My middle school daughter recently shared with me how a fellow classmate is continually teased put down and mocked by others. She’s known him for years and this is nothing new. I myself witnessed the teasing first hand at the elementary school level. What was scary though was when she told me how this normally quiet, yet very intelligent young man finally “blew-up” and lifted his aggressor off the floor by the shirt collar. He’d had enough. While keeping my word to not name names, I assure you that at least for this time, the confrontation was diffused quickly and no physical harm came to anyone.
I’m sure each one of us can recall a classmate of ours who was teased or bullied throughout the course of the school year. As adults now and reminded often on the evening news, we realize how much harm can be done to that person’s very being and how some who can take no more react in disturbing and violent ways.
The teasing I remember most was towards a girl I went to high school with. Slightly old-fashion in her clothing tastes, with stringy long brown hair and needing more regular showers in my estimation, Jane* was the brunt of many nasty pranks and jokes. After all, no one in ninth grade would be caught dead coming to school in knee socks, would they?
Much to my surprise and utter consternation Jane was assigned to be my lab partner in Earth Science. How could my teacher do this to me? He knew I was smart and artistic. When we would be doing charts and posters and experiments, I just knew Jane would bog me down and bring my grade down with her. I thought that life was so unfair.
All during supper that night I was bemoaning my fate in Earth Science, telling my mother all about my horrid day and how this latest turn of events just stunk. She looked at me and said simply, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
“Mom, you’ve got to be kidding. This girl stinks. She has lint in her hair. Her clothes look like they came out of a rag box. She hardly speaks and writes messy with this gloppy, leaking pen. I can’t do it.”
She said, “You can’t do it or you won’t do it?” She then proceeded to ask me if I’d even given Jane a chance. Had I asked her what she’d like to do on our first project? Did I think that maybe if I stopped complaining long enough that she might actually have something valuable to contribute? Had I put myself in her shoes and even thought for one second how she must be feeling right now? Would it hurt so much to try and be friendly to Jane?
To make a long story short I put aside (with much difficulty I’ll admit) all my nasty, judgmental attitudes and began working alongside Jane instead of treating her like a pariah. In her shy, stilted voice she’d suggest an alternate way to do the experiment and it actually worked. One day she told me she’d spent hours in the library the night before and had found a book with the right pictures in it I could copy for our poster. In class one day she handed me a brand-new Magic Marker she’d bought with her lunch money so I could letter our poster boldly. We worked hard, turned in our project and waited the review.
At the end of the week, while leaving class, papers with our grades were handed out to us. I looked over at Jane after looking at mine and she was smiling. Something I’d never seen her do before. Her whole face lit up and she turned the paper to show me. It was a B+ written in bright blue ink. She said to me, “Thanks for your help. I’ve never gotten anything higher than a C, ever.”
That day in the lunchroom I saw Jane sitting at her usual corner table all alone with her brown paper bag in front of her. As my friends beckoned me to join them at their fairly rowdy table, I said, “Not today, Jane and I have some more projects to get a head start on,” and headed her way.
Jane still smelled, her clothes hadn’t changed, but now I saw a keenly intelligent girl with a smile on her face that deserved to be treated for who they were inside, not for who they seemed to be on the outside.
Jane* is not her real name but the girl I told you about was very real and I think about her often, wondering if she knows just how much she impacted my life. I pray she has found love, peace and happiness in her adult life. She deserves it.
(Originally Published In The Hamden Chronicle – Kirsten’s Chronicles)