Kindness: Thoughts on Those Who Double Back

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Like most fat kids, I spent my elementary years on the fringes of the playground. Classmates built my character by picking me last in PE and giving me enduring nicknames such as “Big Bertha Blue Belly” and “Rogel Wiggle.” Middle school brought with it more horrific name-calling and exclusion, but also a few kindnesses–there’s the day that every classmate still remembers when my shoes were thrown on the roof of the school, but there’s also the pleasant evening that a kind upperclassman asked me to dance with him. High school, well, it was its own land of quasi-tortures, with the requisite mix of angst, rejection, and fragile autonomy. I went alone to both proms and survived. (I was the only girl with two corsages: one from my doting grandfather and another from the kind-hearted principal.) I was also student council president, a senior superlative, and many other now-meaningless things.

My bullies taught me lots, but the most valuable thing I learned was to appreciate simple decency. To notice kindness.

In 1989, several of my classmates had a small reunion during our sophomore year in college. There were about eight of us in my cousin’s apartment; I hadn’t seen any of the others in months. I’d lost weight for the first time ever, and while I wasn’t thin, I was far closer to average than I’d ever been, and several people made kind comments. Then one of the guys bluntly–and intentionally–said, “You’ll never be pretty, no matter how much weight you lose.” 

I was shell-shocked. Having been free of bullying for over eighteen months, I had dropped my guard only to be blindsided. To be brutally dismissed, to have my success diminished–to be forced abruptly back into my place–it all left me wounded and speechless.

I retreated to the kitchen and began washing the coffee mugs, and several of the boys mumbled that it was probably time for them to go. I don’t recall any of them saying good-bye to me. I just remember staring blindly out of the kitchen window, hurt and angry.

As the boys made their way past, Stephen stopped. He rapped on the window, looked me in the eye, grinned and winked. As if to say, “That guy’s an idiot. What does he know?” He held my gaze, making sure I got the message, and then sauntered off.

In that instant, my confidence was restored. He was kinder than he had to be: doubling back to reassure a casual friend. He noticed and he cared.


Now, five weeks after Stephanie Grace’s stillbirth, we have found ourselves somewhat on the mend. We managed to patch together about four good days–we ate home-cooked dinners as a family, played a few board games, watched Andy Griffith, and all laughed hysterically when, after stepping on my toe, Abby thanked me for not swinging on her. (Greg: “Have you met your Mother? She couldn’t swing on anyone!”) Those were encouraging days.

But the past forty-eight hours have brought with them stress, anger, and tears. We have all cried. We have all struggled. And as The Mom and The Caregiver, I have been trying to reassure and comfort and feed, while being close to collapse myself.

Today after school, we were all still teetering somewhere between sadness and stability, searching for distraction. Greg worked in the yard–his comfort over the past weeks. April cuddled in the recliner with a lapful of kittens that a friend dropped off yesterday, and Abby headed to the YMCA–workouts have been her redemption lately.

I decided to run errands. I was mad and tired and lonely, but the van needed gas and supper required a bag of shredded mozzarella.

I’ve been an incompetent errand-runner lately. I sometimes go to Kroger three times a day before I get it right; I can’t recall what side of the car my gas tank is on, and I can’t manage to remember to look for the helpful arrow near the fuel gauge. I ride around the pumps like a drunken rodeo clown.

Today, I remembered to look for the arrow, and I pulled in the station to wait, noticing that my former students’ mother was at the pump. “Hurry up,” I teased. She said, “Oh, hey!” and continued pumping gas. I was a little disappointed because I wanted to hear about her kids–diversionary small talk about my students is always enjoyable–but I played Scrabble on my phone as I waited.

And then, she was standing at my van’s window, her hand on my arm, asking about both my girls. Saying she was sorry about the baby. Saying we’d been in her prayers, really. That they’d been thinking of us, really. And Christ’s love shone in her eyes.

The heavens didn’t open. I didn’t feel the weight of the world lift. But I felt remembered and loved and acknowledged. She hadn’t yelled from the distance; she had come to me and touched me. Held my gaze. Cared: for my girls and for me.

Some weight, lifted.

I prayed on the way to Wal-Mart. For us. For this. For us surviving this.

I got the cheese, some granola, and artificial tears. Chatted with an indignant single father about the outrageous price of Frosted Flakes, agreeing that $4.98 was a lot to ask for “mainly air.” I didn’t see a soul I knew–unusual for a teacher in a small town–and left the store to fetch Abby.

A woman was coming in the exit and greeted me warmly. I had no idea who she was, but recognized her, and I returned her hello with all the energy I could muster. I was still trying to remember her name as she approached me on the sidewalk, smiling. “You may not remember me, but I’m J—-‘s mother,” she explained. “I just wanted you to know, I’ve been reading your blog. I am thinking of you. We are praying for you all.” She looked me in the eyes, sincere. Kind. She had doubled back to remind me that my family mattered.

A destruction complete, savage and heartless, leaves unwalking wounded.

We are, in many ways, still lying beneath rubble hoping to glimpse the blue sky. When friendly faces peer in and hold our gaze, saying, in effect, “I can’t get you out, but I know Someone who can, The Only One who can,” it offers the reminder that Our Rescuer is coming. That this will be redeemed.

We are encouraged.

And we wait.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3 thoughts on “Kindness: Thoughts on Those Who Double Back

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