Saturday. I was up and out unusually early to make a 9am vigil visit with an imminently dying patient at the nursing home. By 9:55am, I was on a bus sitting in a single window seat heading home. The patient passed peacefully while I sat at her side and the sound and vibrations of the bus engine felt like a sweet, peaceful massage.
As we made our way south, the bus stopped at 84th street to let passengers off and was detained there by a red light. Sitting in the bus shelter a group of young boys and a man who appeared to be their “chaperone.” I’m guessing the boys were around age 10 and it seemed they might be on some kind of outing with the man in charge. As we sat waiting for the light to change, I watched as one of the young boys pointed at passengers to get their attention and, when he did, shrieked in terror as if horrified by the sight. Encouraging his little buddies to join him in the fun, he and one other looked me square in the eye and pointed at me shrieking in terror as if I was some hideous monster. And, surprisingly, it made me feel awful.
I didn’t respond, just stared expressionlessly into the eyes of the mean spirited little boys. And they locked their gaze on me while continuing to shriek. But under my gaze was a mixed feeling of heartbreak and anger, and in my head a blizzard of questions: They appeared to be having a great time making fun of people so did they think that was all in fun? Who taught them that that kind of behavior was okay? Did they not even think for a minute that they could be hurting someone’s feelings? Why wasn’t the man with them making them stop? Had he also been one of them when he was their age; did he think they were funny or that they were just being kids? Kids develop these mean tendencies and grow up to be adults with that same kind of attitude toward others. What had they learned in their homes that made it okay to treat other human beings like that? And how sad is that.
The adult man who was with them said nothing, did nothing to make them stop.
You might be thinking, “Oh, they were just being kids.” And I can partially accept that. However, kids learn those attitudes from adults and cultivate them as they grow up. Yeah, in their world they might have been playing a game; might have been having fun on a Saturday morning. They might have imagined us as a busload of zombies at that time in the morning. Maybe we even looked a little like that. But in that short span of time, after witnessing the passing of a beautiful human being who had no family, I was not having fun being one of their targets; not enjoying their little kid playtime in the bus stop. In that short span of time I remembered dating someone who was ALWAYS making jokes and I was the punch line far too often. And I smiled through it while my guts twisted. I remembered my dad saying things he BELIEVED were funny but were NOT really funny for the people to whom they were directed. They smiled through it and I’m SURE their guts twisted. I also remembered a day, back when I was 10, when one of my classmates, Scott Albrecht, pointed at me after school and said, “Dirty babies are gonna come from there.” I remember feeling diminished and belittled but thought I’d let it go. It’s curious to have THAT thought float up for inspection all these years later.
The adult man must’ve been or, rather, must BE a “Scott Albrecht.”
Nothing that diminishes another human being’s existence is never funny or EVER a joke. Nothing that hurts another human being physically, emotionally or spiritually can be done in fun. EVER.
Children are our most precious gift and are born pure, curious, creative and loving; little lumps of clay just waiting to be shaped and molded. Unfortunately, not every adult is a mindful sculptor so we all end up a little bumpy. But everyone is a teacher in our lives.
I’m never too old or unwilling to lean in and find the lesson. I thank those boys and their adult male chaperone for shaking out some uncomfortable memories that have shaped some aspects of my sense of self. I’ve had some interesting moments of clarity as a result. I thank those boys and their adult male chaperone for reminding me why always creating integrity, respect, mindfulness and love around my words and actions is so very important for my own health and well being and for the health and well being of every other human being in my orbit.
My hope is that those young kids find their way to a kinder way of being.