When I was in 6th grade (I think it was 6th grade…those awkward middle school years have mostly been blocked out), I got punched in the face by my classmate Andrew. I think it is the only time I have ever been punched in the face, which may be why I remember this particular event fairly well. The punch didn’t hurt much. I mainly recall feeling wobbly and dazed, like those cartoons with stars circling their heads. (Thank God my life didn’t flash before my eyes, or I might have wanted to quit while I was ahead.) The exact details of the events leading up to the punch are a bit of a blur, but the gist of it was Andrew had gotten his name written on the board, and I made fun of him about it in front of other kids. It appears I was being a bully long before bullying was on trend.
I have always been fairly good with words, which, as with most life skills, can be used for good or evil. When I was a little kid, I could verbally berate my younger sister to the point that she had no choice whatsoever other than to bite a plug out of my arm or leg or pull out fistfuls of my red hair. (Yes, that was a shameless plug about my natural hair color. The Lord gives and the Lord takes away, okay?) The thing is, it took my mom a while to figure out that a two-sided fight had occurred. It’s easy to punish the kid who takes a bite out of another kid…or pulls their hair out or punches them in their awkward middle school, glasses-wearing face. I guess it’s also necessary to punish the kid or sibling who sent the other kid over the edge. Touché.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about just how difficult life is - for everybody. It’s difficult for the verbal instigators, and it’s difficult for the biters and face-punchers. I don’t know why I was mean to Andrew that day, but I know I never felt super awesome about myself in middle school, so I assume it made me feel better to mock him about getting his name on the board. I can only hope it made him feel better to punch me in the face.
Being a grown up stinks sometimes because many of the same things that happened in middle school happen now, but we aren’t supposed to bully people to feel better about ourselves, and we aren’t supposed to physically assault people who are jerks. We aren’t supposed to numb our feelings with drugs or alcohol, and we aren’t supposed to eat our feelings, which remains my personal favorite self-destructive activity. Sometimes it is just hard to cope with all of the crap that life throws at you.
So what are we supposed to do?
A good start is just to tell somebody. Somebody safe. A friend. A family member. A counselor. A coworker. If they don’t respond in a nice way, mentally punch them in the face and tell someone else. Tell them about how you were a bully or how you were mistreated. Tell them about how hard life is.
The lie is that you are alone in the situation that is making life hard - whatever your situation may be. Life is hard for all people, but fortunately, life is not hard for everyone at the same time. We take turns having highs and lows, and we have to have each other’s backs. The Message version of Ecclesiastes 4 says, “It’s better to have a partner than to go it alone. If one falls down, the other helps, but if there’s no one to help, tough! By yourself you’re unprotected. With a friend you can face the worst.”
If life is hard today, ask for help. If life is good today, look for someone you can help… and let’s all be thankful together that middle school is over.