Perfect love means to love the one through whom one became unhappy – Soren Kierkegaard
Following on from a recent blog post about forgiveness, putting into practice the habit of it is, as is everything, much easier said than done. So I’m going to share some personal things in this blog post, which I don’t often do, but which I think is necessary to give it some context, and to perhaps allow for people in their own situation to relate to it in some way.
Kierkegaard’s reflection on forgiveness inspired me today to do something which I have never been able to do. Forgive the bullies. Thinking about forgiveness a lot lately, I have decided that the best place to start was at the beginning, when the first people who treated me badly first made an impression on my mind and my life.
I had a really happy childhood, growing up in beautiful countryside in a very loving family. I exceled in school – primary school was a breeze. I was top of the class in both academia and athletics – I loved them both. I was confident and happy – it was a great time for me. However, things changed when I went to secondary school.
The first half of the first year went well – though it was a shock moving from a Grade Six class that had five people in it to class sizes of twenty to thirty children. The school was enormous compared to my primary school, but I adapted pretty well (and much thanks to a map my sister drew especially for me to find my classes in the many halls, which was my saviour that first month!). I was confident and smart and making new friends under quite difficult circumstances to a very sensitive child. And then came the bullies.
They were two years older than me, and came from the same region, so we shared the long bus journey together (an hour each way, a total of two hours a day). That was where it all started. Name calling on the bus – for whatever reason, began the whole affair. I assume that it was because I was tall, pretty, blond and happy – though I can never truly know the full reason behind it. Sometimes people simply think that blowing out another person’s flame will make theirs shine all the brighter, but that just isn’t the case – everyone knows two flames are brighter than one alone. For whatever reason, the bullying started.
Being confident, I decided to fight back. I was smart, and could have a comeback for anything. Everyone, from television and film and books, said that if you fight back, the bullies will leave you alone.
That is not the case.
I fought back, with words, not allowing them to see that they were hurting me – throwing it back at them, and also hoping that others around me would rally to the cause and that we would all overthrow this minority of bullies who seemed to control “the bus”.
That was not the case either.
People didn’t stand up for me. But I still persevered, fighting back as best I could. Eventually it did get me down, and I started to doubt myself. But I stayed as strong as I could. They put glue in my hair. They threw food and garbage at me. They called me names. They threatened me. They taunted me every time we passed in the hallway until I avoided all the main halls and used the back stairs, entrances and exits as much as I could. I still held fast to the belief that it was because they were jealous – I stayed strong in my convictions, but it really, really started to get me down. I dreaded going to school every day, and dreaded the bus ride there and back. I joined after school clubs just so I wouldn’t have to take the same bus as they did home – I could take a later bus. I longed for the two days of respite that the weekend brought – Fridays after the bus dropped me off was like a whole new world of freedom to be me again.
It became so bad one day though, that I had had just about enough of it all and, with no holding back, turned around to where they had moved up in the now almost empty bus to sit directly behind me and taunt me ceaselessly. I let it rip, verbally, with all the hate, spite , viciousness and intelligence that I possessed. Their faces were shocked, and then anger took over. One girl grabbed me by the hair and started banging my head against the bus window, over and over again. An older boy came down from the back of the bus and pulled her off of me – I had started physically fighting back – and we were separated. I got off the bus seconds later at my stop, adrenaline bursting along with tears as soon as the bus was out of sight – I wasn’t going to let them see me cry. I hated myself and my life.
The next day we were, of course, called into the Principal’s Office. After a few minutes, where I (with seething calm) stated my case and then the other girl was allowed to state hers, she simply began to cry. I was too angry to care about why she was crying – she had made my life a living hell. I sincerely hoped the Principal was not “duped” by her show – though on reflection I do believe that she was a truly unhappy girl in an unhappy situation, the details of which I still am not aware of to this day – only rumours.
Nothing came of it for me – but I think she may have received a three-day suspension or something similar, though the memory of that is a little fuzzy. What I do remember is that evening she called my house, and my mother answered the phone. The girl threatened my mother and family, and also said that she didn’t care if she got expelled from school – she could always transfer to SAA. My mother said, “Go ahead, please do. BECAUSE THAT’S WHERE I WORK.” We never got a phone call from her again.
The bullying eased off from then on – just some taunts and words passing in the hallway. By this point, I saw the light at the end of the tunnel – the bullies were graduating that year, and once they were gone the school “was mine” again, in the sense that I could live, learn and do as I pleased and enjoy every second of it. They graduated, or failed – I don’t really know, but they left. Those last two years of my high school life were some of the best years of my life.
I still suffered from confidence issues – walking past a group of people laughing, I would assume they were laughing at me. Sometimes I still do – though now I catch myself and, with a wry grin, shrug it off. But one thing I’ve never been able to do is to forgive them for the years and years of torment that they put me through. Well, today I decided that enough is enough.
I have carried these bullies with me for 27 years now, and I’m more than ready to put them down. As in my previous blog post, the story of the monks and the sack of potatoes, I really don’t want to carry anger and hate to these people anymore – I’m going to empty the sack, and maybe one day lose the sack altogether so that it can never be filled with anger again. For anger is the cause of pain and suffering in the world – it is the root behind most, if not all, sufferering and “evil”. So, no more, thank you very much. I forgive you, CB, KJ, WG, D and A – I don’t want to carry you around any more. I hope that your lives are much happier now, and filled with love. Tears are welling up in my eyes even as I write this – the release is overwhelming. I have compassion for myself and for you. May you live well.
And so, I aim for what Kierkegaard wrote – for love is compassion and forgiveness. I am emptying my sack, one by one, and looking for perfect love with every person who has made me unhappy. In this way, I believe, the world can and will be a better place. Namaste.
Bullying is not fun. It sounds like that took a lot to let go, but I hope you’re feeling a thousand times better for doing so.
I personally had the experience of being bullied first in my second infant school, which was a little rough and as you say, despite people telling you to stand up for yourself, it isn’t always as easy as all that. It only really chilled out for me when I moved on.from that school on to the next.
I then didn’t have to deal with anything heavy until later on in secondary school, when one very tall lad just wouldn’t leave me be. I’d had enough of him one day and called him on it, offering him the chance for us to settle it and did so right outside the staff changing room, making it abundantly clear I’d take whatever punishment I needed to to sort him out. He went away crying before anything happened and I remember it as one of the more assertive moments I had at that age. If I’d have had more I suspect I’d have been unstoppable at school 🙂
But that is certainly one sack of spuds I’m in no hurry to go back for.
Exactly – we’re only free from bullying when we let go and forgive. Then, and only then, does it no longer control us. We feel lighter, free – it’s a very good thing!
Great post. I did fight back physically…finally…and it did work. The bullying stopped. Others gained respect for me and eventually we had our own group that the bullies would not mess with because they knew we all had each others backs. I let them go not long after I was out of grade school. Never held onto animosity for them. When kids are bullies, I guarantee you that their parents are bullies as well. But I have learned, too, from Buddha, that the peope who drive you the craziest are your best teachers.
Yes – wise words! And indeed – sometimes fighting back stops the bullying, sometimes it doesn’t – only makes it worse. But people will be people, and people always change, and always have the potential to change. I think that’s what must be remembered, along with compassion for all living creatures. Life itself is, indeed, our best teacher!