Saturday, November 11, 2006

Using Force

A quick break from research, for the occasion of this day (a story I basically want to keep and don’t expect it to have any relevance to what most may be interested in ;-)).

As I mentioned I’ve been physically aggressive twice in my life. I’ve gone over the second of the two, here. But, as the fact that I’ve another violent assault on my record is already out there ;-), I may as well explain, and today is the perfect day.

I was in 8th grade, on a school trip to Washington DC. It was the second to last full day of our trip and we finished that day off at Mount Vernon.

I should preface what comes next by emphasizing, once again, my school was not ordinary. I loved it, but it was very strict and focused. We’d spend a good part of the week studying the Bible or some other complimentary form of ethics. Corporal punishment was a reality, but gratefully one not realized by yours truly :-). Punishments came quickly and socializing was kept infrequent and monitored closely for any hint of meanness or formation of social clicks. The school was about learning and ethics, and not much else.

And now this trip, going from monument to museum to hotel and so on, had started to wear down our well tuned atmosphere, and on this walk off of Washington's property I’d soon be doing something I could never have imagined.

We were walking back to the bus on a gravel road. I was with a couple of my classmates, talking about the day, and all the sudden a kid, Alex, bumps into me from behind, and pretty hard. It seemed like an accident and he apologized.

It then happened again, and he apologized again. I then began paying attention and a group of three of my classmates were behind us and all pushing each other, sort of playing bumper cars. One kid kept bumping Alex and Alex would, purposefully and with far more drama than it deserved, flail into me. I told them to stop and they didn’t. I looked for an authority figure and I couldn’t see one.

It was our tame tiny version of Lord of the Flies, and I was tired, annoyed, and I felt anger, which came as a surprise. I wish I could convey how serious this minor bit of unruly behavior felt to me; it was bedlam and it had to stop.

About the fifth time Alex was bumped my way I stepped back, stuck my foot out, and with my left arm at his back I added to his momentum and he plowed into the gravel road.

It was bedlam and now I had done the impossible. Once he rolled onto his back, groaning, we could all see his hands were bleeding, pebbles still sticking to or in his palms. Importantly, his pants were torn at his similarly damaged knee.

At the end of that warped stretch of time, up came my principal, his wife, and our teacher from behind us. Where had they been when I needed them, and now they caught me doing this?!

They helped Alex up, saying nothing to him in my memory. The women helped him back to the bus, and all my dumbstruck peers were instructed to follow. At that my principal faced me and told me to wait, as though I could have moved. My feet were already frozen in shock and I was spewing genuine regret before they got to us. Now, I knew I deserved what I thought was coming.

I must explain, my principal, he was seven feet tall if he was an inch. This man most often kept a serene smile on his face, and a gentle demeanor. He also commanded us with a look and kept a paddle on his desk. I had (and have) great respect for the man, and now what? He’d be my righteous executioner? At least a good beating? Though I’d never been hit in my life, it seemed probable at the time :-).

But, no, nothing near that. He put his massive hand on my shoulder and told me everything would be okay; he told me I was in the right. They had been watching us from behind, and decided to not step in.

Not step in!?

They had drilled a code of behavior into us, kept us from being cruel even with the slightest of social jabs through all my youth. And today they’d not step in?

It seemed a great mystery to me back then, and I would have been frustrated if not for my insurmountable relief. But looking back, maybe it was because this was our last year, literally our last days together? We were going out into another world, and, aside from our homes, we’d never see such a controlled, stable environment again. I don’t know, but they waited and watched.

Once it sunk in, my principal then walked me back to the bus with his hand comfortably on my back, so all the students could know, if not understand, my merciful fate. We took our seats and had a quiet ride back to the hotel. No one spoke.

Once there I got settled in my room and after a shower my roommates told me our principal wanted to talk to me. I went to his room, fearing he had rethought the clemency. Instead, there was Alex; he’d been there a while trapped in a lecture, still in his torn clothes. I felt pity, I told him I was sorry, and he graciously accepted it (as though he had much of a choice in such a predicament, but I believed him :-); we were actually friends).

Our principal gestured to Alex’s torn pants, and said something like “Alex has torn the only pair of slacks he brought for his formal uniform,” a fact I knew all too well. He went on, “Did you know, Scot, that he was selected to help lay a wreath tomorrow at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier?”

“Yes,” I said. I knew that well as it was an honor I had hoped for as soon as it was announced as a possibility.

Before I could figure it out, he said “Scot, I’d like you to take his place,” and I about cried. I’m just thankful Alex couldn’t have fit into my formal pants ;-).

That next day I experience the greatest honor of my young life. I don’t dare describe the emotion of it, of being there in respect for that nameless soldier, all soldiers. I’m tearing up right here, just thinking back on it.

Anyway, that’s it, my two acts of physical violence, and both bought me something priceless in return. Maybe I should go around knocking people down more often. :-)

Happy Veterans' Day

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