Last week Baby Bob and I attended a large social gathering where we stood alongside classmates from my old neighborhood. More than a decade has passed since the last time I saw most of them. I didn’t extend myself to initiate conversation or engage in social pleasantries. I concentrated on the floor. My former neighbors drifted past, and BB overheard their comments.
(“I don’t even remember you being there!”; “I forgot her name!”; “Wait…didn’t you have a sister?”)
“Mama, I cannot believe they forgot you…”
They haven’t. I wish they would.
My son was genuinely confused. He wanted an explanation.
“I was not a nice kid growing up.”
“I already know that, Mama! I know you were mean. But what did you do??”
The floor wasn’t going to swallow me up, and my son wasn’t going to let me squirm away, either.
I tried to ditch a similar gathering eleven years ago. I almost managed to bow out. But Meir refused to let me. She was well aware of my reluctance to face kids from back home. Meir also knew exactly why I would rather never see them again.
I was in middle school when Blondie and I were plopped down onto a desirable lot, barely five blocks from the ‘other side’. Our new neighbors were established families with pretty lawns, cars with air conditioning, and prayers every night. Blondie had no problem making friends. I wanted to make friends, but I had no idea where to begin.
There were a few older families scattered down the street. They hosted spaghetti suppers and holiday parties. We were quickly invited to our first ever (!) spaghetti supper. We didn’t go. Blondie cried for a full day over it. A few weeks later, we were invited to a birthday party. A skating party! I skipped recess for a week in order to buy extra pizza from the snack bar. I had instant new friends until a rumor (and a lie) sparked tension between Blondie and another child from an entirely different part of town. One of our new neighbors took sides with her younger sister. It was all straight downhill from there.
I was no less stubborn back then; I didn’t let my attitude fade away with time. And nothing in life ever made me fight harder than when I was fighting over Blondie. I kept up my campaign of aggression all the way through middle school. I called my neighbors names. Vile names. I intimidated them. I laughed at them. I locked them out of my house in the middle of the night. I threw a rock at one of them. I pushed another into the creek. I was downright nasty to all of them AND several of their parents.
I’m quite sure none of us will ever forget.
Meir met a couple of our neighbors. I brought two down with me for summer with her and Pa. Meir couldn’t help but hear every horrific detail. Meir loved those girls, though, and didn’t want me to run them off. She pressed me to apologize, and stood beside me when I did finally apologize, eleven years ago.
My neighbors did not accept my apology. I shouldn’t have expected them to. My words were ineffective because they were insincere.
I said, “I’m sorry”.
Well, of course I was sorry! I was sorry five minutes after the rock left my hand. But I was just as wrong as I ever have been sorry. I never reached beyond whichever emotion I blamed them for provoking in the first place. Siblings protected each other, and parents protected their children- just as they should have.
I apologized only to selfishly relieve my burden as my neighbor’s transgressor. Truly owning my actions, without excuse or justification, was a lesson I hadn’t learned. I couldn’t yet feel my neighbor’s pain.
Wanting friends, making friends, and keeping friends are wholly independent stages of development. Before learning to love as Christ loves, with pure hearts and open arms, we are all left wanting. I didn’t comprehend, much less reflect, the enormity of Christ’s love until much, much later. Certainly later than seventh grade.
I was sure I understood infinite love before parenthood. Before I picked BB up from preschool the day someone else’s BB pitched his shoe onto the roof, another scratched his face, and a third boy bit him. I always believed my dogged defense of Blondie was misguided maternal protectiveness. Until it hurt much worse to see pain than to inflict it.
What I should’ve said to my neighbors (at least a decade ago) is, “I was wrong“.
I’ve come to understand that there is no transgression beyond the Grace of Christ. He took me from hurting, to healing; from causing others pain, to empathy; from a spiteful bully, to a nervous mother with practical lessons to pass along. I don’t find it difficult to teach my son not to bully, because I have been a bully. He doesn’t have one shred of meanness in him. I pray he never does. He watches every move I make, learning, growing, and seeking God’s purpose for his life. I have to pray every day that I’m getting it right, now, because I know I had it all wrong, then.
Seventh grade was indeed a year I’d love to forget. But I haven’t- and neither have my neighbors. Seventh grade propelled us from childhood, down our individual paths of least resistance, and ultimately shaped our ideals, morals, and character.
Seventh grade was unforgettable, but not at all unforgivable.
Hug your children. Love your neighbors. Be blessed, Y’all.
~ I’ve learned that people will forget what you said,
people will forget what you did,
but people will
forget how you made them feel. ~