The little boy clenched his fists as he took on an unfamiliar fighter’s stance. His opponent was unworried, more experienced, and a LOT bigger. The little guy swung wildly. The big boy blocked it and countered with one hard blow to the belly that put his opponent down. The young crowd that had gathered to watch were shocked into silence at the fast brutality.
The boy lay in a ball, face buried in the dirt to hide his tears while his chest heaved silently. He refused to get up until the rest of us left. The big boy left first, laughing.
I didn’t know either of the boys. I never learned the context of the moment. I only encountered the conflict because I was on my way home from school. But forty-five years later I still feel the heat rise within me when I think about it.
The next day I sought out the bigger boy and taunted him, suggesting he fight me. He demurred since I appeared to be a more formidable adversary. I challenged him several more times over the school year but he never accepted. I think he was honestly puzzled at my hostility. I guess maybe I am too.
He didn’t have to hurt the smaller boy. He was big enough that a simple shove would have finished the match before it started. He didn’t have to laugh, either. I was just a kid but I could see the angst in the little guy. He was in pain before he ever got hit. I wonder what he feels now when he remembers that moment.
I think I also feel ashamed that I let it happen. I know it wasn’t my business but if I had thought quicker perhaps I could have intervened. I didn’t like being a spectator and then walking away just like everyone else.
Over the years, I’ve had occasion to be of help, to intervene in a crisis, or at least help someone who was down. But often I still feel that same helplessness as I watch everything that goes on around me: violence, injury, sickness, and loss. And sometimes the aggressors are also victims so in addition to the anger and the shame, I feel confusion.
Now, after so many years in ministry, I feel something else.