The phone rang and I picked it up without recognizing the number on the call display.
“Hello, is this Carrie?”
“Yes” I replied. I pushed the mop across the floor, my chin holding the phone in place.
“This is the Principal at your son’s school. I’m phoning because of an incident that occurred during the second recess. Your son, Gabriel, was involved in an altercation with another student.”
I paused and straightened up. I knew that you weren’t the kind of kid to cause any problems. Still, I suppose there’s always extenuating circumstances. Your principal went on to describe how a boy in your class got angry during a game of tag. He didn’t like being “it” and the first person he caught (you) he tackled and repeatedly punched in the face.
A deep rage began to stir in my belly and I imagined what it might feel like to corner this kid and offer him a glimpse of the beast that was now straining at my carefully designed, iron bars of patience. Despite my instinct to scare the living daylights out of this kid, I knew that wasn’t the kind of example I needed to be for you. So I let the school handle the situation.
When you came home you told me what had happened. You weren’t hurt by the beating you had taken. You were upset that you had befriended this boy; a kid who didn’t have any friends, one who had a reputation for being mean to the other students, and he had betrayed your trust. My heart went out to you. Not everyone we meet is ready to be a friend. But you’ve always been a kid to seek the good in people and more than that you see their potential. Your teachers have described you as being “the most empathetic child they have ever had the pleasure of teaching”. You don’t discriminate. Everyone is worthy of your attention. Any child regardless of race, sex, or ability deserves a chance to be your friend.
Still, this event shook you. You’ve never encountered this level of violence before and I could see you were second guessing the kindness that comes so easily to you. I wasn’t sure how to respond, how to reassure you that most children are worthy of your attention. I asked how the boy who hurt you was caught. Had you told the teacher? You shook your head. No. The adults hadn’t come to the rescue. Other children had. These kids who had actively avoided confrontation with this boy. The kids who had been afraid of him and his violent outbursts chased him down and literally dragged him by his ankles (while he kicked, screamed and tried to bite them) to one of the recess monitors.
“Do you know what that means, buddy”?
You shook your head, tears spilling from your eyes. I brushed one away and ran my fingers through your hair.
“It means that you inspired them to act in a moment that frightened them. Not because they wanted rewards or accolades but because they saw the injustice of your situation. They didn’t have to chase him down. They didn’t have to risk their own well-being for you. No one told them to do that. They did that because they respect you. They did it because you are such a good person that fear couldn’t prevent them from doing what was right. You aren’t old enough to understand how beautiful that is. How it’s easier to be a bystander than it is to be someone who acts.”
You digested that for a few moments before smiling back at me.
“I have good friends” you said.
“Yes you do” I agreed.
You have good friends because you are a good friend. I am so proud of you. You are an amazing human being and I am honored to be your mother.
Happy birthday Gabriel. Never be afraid to be who you are because who you are is an inspiration.
Mom and Dad.