Were you bullied growing up? I was. It is one of those things that I don’t think about very often, though in reality it is something that has had a great effect on me and my theological understanding of how Christ took care of those who were and are being bullied by society.
I first remember it happening in about the 3rd grade. I didn’t ask for it, though it seemed to find me. You see I was bigger than others my age; they really didn’t catch up until high school. In my case, or at least how I see it, I was picked on and even tormented at times, because I was as “big” as those who bullied me...though timid enough to be an easy target.
It got worse in the 5th and 6th grades. I walked home with my friends... they would watch as “he” bloodied my lip. There was even a time when the little sister of a classmate drew attention to the bully letting him know I was in the group. She was just trying to be cute, but the pain fell to me that day and not to her.
I always had three or so friends with me when these bullying encounters happened. I can’t help but wonder how much sooner this physical and mental wounding could have stopped if they had stood with me? Once an older friend did stand up for me. His name is Dennis, and I felt empowered that day when the bully backed down after he told the bully to leave me alone and pick on someone his own age. The bully was older than Dennis too, but Dennis had the courage to step in between me and the bully; my courage was only to stand and endure.
He left me alone that day, but not the next. It ended when one of my older sister’s older friends heard what was going on. This friend was named Stout and it fit him too and not much if anything intimated him. He told the bully it was to stop and it did. We need “stout” people in our lives when we are unable to handle things on our own.
I wish being bullied ended there before Jr. High, but it did not. It continued on through my teen years, and if I mentioned names it would bring embarrassment to some well thought of people at the time. Dropping names is not what I’m writing about, but you might be surprised who was, or maybe still is, a bully. They were “good” respectable kids...yet they were “good” at instilling fear and anxiety in much younger people.
This past Sunday was my church’s “first Sunday of the month” family service. Rev. Kathy, my children and family minister read the book: One by Kathryn Otoshi. I could not see the kids that she was reading to, but I could see the adults. This simple story depicted by colors and numbers painted a picture of a bully and what happens when people stand together, not alone, and face the bully.
As I looked around, it was if I could see others being effected in the same way I was...we were being taken back to a time of fear, anxiety and pain. Normally during a children’s sermon/story time, the congregation sits in awe, listening and watching our parish children with a sense of peace and joy, but today was subtly different. I was taken back to my youth and I can’t help but wonder if they were too, back to scars that the un-bullied of the world might think insignificant.
In reality, being bullied has had a huge impact on me, some of which I like and some I could do without. Though time has helped, it is still not a good idea to back me into a corner...I’m old enough and loud enough to fight back now... and not always smart enough to let things go at that moment. The bullied become like abused dogs; we can be healed for the most part...but the power those memories carry with them don’t ever fully go away.
On the positive side, it is partially those memories that have made me Fr. Kirk. I find great compassion towards those who are being bullied and pushed to the outskirts of society. I have no doubt that this is why I have been so drawn to the Gospels; Jesus is teaching me well.
If we open our eyes...and open them WIDE, we will see the bullies around us. Sometimes they will be like the “thugs” from my pre-teen bully encounters. They are often easy to see and identifying them as bullies is socially acceptable. But if we have the courage to open our eyes REALLY wide, we will see bullies that we might not expect... or that we had been choosing not to acknowledge as bullies.
I have to ask... Are you bullied today? Do you know someone who is being bullied? What would happen if you stood with them? What if we all stood together?
Jesus was one man...and then there were twelve.... and so forth, and so on...
On a side note: Kids are still being bullied everyday. I wish my own children were immune to it, but they are not. My 10 year old son has been bullied...more than once, both at a private Catholic school in Oklahoma and in public school in Nevada. Now it is my four year old daughter’s turn... Again I won’t go into details...pointing fingers is not what this is about.
The important piece to all of this is the difference between me and my children. When I was bullied I kept it to myself. I did not tell my parents that I was being beaten and tormented and that I often hid in fear. It was not their fault. I was really good at hiding it...parents can’t help when they don’t know. Nowadays at school, church and home, children are encouraged to talk about their feelings and are coached into the security and safety of truth-telling. That and in my house you don’t screw with my wife’s children... She won’t board a school bus and threaten another child...she is much smarter than that... Me on the other hand....