I had a lot to reflect on as I hung up the phone after a difficult, but enlightening, conversation with a good friend recently. To protect his privacy, I’ll refer to him as Job. The name seems to fit in regards to events transpiring in his life this summer. For example, a few weeks ago three police officers approached him in a city park for questioning. Two ladies observing people in the park had made a false, and obviously ridiculous, accusation against him. After the police questioned all parties, including members of his own family who were with him, it became apparent that the whole incident was a waste of the city’s payroll and time, and that some big apologies were in order. However, it was still excruciatingly embarrassing for my buddy. And the trials didn’t end there. The following week, with the dust still hanging over him from that storm, his car was maliciously vandalized.
I was taken aback at my friend’s attitude. I assumed he would be angry and upset, but he wasn’t. Yes, there certainly were those moments, he explained, but now he was moving toward a better place, one where he could begin to come to grips with his recent trials. He thought this might somehow be recompense for things he had done in his younger, more foolish years, so why be upset. My first impulse was to disagree with his assessment. But then a memory came to me of something I had done in my past—something that has reared its stubborn head time and again. I shared the painful experience with him.
In tenth grade, I was the new kid in school—nerdish and quite the social misfit. At least that’s how I thought of myself. I was probably the easiest target for teasing in my class. That is, until one day mid-semester when Jerry (not his real name) shuffled into first period history class. The bell had rung ages ago, and we all had been wishing for any kind of cease-fire from the Civil War we had been fighting for weeks, half of the class representing the North, half the South. Jerry instantly became the recipient of our undivided attention.
Eyes bulged at the sight of his adult-sized, but stooped, frame. Fingers pinched nostrils to block the odor drifting from both him and his filthy clothes. Minds were already inventing cruel nicknames that would be descriptive of his misshapen head. As soon as Jerry stammered his name and an apology for being late, we knew that he would not be the object of any academic acclaim at the year-end awards ceremony.
Mercifully, the teacher made up some excuse to get him to the social worker for assistance with hygiene and to secure a clean shirt. He didn’t reappear until lunch. Did any student sit with him? I don’t remember. Did I? I can only wish. I truly believe that if I had, a mountain of future hard lessons for me would have crumbled quietly into the sea then and there.
What I did do was sit at another table and whisper and laugh with others about the new kid. What a nerd. What a misfit. We plotted how we would place a tack on his seat in study hall. Tack attacks were common occurences in that less-supervised period, but this time I got the assignment. I am ashamed to say that I relished my new position of tacker; I certainly had been the tackee enough times. I went one better and situated multiple tacks on Jerry’s chair while he was visiting the pencil sharpener. When he returned and squeezed back into his desk seat, each one found its intended target. I will never forget the look of hurt—but amazingly not anger—as he searched our eyes for a reason.
I am not a person who sees the world as out to get me, but there have been “tacks” I’ve encountered that I believe have been more than coincidence. In fact, I think I’ve been “rewarded” for every tack that found its way that day to Jerry’s rear. By the grace of God I’ve tried to make the best of the trials that have come along in my life since those days, including the ones of my own making. God isn’t punishing me. But he does allow his universe to prescribe some of my own medicine back to me in order to accomplish his purposes in me. I’m realizing that that medicine has been just what I needed, in just the correct doses. It’s tasted bitter, but has produced kindness and mercy in me that I didn’t previously have, for Jerry or myself.
Jerry was only at our school a few weeks, and I don’t know where he and his family landed next. Sometimes I wonder where Jerry came from. I never saw him after school. He always seemed to disappear until the next day. But I’ve watched enough episodes of Highway to Heaven to believe that we can have angels among us. The person we are mean to—or kind to—may be on a mission. Jerry was probably just a human like me, but he brought a special message to me from Heaven. Seems one misfit can learn a lot from another. I know this sounds like crazy talk to some, and I understand that. But not to my friend and me. We each had the other’s undivided attention. Maybe we are on to something.