal to it, calling it forth? Is it a sense of low self worth or misery, or is it inflation of self? Does this even fit into the conversation? What if I don’t want it to?
Rewind back to my seventh grade personal hell.
As I was feeling like I was about to experience being beaten up, to my surprise and my relief, two girls stepped in, and started to defend me: girls who used to make fun of me. They told the girl if she touched me, they would hurt her. The girl hesitated, and looked afraid. I ran for it, yelling for the gym teacher who had been in her office. She came running, and she caught the girl who had been running after me. She restrained her and told me to run to the principal’s office, which I did. Once I got there, my cousin was in there – helping the assistant principal, and she held me and rubbed my hair while I cried and told her what happened. My bully got suspended, and she stopped bothering me.
Perhaps we should try to appeal to bullies’ humanity. It feels so difficult to say that, and impossible in some ways: Another girl used to make fun of me incessantly. I told her to stop, that I was a person, and didn’t deserve to be treated like dirt. Later that day, I heard someone say “hey Charity,” and as I turned, my twelve year old cheek received it’s first and only punch. I think that deep down, I still fear this type of response when standing up for myself, or for calling people out for their wrongs. This girl got suspended too, because I told my mom, and my mom called the school.
Even with that fear, I think a little deeper about the similarities – and that similarity is the humanity of my helpers. Something in my own person, appealed to their person. Perhaps it was a look, a memory, or the deep calling out to deep. Regardless of what brought it out, help came, and love won.
Maybe we focus too much on fighting, and too little on gaining allies. What if instead of hurling back insults, we respond with listening, stay calm, and then focus our energies in a positive direction? In the direction of our helpers? In calling out the humanity in those whose hearts are open and ready to receive us and defend us? What if we did not resort to name-calling, and only referred to others with their names – would that help? Wouldn’t it at least help us in gaining allies when others see how respectful we are?
It still breaks my heart, and I still have tears about these incidents, and still some anxiety about the current one, but even writing this out has been healing and helpful to me. Helping me to see the hope.
No matter what darkness we are fighting, we need more and more good people to stand against it, to stand on the side of loving one another, and to actively participate in the collective endeavor for justice and peace.
Advent is upon us – my favorite time of year.
I think of Christ, and the candles we light to celebrate his coming to earth. I think of his example, and how the accounts we read seem to be him spending more time with those who love him, than with his accusers, and yes – his bullies. How his response and his focus on the good changed the world. How we are asked to do the same.
We will continue to work for good, and continue to try to respect the divine in one another – the image of God that lies in our humanity.