NOW YOU KNOW…
Year Ten at high school, and you could say I went to school each day with a big virtual sign on my back that read, “Kick Me”.
Don’t get me wrong, I had my close friends; friends who valued me for me and who saw through the prevailing attitudes of the crowd towards me. I assumed my lack of popularity was spawned from a rocky start in Year Seven—new kid when all friendship groups had been established in a very small school. And then there were those who had made it their mission in life to persecute me. I assumed they spread the rumours about me. Or maybe it was my buck teeth, and awkward way of relating to people…When you are told by your peers over and over again that you are ugly, unloved and no one wants you and you do regularly get picked last for the team, I guess you start to believe what people say.
What kept me together, were my real friends; the ones outside of school, and my friends at school. I also belonged to a fantastic youth group that met every Friday night. A close-knit, loving family helped as well. Most of all my faith in Jesus got me through those difficult early teenage years.
Anyway, at fifteen, my teeth had been almost straightened by orthodontics and I’d perfected the enemy-avoiding strategy of spending lunchtime in the library. I loved learning and my best friend and I spurred each other on in academic excellence. My goal, a scholarship. I had heard rumours that some kids thought I was not so intelligent, a fool, in other words.
At my grandmother’s place, after Sunday lunch, I helped Grandma with the dishes. As I scraped away the chicken bones, I discovered the wishbone.
‘Can I make a wish?’ I asked Grandma.
‘Well, why not?’ she replied. Although a godly woman, some superstitions from our Wendish (eastern European) past had filtered down through the generations. So wishing on wishbones was no big spiritual deal.
Grandma and I hooked our little fingers around each prong of the wishbone. We pulled. The bone snapped in two and I won the larger portion. I closed my eyes and made my wish, a scholarship. Dad had promised that if I studied hard and won a scholarship, he’d buy me a ten-pin bowling ball. So in truth, my aspirations for academic achievement were less than pure.
A month or so later, we lined up for assembly. I suffered the usual torment from a certain teacher who was obsessed with the uniform. ‘Pull your socks up!’ she snapped.
What was it about socks? I wondered as I dutifully began to pull up my socks. For our summer uniform which we had to wear in first term, we wore blue cotton frocks down to our knees and long white socks. Woe betide any poor soul who did not pull their socks up to their knees. The length of our uniform dresses, was another issue that kept certain teachers occupied. And don’t get me started on hair. I tell you, if all the students had worn their uniforms correctly, I think the teachers would’ve quit out of boredom.
So with my socks pulled up, I waited in line to troop into the assembly hall. A tap on my back. One of my friends smiled at me. I remember her simple bob of straight blonde hair; no fancy flicks or curls like many fashion-conscious girls in the 1970’s. Farrah Fawcet flicks were all the rage and drove the teachers to distraction.
‘Good luck,’ my friend said.
‘Why?’ I asked.
Miss Uniform-Obsessed-Teacher glared at us. She had those bulging blue eyes, mean pointy mouth that forced us to slouch into submission, and for me to check my socks again.
One of my foes snaked past and muttered at me, ‘Dumb idiot.’
I shook my head and concentrated on not getting glared at by the teacher. Really, I thought, he’s at the bottom of the class and he’s calling me dumb? What is it with that guy? In his defence, he did come out with a gem once in English class when the students were rioting and so reducing the first-year-out teacher to tears. He said to me, ‘It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.’ So true for my home town.
Once inside the hallowed halls of assembly, we went through the ritual of the school assembly. The principal delivered the talk. There’s a lecture I recall he made, don’t know if it was that particular one—how we were a bunch of jellyfish and we must get some backbone. When he said backbone I thought of the wishbone, and then that guy and his cohorts. I thought of how people believe unquestioningly what others tell them, even if it’s not true. They go along with the prevailing attitude, even if it’s wrong and harmful to others. In some ways, like at school, I was a victim of these jellyfish, and in other ways, I was a jellyfish too. I had an attitude, an aversion against those who bullied me. Did I have backbone enough to get to know them as people rather than continuing to avoid them as enemies?
The principal began to hand out the awards. Ah, yes, that’s what my friend meant. Today was the day of the awards. I watched as various students marched up the front and collected their scholarships. That won’t be me, I thought.
‘And for Year Ten,’ the principal said, ‘the scholarship for high achievement…’
I looked up. What? Me?
I walked to the front, shook the principal’s hand, collected the award, then head down and with a tug of my pig tail, I walked back to my seat.
Afterwards, my friend patted me on the shoulder. ‘Congratulations! Well done! Just like you to win an award and then pull at your pig tails.’
I nodded. The whole deal of winning a scholarship seemed unreal. ‘I’ll be able to get my own bowling ball, now.’
That guy slid past me. ‘Ooh, what a surprise—we all thought you were dumb.’
‘Well, now you know I’m not,’ I replied.
Sometimes we carry our hurt from the persecution from others like a big heavy bag on our backs and the truth is it influences the way we see the world. I realised being a victim had become my narrative and I didn’t want it to be so. As a jellyfish, I had no backbone to stand against this view of myself and how others viewed me. I feared speaking out and going against the crowd in the cause of truth, justice, mercy and compassion. I kept my opinions to myself. Then just recently, when again the baggage of victimhood crept up on me, I read the following passage from the book of Matthew in the Bible. The words encouraged and gave me the backbone to stand out and for the sake of Jesus Christ make a positive difference in the world.
“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me (Jesus). Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”—Matthew 5:11-12
© Lee-Anne Marie Kling 2016
Picture: Jellyfish on Brisbane Beach (c) Lee-Anne Marie Kling 1989