I threw his binder.
We were between classes in Jr High, 7th grade if my memory serves me correctly. I was on the 2nd level of our outdoor campus, heading toward the stairs & there was a commotion… wasn’t sure initially what it was, but as I drew closer, I could tell it was a game of keep-away. I was always up for a good game of keep-away, because they are SO much fun for all involved (except for the person who is having their stuff kept-away from them.) At first, I couldn’t even tell WHO’s book bag was being tossed around, nor who was chasing it. Until I got closer.
It was Zach. He wasn’t a friend or a person I hung out with… we had a couple classes together, but we’d never really talked, & had never hung out. HOW he was chosen to be the one who’s stuff was being tossed around over our heads & up/down the stairs was a mystery. It was just happening.
At some point, someone popped open the book bag & started tossing the individual books (as if this particular ‘game’ wasn’t already challenging enough for Zach.) He was running around, frantic & desperate (like ANYONE else would be if your lifeline (that’s what book bags were) was being treated so cavalierly 20 feet up from the ground level.
Someone tossed me the binder, just as the warning bell rang. (It seemed like between every class there was a “warning bell” & then a “tardy bell.” You were technically supposed to be IN class when the “warning bell” went off, but you HAD BETTER be in class by the “tardy bell” or there would be detention. But I digress.)
I frisbeed the binder toward a fleeing classmate, over Zach’s head. It came open & ALL the papers, dividers, etc… EVERYTHING that was in it, came out.
The courtyard cleared as all the participants (except Zach & me) ran to their respective classes. The contents of the binder fluttered in the air for an eternity, floating like leaves falling in the fall toward the ground below. It was a mess. Worse, I had caused it.
If the book bag was a Jr Higher’s lifeline, the binder was the heart of the student. It contained all the assignments. All the information & syllabi for all the classes. Extra paper, pens, pencils… you name it, it was probably in the binder. But not anymore. The contents of Zach’s binder were all over the stairs, some on the 2nd floor, most on the 1st floor & courtyard. Everyone was gone. Except Zach. And me.
I wanted to run away. This wasn’t any fun. The idea of participating in keep-away sounded great, but its not like 12 year old me thought through the consequences, THESE consequences before I decided to join in the ‘game.’ I didn’t think about the possible mess, the possible damage to books/supplies, the possible destruction of the book bag & binder… I didn’t think about any of it. But now I was looking at the mess, the mess I helped to make. The chaos of his binder, potentially lost assignments, trouble he could get in from teachers/parents, etc… all rushed into my head at once. I DID THIS. And Zach just stood there, looking back & forth between me & the mess. I wanted to ignore him, ignore what I’d done, maybe laugh it off, & hurry to my own class. I wanted to run away.
But I didn’t.
I didn’t run away because I had a nudge. Actually, it sounded like a booming voice in my head – “HEY! Help him clean it up!” So I went over to Zach & said, “Let’s clean it up.”
I don’t think he was expecting this response from one of his tormentors. (It would be wonderful to remove any personal blame for the afternoon book bag fiasco, but that would just be wishful thinking. I was in the thick of it, & I had been the one who’d done the most damage. Without even giving a 2nd thought to it, I had jumped into a mess & made Zach’s life a little bit more unbearable than it already was that day.)
As we were cleaning up the mess, I didn’t know what to say to Zach. He had his head down & was on his knees. He kept clearing his throat, which in retrospect makes me think he was trying his best to maintain a shred of dignity by not crying. Oh man.
I felt the nudge again: “Apologize.” So I did. I said something like, “Zach, I am really sorry that I threw your binder. I had no idea it would explode like that. I didn’t think about the mess it would cause or the problems that having your binder trashed would cause for you.” I know that I rambled on & on, hoping & praying that he would somehow speak up, interrupt me, do SOMETHING to alleviate my own embarrassment & shame at my actions. He mumbled, “That’s ok,” & kept picking up papers.
“No, it’s not ok,” I heard myself saying. “It’s not ok. It was wrong, it was mean, it was not something I (or any of us) should have been doing, because NONE of us would have wanted to be in your shoes, to have this happen to us. Please forgive me.” He looked up at me & I saw him for the 1st time – hurt, broken, weary, so sad, alone. This wasn’t his 1st time being bullied (that’s what it was) & familiarity hadn’t made it any easier for him to get used to. And then he spoke, “Ok. I forgive you.” He gave me a weak smile, & followed that with, “But you stayed to help me clean it up. Thank you.”
I shook his hand, apologized again, & ran, head down, to my next class. He said he forgave me, even after what I’d done. I didn’t deserve it – but he gave it to me anyway.
When I think back on that incident, I am pained by my actions, my insensitivity, my lack of perspective. I am embarrassed & ashamed that I did something so thoughtless to a vulnerable, obviously in pain individual. Even as a 12 year old, I knew that what I had done was not the Jesus-Way. It seemed that if I hadn’t paid attention to the initial nudge & prompting, I might have gone even further down the road of “having fun” at the expense of others, without regard for them, their value & worth.
Something that ran through my head that day & that has continued to play a significant role in how I engage with people is the scripture that talks about Jesus & His heart/attitude towards people. It’s the fulfillment of a prophecy from Isaiah 42:1-3. Its says:
A bruised reed He will not break, & a smoldering wick He will not snuff out, till He has brought justice through to victory. In His Name, the nations will put their hope. Matthew 12:19-21.
THIS is Jesus to me – He won’t break me when I’m bruised & damaged; He won’t snuff me out when my flame, my light isn’t catching fire, but just smoking & smoldering. He nurtures, He comes alongside, He helps, He restores.
And that is what I want to do to. And every time I remember Zach, I recommit myself to be a part of the Jesus-Way.