Friday, August 22, 2008


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.


moo said...

that's a lot of guilt for you to still be carrying around (said the pot to the kettle).

Hope you someday manage to forgive yourself, and teach your children to be the kind of friend you feel you couldn't be.

(to defend you: kids are MEAN. It's totally ok that you acted with self-preservation)

bon said...

Guilt? Not really so much "guilt" because I know that I am forgiven, I just never ever want to forget what that brand of FAIL feels like. Don't want to repeat that particular mistake.

Meredith said...

I think a lot of us carry around some childhood guilt. I know I do too - when I was in elementary school there was a girl who was globally developmentally delayed. Of course then we called it retarded. During recess the boys would tell her to pull down her pants to show them her underwear and she would. They wouldn't touch her or anything, all of this was from a distance. I saw this happen and am ashamed to say that although I knew it was wrong and that I should make them stop and should make them leave her alone, I didn't. In fact one day I laughed along with them.

I feel like shit just thinking of it.

I think it is part of the growing up phase, we learn to be better people from maybe not making the best choices and feeling eternal guilt over the choices we did make.

Mama D said...

I could write the same sort of 'letter' to the girl I purposely tripped in elementary school. She fell and scraped her hands all to crap. I then helped her up and genuinely felt so terrible about it. What an awful thing to do.

I'm sure Jim, being smart as a whip, has grown up to be a very successful man. I also hope he grew up to know what life is really all about and that god loves him.

Being so in touch with those feelings and knowing that you teach them to the girls makes me think that they won't ever experience those same feelings of failure that you do. And that in itself is a victory, don't you think?

bon said...

Honestly? I don't know if this is the kind of lesson a parent can really pass on. I know my own mother esp. knew this one, but I had to do what I did to figure it out.

I think this is a FAIL that everyone really needs to experience themselves before it's well and good learned.

Sometimes we need to fail ALOT to get it. Some never get it... they never are even cognizant of having failed a blessed thing, or that there might have been a test.

I'm betting that the Chaos WILL get it though... eventually.

beth - total mom haircut said...

This is a really powerful post. I think we all have someone like that from our past - someone who we can't seem to let go of for what we did or didn't do for them. Kids can be really cruel sometimes. It makes me scared for my own children and what they might face in the years to really come. I try to remember though that the things that seemed so important then really can feel so insignificant now. And hopefully that is true for Jim.

Jo said...

Tank is my salvation when it comes to compassion. He is ever kind. Always has been. Especially to the downtrodden. He was always a big kid, heavens, he started out at 11 lbs and just stayed rather tall and hefty for his age. All through his life, I have caught him being kind to the disabled, the "others". I don't know why he is the way he is, but he is my hero when it comes to things like this. Someday, maybe.

Jo said...
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the Dread Pirate Rackham said...

oh yeah - I can remember doing things like that when I was a kid, things I still have regrets about. it's true that we have all failed at some point, and I like the lesson you show me from this.

i bet you did some things you are proud of too.