July 21, 2017

I don't want to do nothing

This past spring, my husband and I went to Easter church service with my parents. Their church holds a certain nostalgia for me because it's the same one I attended during my teenage years. One of my dear friends from youth group is now the associate pastor and the main pastor of the church performed our wedding ceremony.

The church, which is now much larger with modern features, was once the site of our youth group lock-ins, where we'd play capture the flag and hide and go seek. On Easter Sunday, the pastor shared a really great message. I won't get into all the details of it, but he touched on various things that hold us back, things that keep us bound up, stuck. He specifically mentioned shame.

Do you ever wonder why certain things pop into your mind after many years of being buried?

What came to my mind during the sermon about shame was an incident that happened when I was in high school. I was probably fourteen or fifteen...not yet old enough to drive myself to and from school.

The kids who drove exited school through one door, to the lot where their cars were parked. The ones whose parents picked us up went out the front door and sat in clumps on the sidewalk waiting for our rides.

One day, I was sitting out there waiting for my ride and saw a scene unfold. An older teenager I knew from church was out there. His name was Ivan and he had Down syndrome. He was a good-natured guy everybody knew and liked. His mom or whoever was picking him up pulled into the loading area and he got up to meet her.

On the way to his mom's car, Ivan's feet got tangled up and he stumbled, falling face first on the concrete. His books flew every which way and his backpack slid forward up around his neck as he lay on the sidewalk. This group of boys were sitting nearby and one of them jeered, laughing loudly at Ivan, applauding him sarcastically.

Ivan's mom, who I also knew from church, jumped out of the car and came running over. She was furious, her face red as she pointed at the boy who had taunted her son. "Don't you ever laugh at him," she said, with a staccato rhythm, as if each word had its own exclamation point.

She went to help Ivan up, checking to see if he was hurt and helping him brush himself off. She put her arm around his shoulders, walked him to their car and they drove away.

This whole scene unfolded before me probably twenty years ago. That's a pretty long time. But something my parents' preacher said on Easter brought it back to my mind as if it were yesterday. Shame can definitely hold us back. But sometimes what holds us back brings its own form of shame.

When Ivan fell, I did nothing. When the other kid laughed, I did nothing.

It's just as possible to be any of the characters in this little vignette. How many times have you been the one who fell? Maybe not a literal fall, but a misstep that caused you to take a tumble in life. Maybe you set out on a path that didn't lead where you intended. Did you feel foolish? Like a failure? With your shortcomings on display for all the world to see.

Or maybe you've been the mean kid. For the record, the guy in my story had a history of being mean. After writing this post, my curiosity got the best of me and I looked him up on Facebook. I saw a photo of him holding a cat and another of him holding his baby niece. Maybe he's not such a bad guy but he seemed pretty mean back then.

We're mean for all sorts of different reasons. Fear. Wanting to fit in. Needing someone else to feel small so we feel bigger. It's like we sit and wait for someone to show any sign of weakness, and we pounce on them.

Or maybe, in various situations in life. you've been like me. Watching everything happen and wishing you could stop it, but finding yourself unable to do anything about it. Not quite as guilty as the mean kid hurling taunts, but also not innocent either. I wish I could tell this story a different way. I wish I could brag and say that I stood up to the playground bully. But that's just not what happened.

We can't change what's been done. As badly as we feel about it, there's nothing we can do about past mistakes. But surely we can learn from it. Let's not be the ones who do nothing.

**I wrote this post months ago but it wasn't until a recent news story in Cocoa, Florida that compelled me to publish it. I'm not passing judgement in any way. In these times when life seems so unfair and circumstances are so challenging, it's hard to know what to do. But doing nothing is not the answer.**