Thursday, August 20, 2009

Room for Mercy

The guy had been hassling me for two years. By the eighth grade I had had enough of his name calling, stealing my stuff, and general threats. I was full of testosterone and righteous indignation and it was time to stand up to the bully.

It was going to be a one on one, no holds barred, kill or be killed West Texas brawl of gruesome brutality.

It was over in two seconds. I walked away with a black eye and busted glasses. He walked away with a smirk.

I was told that the reason he hated me so was because I thought I was better than he was. I denied it. I tried not to think about him at all if I could help it. I can see now that he probably thought I was better than him, which no doubt fueled his rage.

I was angry and embarrassed over that moment. But something happened about seven years later that gave me a different perspective.

I no longer lived in that town, but I was passing through with friends when we stopped for gas. I handed some bills to the attendant without really looking at him. But I recognized his voice when he said, “Sure do thank you, sir.”

It was the guy.

He looked exactly as he did in the eighth grade, right down to his ratty tee shirt and oil stained jeans with worn knees. Only he wasn’t really quite the same. He may have hit me a couple of times in the past, but I could see in his eyes that life had dealt him many blows since the eighth grade.

I was in better circumstances. I was two inches taller and a lot more confident. I was in college and married to a woman who could have been a model.

I was not better than him, but I certainly had it better. And I always had: A loving family, nice home, enough to eat, and a future. I don’t think he had any of that.

We didn't acknowledge each other. I don't know if he recognized me. This time when I walked away, he was not smirking. But neither was I. In fact, I couldn't figure out what I felt.

Without excusing his behavior, I now see that life was much harder for him. And I realize that my successes have occurred in the framework of the many advantages I was born into.

So there’s no room for pride or superiority. But perhaps there should be room for a little mercy.

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