The skinny junior high school kid was fuming. For one reason or another, this whole day, he had been on the wrong end of a thousand insults, or so it seemed to him. The cuts had run the gamut, starting with remarks about his weird, almost bowl style haircut, or his too-short pants (slacks, not jeans like everyone else wore), or his dorky glasses–you know, the ones with the black plastic rims, instead of the fashionable granny style metal rims. And this! This was just too much! The camel’s back was broken; one straw too many piled atop all the others.
Gym class on this day had been a disaster. The coach had become frustrated with the trouble-makers and made the whole class run laps. “Get out there and give me ten laps before you hit the showers!” The tallish, slender boy had dutifully run his laps, all ten of them and headed toward the locker room, only to be called back by the coach. The man was surrounded by several of the football players in the class, all of them attesting to the fact that the victim had run only nine laps, not ten. Obviously, it had not been wise of him to lap the jocks, as they lumbered along the track at their leisurely pace. They were out for payback and the coach fell for their story. “Get back out there and run five more! Nobody cheats around here!” the man roared, indignant that this skinny kid would dare to take any less than the prescribed number of laps. The kid protested, but it was to no avail, so he headed back out to run the penalty trips around the field’s perimeter. Before he finished, his antagonists were dressed and laughing at him as they sauntered past the field on the way to their next class.
It never seemed to change. He had been the butt end of their pranks for any number of years. It made no difference to him that lots of other boys were in the same boat. All he could think about was their constant hazing and cruelty to him. The boy just couldn’t imagine taking this for the rest of his years in school. He had to do something. Anything. The opportunity was not too long in coming on this fateful day.
At lunchtime, the kids finished up their cafeteria meals and went outside to await the next class. A group of the jocks were there, throwing around cutting remarks, as usual. They tormented the skinny kid one last time about his additional laps, asking him if he had enjoyed his “extra training”, before turning their attention to other matters. He stood there and decided that it was now or never. Picking out the biggest boy of the bunch, he ran up behind him and shoved him as hard as he could. The huge young athlete went rolling on the ground, head over heels. Picking himself up, he asked in a dazed voice, “What was that for?” The terrified kid answered, “Because I’m tired of you guys teasing me! What are you going to do about it?” In his mind, he was thinking about the beating that was coming, trying to tell himself that it couldn’t be any worse than the torment he had endured up until now. The boy looked at him angrily for a minute and then a smile came across his face. “Nothing, I guess. I’ll say this for you. You’ve got guts!” The other members of the football team were crowding toward the boy, ready to deal out retribution, but the big guy waved them off. “Leave him alone, fellas. He’s got a point. Nobody deserves to be treated that way.”
For the most part, it was the end of the bullying for this skinny, socially maladjusted kid. Oh, there would be other, more serious problems, but that phase of school life was effectively dealt with. You never saw a more elated kid in all your life. He walked on clouds the rest of the day and bragged about the feat to his brothers when he got home. “I took on the biggest one of the bunch and put him on the ground!” Never mind that he had to hit him from the back to do it. It had taken courage to finally stand up to those guys.
You can bet that the event was reported to others in the school. For awhile, at least, it seemed that there was almost a grudging respect for the strange, skinny kid. He had made it clear that he was a force to be dealt with by choosing the biggest of his aggressors to take on. If he had picked the smallest one, there would have been a never ending succession of others about the same size wanting to prove that they could best him. The response wasn’t limited to the other kids alone. The young man, realizing that he had earned a respite from the torment, began to carry himself differently. He didn’t have to take the guff from anyone, and partially because of the day’s happenings, partially because of his new-found confidence, everyone started to treat him with less disdain. It wasn’t a bad feeling. The skinny boy could get used to this!
Do you have a pile of problems staring you in the face? Have they beaten you before you’ve even started? I have to admit that there are many days when I feel like that skinny teenaged kid. Oh, my problems aren’t living breathing tormentors in the form of athletes or peers, but I am still mocked by the perception of having failed. The evidence is constantly present. Stacks of unfinished…no, strike that...Stacks of un-begun tasks surround me, each job staring me in the face as I come to work (or even head home), laughing at me with that bullying tone. I have dreams which have never even been attempted. I have relationships to mend which have languished, as this terrified, aging man has admitted defeat. Constantly, my failures and should-have-beens mock me. You too?
Here’s a suggestion. How about…we mount a surprise attack on the worst job of all of them facing us? Pick out the one you dread the most, the one which terrifies the living daylights out of you, and take it on with everything you’ve got in you. Courage! You can do this! I’ve got my nemesis in mind and will be right there with you, knocking out the big, bad guy.
Okay, so the analogy doesn’t follow through completely. The rest of the things that are facing you won’t automatically fade out of existence. You’ll still have to deal with them. The thing is…now you’ll have one in the win column. And, it will be the most formidable one you have to deal with. It’s all downhill from here. Don’t stop until they’re finished; don’t let any of the rest tell you that you’re a loser or convince you that you don’t have what it takes. You’ve got a history! You know that you’re capable.
Does this sound like too much rah-rah cheerleader talk? Just feel good mumbo-jumbo? You might think so, if we didn’t have an Example to look to.
I’m reminded that when the Savior came to earth, he didn’t waste time getting rid of the false teachers, didn’t do the piddling revolutionary tasks that his followers wanted to see. He didn’t rid the nation of its Roman aggressors, didn’t waste time with shutting down the tax-collectors. No, he went for the biggest guy, that old serpent. He crushed the head of His enemy and by doing so, completed the job which had been waiting for ages to be finished. At exactly the right time, He defeated the one enemy that mattered.
So, saddle up and get ready to ride. Bullies come in all shapes and sizes. Every one of them has its weak spot and will fall. But you’ve got to get going first. Mr. Tolkien knew what he was talking about when he wrote these words, didn’t he? “It’s the job that’s never started that takes the longest to finish.”
Well, today’s the day we knock over some bullies. Let’s get going. I’ll tell you this from personal experience, though…
You’ve got to get a little head start if you want to see him rolling on the ground…
“We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed.”
(II Corinthians 4:8,9~NLT)
Mary Poppins: “Our first game is called, ‘Well Begun is Half Done.'”
Michael: “I don’t like the sound of that.”
Mary Poppins: “Otherwise called, ‘Let’s Tidy Up the Nursery.'”
Michael (to Jane): “I told you she was tricky.”
(from Walt Disney’s “Mary Poppins”)
© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2012. All Rights Reserved.