The rain had just stopped pouring on the twins as they arrived home. Anthony and Marcia were alike in almost every way and today, they were both miserable. Their first day back to school after winter break had not gone well and now they were both wet, cold and despondent.
Their father was home and greeted them, but noticed how sad they were. “Hi guys, you look pretty weather worn and beat up. I’ll bet you got caught in that rain a few minutes ago.” Noting their expressions, he added, “Oh, there’s more going on — what’s wrong?”
Marcia put down her backpack, picked two towels from the closet, threw one to her brother and dropped into the couch, “I am beat up Dad. This has been a miserable day.”
Anthony hung his coat over the back of a kitchen chair, caught the towel and sat on the floor near the fireplace where Dad had good fire going. “Me too. I’m so glad today is over,” and he started pulling off his boots to dry.
Marcia turned to continue. “I don’t know what happened, but Mary, my best friend, completely ignored me all day. I tried several times to ask how her break went, but she acted as if I didn’t exist, talking happily with everyone else, but completely dead to me. When I asked her what was wrong, she starred right past me and walked away.”
“My friends pulled something like that too. They were all talking about forming teams for PE soccer and all told me they did not want me on their team.”
“I tried to sit with my friend Gertie for lunch, but as soon as I sat down, she turned on me and told me how badly my blouse matched my skirt and how out of style my haircut was. When she tore into me for how badly she thought I sang in choir class, I’d had enough and left to sit by myself.”
“Hey, do you know a new tall girl named Michelle?”
“No, I only know Michelle Cramer, but she’s really short. Why?”
My history teacher asked me today if I had help with my test, because someone reported to him that I cheated. I saw this Michelle, talking with him right after class so I’m pretty sure it was her. I don’t even know her. Why would she lie about me?”
Marcia pulled her skirt up over her knee to reveal a large bandage. “And do you know Bart from wrestling? He deliberately tripped me on the gravel path to building “B”. Then everyone ignored me or laughed. One jerk even used his phone to record the whole thing so I think it was planned and by now I’m likely a laughing stock on Instagram. The rocks tore up my knee so bad I had to go to the nurse’s office for a bandage. I’ve never even spoken to him. ”
“I don’t know him, but everyone’s heard of him. He is a jerk and a bully.
Anthony turned back to his father and continued. “The worse thing today was I got my American Lit paper back and Ms. Lakershot really creamed me. She said I didn’t follow the assignment close enough and my paper was too too short. She didn’t like how I reviewed, The Old Man and the Sea, and marked me down for missing the point. I worked hard on that paper, but she didn’t care. I don’t think she likes me.
He rubbed the towel through his wet hair. “This really was the worse day of school I’ve ever had.”
Marcia was pulling back the bandage on her knee to examine it. “Yea – me too. Today really sucked and this rip in my knee is going to leave a scar.”
Their father stepped into the room from where he’d been listening. “Okay. I think I’ve heard enough. Do I have this straight; Marcia, you were ignored by Mary, insulted by Gertie, and attacked by Bart.
“Anthony, you were rejected by your soccer buddies, lied about by Michelle, and got a bad grade on your homework from Ms. Lakershot. Did I get that all correct?”
“Dad, you forgot the jerk who filmed Bart attacking me.”
“You’re right, I did. No matter. I get that being ignored, insulted, attacked, rejected, lied about and, I’ll call it ‘invalidated’ by a teacher all adds up to a bad day, but would it help if I told you that, Mary has a long history of mental issues and is taking some expensive meds to keep her from losing track of who are her friends and enemies, or that Gertie was raped last week while with her family in Reno. Her counselor predicted that she’s likely to be mad at almost everyone for a while and Bart has all kinds of academic, anger and social issues thanks to his parents who alternately abused or ignored him until he was old enough for high school when the state took him from his parents and placed him in a foster home. He was just told that he’s unlikely to graduate because he is so far behind.
“Would it make any difference if you knew that Michelle is new to your class only because her case worker has decided she is ready to be mainstreamed with normal students? Until today, she’s been restricted to classes for the developmentally disabled. Your teacher reported her lie about you to the principal and they’re now sure that her accusation was nothing more than a coping tool. For her, saying things like this is a sign of stress. She’s not a bad person, but being in a normal class is way out of her comfort zone.”
