Do I have something to say today? Yes. Yes I do.
In grade school, I cannot seem to place the actual grade, but I suspect that it was third grade, there was a boy in my class named Jim Lumpee. No joke. To compound the problem he was "the fat kid," unkempt, poorly dressed and smart as a whip. Looking back I see that he was also a lonely kid, and I know for a fact that he was a picked-on kid. He was also a kid who didn't have a lot of defences at that time.
The reason that I think it was third grade, is I was baptized in June the summer before third grade; my eighth birthday. People in the LDS church cannot be baptized until the age of eight, which is the "age of accountability." The age that most human being understand the essentials of right and wrong. It is also the age that, after undertaking the covenants of baptism, a person receives the Gift of the Holy Ghost. I tell you this, because I don't want to come off like I am some sort of super-compassionate person. I think that I was just a kid with a normal sensitivity to the promptings of the Comforter. And everything about this memory feels like those sweet prompting that the Spirit brings.
I don't remember ever participating in the teasing that went on, and have even one or two memories of telling other kids to stop, or that what they had said wasn't nice. But I was a kid who went to church and paid attention, I read the Friend, I knew that what I should do was be a friend to this boy. I knew that was what Jesus would want.
But I also knew that I was a fat girl. Not as fat as Jim, but I was heavier than the pretty girls, and I felt that difference in my bones. I feared that to befriend this boy would be to mark myself as fair game for some of what Jim was getting. On top of that, he smelled bad. Not that he smelled of sewers and small rotting animals... but he smelled the sour smell of the unbathed and a little like old urine. He smelled like his clothes got washed once a month.
For those of you in my family, knowing just that he smelled bad might get me a pass on this childhood failure. I have an almost preternatural nose. There are family legends about my ability to walk into a room a half hour after a single watermelon Jolly Rancher candy has been eaten, sniff, and ask for some watermelon candy too! Chocolate? Oh brother, wait at least an hour before breathing on me! Honestly, I am grateful that over a decade of smoking has dulled my sniffer, because I still have a better nose than most.
It just breaks my heart that I had not more bravery, or compassion, or the skill that I have now as a pregnant mom who changes a toddlers stinker-pants, the skill of olfactory-blocked mouth breathing. But I knew the power, or at least sensed the power to heal that just one real friend brings. That a kid can withstand almost anything, and even have some room to grow and flourish with just one real friend. I knew it, and I knew that I could be that friend for him and I didn't do it. All the excuses in the world do not keep this childhood FAIL from burning.
Somehow I know that his parents were divorced or divorcing, and for some reason he was living in an apartment with his older brother, who was presumably older than eighteen. I remember that it was some adult, I guess my teacher, who told me this. And it feels like I could feel compassion rolling off from the adult when they told me. Perhaps that it's just something that I ascribed to the experience later, but I doubt it.
No matter how life and our actions are parsed and looked at, Jim Lumpee, wherever you are? I failed you and I am so, so very sorry. I hope you found a friend, I hope you are OK and happy today. Does it help to know that I learned from my failure? Does it help ease anything that I always acted on that urging to do right by another after that?
No? Didn't think so.