The adorable little man in the picture is my nephew. I write stories like “What I Didn’t Know About Saige” because I have great hopes for his generation — that it will be kinder than mine.
I wish I could say that “… About Saige” was pure fiction. Names and a few minor details are different, but it is all too real. I actually wrote it over 10 years ago and have had a handful of opportunities to share it with groups of kids. At the end, they usually sit quiet … uncomfortable … revealed, either as Saige or as her tormentors.
The first time I read it publicly a group of third graders were mad at me. They wanted to know if I was sorry for hitting Saige with the book. Could they write her? Did I know where she was today? Did I pray for her? Could they write her and tell her I shouldn’t have been so mean? They took on her hurt and were truly upset with me until their teacher explained that I was very sorry … that I had written the story to keep other people from acting like me. (Up to that point one little boy kept a beady stare on every move I made. He all but said out loud, ‘I’m keeping an eye on you, you meanie”.)
I wonder about those third graders today. Did they make it through the gauntlet of peer pressure and remain caring towards those who are different or odd? Do they talk to the loner in the lunchroom or hallways of their school? Do they invite the awkward new kid to join the group? Do they taunt their friends with vulgar names in the guise of “Oh, we’re friends. We’re just joking. It’s okay.”?
I shudder every time I hear “friends” putting each other down with words I wouldn’t even say to my enemies. When I say something, kids will almost always insist, “Really. It’s okay. He knows I’m joking. It’s just the way we talk to each other.” But, I see it … that fleeting look in a set of eyes. It’s a look of pain. Hurt. If I stare long enough, the eyes then plead, “Please! Don’t call me out. Don’t say anything. My friends will just tease more. It’ll only get worse.”
A similar thing that disturbs me occurs when I read online responses to news articles or listen to people debate issues, and within moments vulgar put downs and name calling start flying back and forth. Why such ugliness? Why can’t people talk to each other, disagree, without dismantling one another?
It’s been said that a time is coming when people’s love will grow cold. I wonder …
Shaking off the heaviness of a world of brazen words and loveless humans … what if EVERY TIME (friend or foe), we insisted that our words be an arsenal to destroy meanness, not people? I suppose it’s a bit “Pollyanna” of me, but I look at the picture of my nephew and think, “Why not?!” Think about it … what are the hopeful things that have grown out of your life because of life-giving words said to you? I would love to hear the stories…