Marcia answered, “That all makes it less annoying dad, but it doesn’t make me feel any better. How do you know all this?”
“You’ve been to my office. You know that I sit near to both the principal and counselors. You would be surprised what people will say near the guy who plans janitorial service.
“But this is an excellent point. Most of the time, we won’t know why someone is attacking us – they just are and it might be something other than evil or malicious. In this case, there is close to an 80% chance that I made it all up, and a 100% chance that sometimes, we have to just give people time or raw grace and know within ourselves that we did nothing to deserve their abuse. We need to know how to disqualify such abuse.”
Marcia continued to rub her hair with the towel. “Fine, but it’s so unfair. Why do I have to suffer for other people’s issues when I’ve done nothing to them?”
Anthony jumped in, “Yea, their ‘issues’ doesn’t make what they did right. How does hurting us help their pain anyway? It only makes more pain and we didn’t deserve any of it.”
“That’s true, but how many perfect people do you know? None – right? So, if no one is perfect, other than Christ, how fair is it to expect anyone else to always treat you as you deserve? How fair is it to expect someone who is crippled socially or mentally to ever act fair towards others? You know you count on sinners to sin and broken people to act broken. Take Michelle’s lie for example. Was she able to deal with her stress some other way? Maybe, but maybe not. So I would disqualify her lie as being true. If she were mature and healthy and saw you cheat – that would be a whole different issue.”
“Yes but dad, that thug Bart really hurt me. Look at my knee.”
“I understand. Trust me, your father, no one hurts you without risking my revenge.”
“Sooo, what are you going to do about it?”
“I’m trying to swallow my anger and let others punish him. By the way, I already heard from Nurse Williams and know you’re going to be okay.
“I also think you don’t have to just “take it” when someone attacks you. If you can set aside your own anger to help them with whatever they’re going through, fine, but if not, stay clear and let someone in authority or dispassionate deal with him. That way, the problem can be addressed (and maybe resolved) without a vengeful attitude getting in the way. Sometimes, you may have to defend yourself enough to avoid, stop or escape a bad situation. It’s never fun but sometimes it’s both just and even helpful to defend yourself and not let someone hurt you. But it is also wise, if needed to get someone else to correct things afterwards. This is yet another way I want you to grow up wise and graceful, but knowing how to be both just and safe.
Marcia made a face. “Do we get any points for having so many people malfunction on us in the same day?”
“For correct responses when revenge is much more tempting, I think I can find a tub of ice cream to sooth your wounded spirits, but we do need to talk about the remaining assault Anthony complained about. So Anthony, tell me how you were wronged with that paper?”
“I worked hard on it Dad, and she graded me really poorly. She’s making me rewrite the whole thing.”
“I get that you worked hard. But did you produce good work?”
He looked down into his lap. After a long pause, he answered, “No – not really. The weekend I should have taken time to read the story, I went to a soccer game with Gina instead and this didn’t leave me enough time to read the whole story. I had to fudge some of my write-up.”
“Okay. Thanks for your candor. So, this piece of misery was actually your own fault and you can’t blame your teacher for not accepting marginal work. In fact, she’s doing you a favor.” Anthony’s eyes rolled back as he knew what his father was about to say. “So are you ready to apologize to her tomorrow?
His eyes snapped back to his father. “What!? I was ready for the lecture about always doing our best work. Why do I owe her an apology?”
His father leaned towards him and answered, “Because as a student, you work for her. Her job is to make sure you learn certain things. She does the work of putting the information before you and giving you the tools to learn it but if you miss the mark, it’s her job to get you back on track. Now she has to review your work a second time to do you the favor of doing the work right. I promise you that she would have preferred giving you a good grades for good work the first time.
“This was nothing more of an example of a good teacher not letting you get away with shoddy work. Sometimes, a person’s bad opinion of our work is well deserved and we need to correct ourselves. She could just leave you with a failing grade.
“With the rest, I think it likely that those people were acting out of their own weaknesses and injuries. With all their own problems, they simply may not have been qualified to do right by you. Given the chance, they might do better tomorrow.
“So — other than the fact that Anthony now has to redo his Hemingway assignment – the rest adds up to a pretty lousy day for both of you. Since Mom is away helping grandma and I’m in charge, are we doing ice cream before or after dinner?”