Suddenly I was not like any other twelve-year-old lined up in the hallway. I was the devil. I was everything everyone hates. I don’t remember what I did that day to garner such negative attention, but I do remember the crushing shame.
Not long after that, the principal came to school with a black eye, a big bruiser.
Apparently he was fooling around with the secretary, and her husband found out. That was the rumour I heard in the same hall, spread by my giggling peers.
I can see now, nearly fifty years later, that I was bruised by the shame the principal couldn’t reign in. I can understand and forgive the man, but my body doesn’t forget being judged.
Last week I felt it in two different conversations. Twice I found out I’d done something wrong and people were irritated with me. In each case, their anger was short-lived and the situations resolved, but that dreaded feeling of shame lingered into the night.
It came a third time when I was driving. The car began to tremble at low speeds ten kilometres from home. At six kilometres, a warning light came on. At one, the light started flashing at me. The car growled and rattled while the garage door took forever to open. Finally, I parked the car and got out.
I was okay but my body wasn’t. My heart pounded, and I felt as if I’d just downed ten espressos. What was the warning light telling me? What if I ruined the engine by driving it home?
Once again reason tried to soothe me. “It’s only a car; no one was hurt.” My body couldn’t hear it. Something louder was jangling my nerves.
I was greatly relieved when Fred diagnosed the problem–a misfiring cylinder–and fixed it the next day.
I didn’t recognize what fuelled my panic until I woke in the night and noticed that in all three incidents I felt ashamed. Three times I heard “Why did you do that? You should have known better.”
As I came fully awake, I realized: that’s what I do when I get angry at people. I want them to feel bad for what they’ve done.
But in the morning when I came to prayer, something else happened. I remembered the principal and being called evil. If he’d been the first to intimate that, I would never have believed him. He was simply confirming what I feared was true after all.
Now I knew what those incidents of panic were telling me. They were telling me that I still carried the bruises of what happened that day. God was taking me back to that moment to heal the misfiring memory my body held.
A bruised reed he will not break,
and a smouldering wick he will not snuff out.
In faithfulness he will bring forth justice.
—Isaiah 42:3 (NIV)
* * *
“Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love,” said Mother Teresa of Calcutta. Today I tip my hat to all of you who do small things with great love. I’m thinking of Heather who notices lonely people in coffee shops and gives them her time. I think of Colleen who faithfully visits a friend in long term care. I think of volunteers who make muffins and neighbours who shovel snow. I think of patient drivers, thankful bus passengers, and shoppers who smile at cashiers. You are saints.