Tuesday, March 15, 2016
On Voting Day
There's a new bully at the boys' school. He's been there all year but, at first, he seemed nice enough, funny, sort of silly really, although vaguely creepy. He talked too much and got upset easily. Most of the kids forgave that because he was new and different. Kids are pretty forgiving like that.
Recently, though, he's changed, seems scary, threatening. He's made friends - no, more, formed a posse - a strange group, people you'd not expect to align with a burgeoning bully, good kids, smart kids. He's started to pick on other kids, different kids, kids that aren't like him. (My sons think this is funny because he was the one who seemed so different to them when he showed up but they all accepted him.)
Al, whose mother is from Mexico, has seemed afraid and withdrawn lately. He's heard the bully talk about a wall between him and his family, his history, his heritage. A big wall of mortar, stone and hate.
Little Janine, who has Muscular Dystrophy, has been crying in the restroom because her crutches make her vulnerable to the bully, who may lash out at her at any moment and make fun at her because of her disability. She cries because she's worked so hard to be just another little girl with a quick wit, an enormous heart and emerald-green eyes.
A Jewish boy stopped wearing his yarmulke because someone in the bully's gang called it a "stupid beanie." A boy he'd played ball with, had laughed with, a boy who once handed him his skullcap after practice, a boy he thought understood. He sits in class now, afraid and angry.
Anyone of different coloring - that boy from Pakistan, those twins from Iran, a Chinese girl whose family has lived here for three generations, an African-American boy who never felt different but now sees how things can change - is running a little scared because the bully's gang looks and talks and acts the same, mean and confrontational.
The teachers and administrators have been talking about him, but no one singles him out. They seem to think they need to be fair to him, respect his opinions and his right to hang out with whoever he wants. They know he is doing wrong, but no one will confront him. Even though he makes the other children cry. Even though they tell the children to report the bullying, which they've done. Even though he hurts those around him. Even though he is very dangerous, he is allowed to parade down the halls as everyone looks away hoping he will go back to where he was.
My son Nick recoils at the sight of him, covers his ears when the bully spews his simple-minded words, dripping with hate and an undertone of violence. He and some of the other children are not afraid for themselves, they appear very much like the bully and the bully only hates those who are different, vulnerable. It is these children, these friends and fellow classmates, that he is afraid for.
Nick has known Alex since Kindergarten. His locker is next to Janine's - she once helped him when he was upset because his lock wouldn't open. He had a long conversation about the yarmulke on a ride home from practice one day as we took the boy home. He knows the others from preschool at a local Lutheran church and was the first to greet the twins and showed them around their new and insanely different school - he was funny and gracious.
Zack grows quiet when he sees him but looks him straight in the eye. He doesn't like what he sees there, I know that. I don't like what I see in Z's face, a new set of feelings. I see contempt. I see distrust. I see him understanding deeper feelings than he should have to. I see innocence losing.
As a parent, I don't know what to do about the bully. I try to say that things won't change even if he gets stronger, but I know meanness changes everything. I promise that he won't come and get us, but wonder if his supporters might. I stress that no harm will come to us or their friends, but know the punches have already been thrown.
You see, I fear the bully, too.
I think his name is Donald...
Listen, I'm not trying to get politically embroiled in anything here, y'all know that. I understand that opinions and priorities all differ, I get that. But I also understand that we are all the same. All the clichés are correct, deep down we're all simply, human. Nowhere do I see this so obvious and dear as when I see parents and their children, when I see teachers honoring the children, when I see how the children trust us to show them their way, when I see how we all so cherish them.
The children are watching all of this, hearing all of it; and many are afraid.
That ain't right.
I feel obliged to remind you that the above is mostly allegory - names, circumstances, all that, changed - and should not be taken at face value... or not?
Peace to you, voting's not optional. Thanks for comin' 'round.