He was a sitting duck. Alone. Separated from the pack, and always at risk of attack. His name was David. I was 8 years old when we first met. We were grade school classmates. I can’t remember all the details of his story, and now in hindsight, I’m not sure I can remember much more than how poorly he was treated.
There wasn’t a secret meeting to determine the ridicule we would impose on his quiet life…but it felt like my entire class was on board to humiliate him. Even the teachers participated in his walk of shame. David always had dirt build up on his neck—can you picture what I’m talking about? It almost looked like a birthmark, or skin imperfection. Our teacher took the lead role in humiliation our 4th grade year. With great passion-she sent him to the hallway sink to wash the “dirt” off his neck. She was annoyed, but we were amused and our laughter heaped shame on his shoulders and ushered him into the dark hallway.
Only now-as an adult-can I imagine how hurt David must have been. With gas station quality bar soap and paper towels-he tried to honor the request of his teacher. I wonder if David secretly hoped he could wash away the shame, the deep ache of loneliness, or insignificance. I suspect tears mixed with the water and hopeless thoughts overwhelmed his mind.
Humanity has a bent toward selfishness—longing to be better, prettier, wealthier, and more important than him or her. Selfishness mocks the hurting, but hurt is often what motivates selfishness. That was true for me. Although I didn’t know it at the time, my participation in his humiliation was rooted in my own pain. Even at a very young age, I didn’t know if I mattered. I wasn’t sure if anyone really noticed me. But I was aware of my deep need for both.
Humor became my bridge. David became my vehicle to be seen, to be valued.
Even as I type, I can’t ignore my emotional response. I deeply regret pulling someone else low in an attempt to elevate myself. I think about David every time I scrub my son’s neck. I always assumed David was not cared for at home—because what kind of mother wouldn’t be concerned with his cleanliness?
Ha! My youngest takes a shower every other day and still has dirt on his neck. Maybe, like my own son, David was highly independent and would rebuff his mother’s attempts to help. Maybe he was a natural leader, and home was where he practiced his skill.
No matter what, I hope David grew up to be a forgiving guy. A guy that was inclined to rise above anything that vied to hold him down. I hope he found Hope. Love. Forgiveness. And above all, I hope he has forgiven the ugly voices from his past.