I grew up in a New Jersey suburb close to New York City. Larger than a small town, our community was really a small city. In 1971, our high school graduating class had many hundreds.
As today, there were bullies, but it was not considered a problem back in that very different world. For the most part, kids were on their own to deal with it. Slapping and punching in the crowded halls between classes was standard.
Recently I recalled someone who attended school with me. His name was Billy.
Billy was in school with me from age eight on. He was hearing impaired and as a result, had a noticeable speech impediment. Back in those days when obesity was not an issue for most, and rare in kids, Billy was on the heavy side. And he was quite uncoordinated. When choosing teams for sports in gym class, it was inevitable that he was chosen last.
As may be expected, Billy received his share of bullying. He was taunted and mocked. Severely introverted and awkward, he was fair game for the smallest and weakest of bullies. But somehow he flew under their radar and avoided the fights, bloody noses and black eyes so common in our school.
Perhaps he was deemed too unworthy an opponent for physical abuse from even the most cowardly of bullies. Seen as so pathetic – low hanging fruit, in their eyes – that he was overlooked. Such a sad case that he was ignored – in itself heart-wrenching.
Despite his obstacles, Billy carried himself with a certain dignity, as one resolved to accept his situation. It pains me to recall his most notable feature – his eyes, which were full of feeling, searching for any sign of kindness. A gentle soul.
I was a troubled, lost teen myself. I would at times violently retaliate when offended by an affront to my ego. But I did not bully others.
By God’s grace, I had some degree of compassion for those, like Billy, who were ridiculed and jeered, so I would turn my back to it when it occurred and not take part. But other than acknowledging him with a smile, I did little to reach out or help – a sin of omission.
More than a decade after last seeing Billy at school, I met up with him again. At that time in my life, God was just beginning to call me. As I was driving down one of our main streets, I saw Billy walking along and was moved to pull over and say hello. He was shy and awkward as ever, and I had to pull words out of him as we engaged in a short conversation.
We parted. We may have exchanged phone numbers or mentioned touching base again sometime. I don’t recall – it was so long ago. But I know that I never saw him again after that.
Back then, with a heart turning to God, I knew, by His Spirit, that I was a viable creature – made in God’s image and capable of receiving His forgiveness and love. That day we met, I wanted Billy to know that he also needed to accept the love of the One who made him. But, unfortunately, all I did that day was show him a friendly face and a bit of empathy. Was that enough in God’s economy? Did Billy ever claim the promises of God? I don’t know.
When recalling my life lived apart from God so many years ago, I find myself moved to pray for those affected by my sins – sins of commission and sins of omission. And my prayers for Billy, whenever he is brought to mind, go up to our God who tells us that the meek – His people – will inherit the earth.