In Junior High, (Grade 7 to 9), I was a shrimp. At the end of Grade 9, I stood at 4’11” or just under 150cm tall. There were, in a graduating class of over 250, just one boy and one girl in our grade that were shorter than me. They were both quite popular. I was not. But I had some good friends and was often shielded from any serious bullying. Only once was I actually put into a locker, and I was in it for less than 30 seconds. I escaped most of the cruelty that a nerdy shrimp like me could have been subject to. I got off lucky.
The same could not be said for Ann. She was different. Her religion, (I never cared enough to know what it was back then and would rather not guess now), forbade her from wearing makeup and required her to wear long dresses. Her clothing was always plain, earth tones and rather drab for a Junior High in the 1980’s. I always thought, but would never have admitted, that she was pretty. With red hair and lacking the ‘privilege’ of donning make-up, she usually looked rather pale and was teased for being ugly. If that’s all she was teased about, it probably would have been tolerable, but her and her younger brother were teased relentlessly… nothing was sacred in the onslaught of insults and cruelty bestowed upon them. I remember my friend Stan spitting on Ann’s younger brother, his only ‘crime’ was walking past us. He did not turn, he barely flinched, and he walked on. To this day, Ann and her brother have exemplified to me, like no other has, what it means to turn the other cheek.
Everyone picked on Ann, and usually I just watched… a silent participant. One oddly cruel day, in a moment well outside my character, I said something unkind to her when we were alone, with no one to witness, no one to prove anything to. I have no excuses, I was being mean, unforgivably so. Ann’s response lives with me to this day.
“Not you? I expected this from others, but not you!”
To say that her words left me wounded is an understatement.
To this day I’ve never looked for her, tried to track her down… but I should. Not just to say “Sorry”, but also to say “Thank You”. I grew up a lot that day, that moment. It changed me, made me a better person, one more caring, more full of grace, and more readily brave to stand up to others and for others.
Thank you Ann, for even in your pain, you taught me to be a better human being!