I started bullying Chris sometime in the 5th or 6th grade. I don’t remember exactly what year it was, but I know it was around then because that’s when we took the bus together. Chris lived around the corner from me. I didn’t know him well. I suppose that’s the key ingredient of bullying—not knowing, in any real sense, your victim.
I do remember his clothes though. They were tattered, worn out, and faded. They never looked new. He was a little overweight and had a speech impediment. He would try to speak plainly, but he struggled. We didn’t care. To me and my friends, he was just weird.
From the back of the bus we would demand he say certain words, and laugh when he said them. He’d try to ignore us, but inevitably he’d look back when we really got going. How could he not? A strong front only lasts so long.
I knew it was wrong, but I did it anyway. I shouted and hurled taunts. Maybe it was my own childhood insecurities, I’m not sure. In hindsight, I’m glad I felt bad when I partook in the bullying. It was my conscience bearing witness to an evil act, telling me that I was wrong.
Years went by, and every now and then Chris would pop into my mind. After coming to the faith in high school, I got into the habit of praying for him, hoping it would help somehow. Once I was in seminary, Christ became a constant thought on my mind as I searched my soul. I wasn’t just discerning the priesthood, I was discerning my life. I would think, over and over again, “I bullied a young man”. I resolved to say sorry if I ever saw him again, and thankfully that day came.
Two years after graduating college, I was on a train home from New York City. I got off at my town’s station and started walking back to my house. At a nearby street corner I realized I was standing next to Chris. As we waited for the light to change, I took my opportunity.
“Hey, is your name Chris?”
“You probably don’t remember me. I’m Dan. We took the bus together as kids. I’m sorry for all the mean things I did to you. The name-calling, all that. Jimmy, Chris, and I were cruel. It was messed up and I’m sorry.”
“Oh. Uh, it’s okay. Don’t worry about it.”
“Ok. Again, I’m sorry.”
We crossed the street, and went our separate ways.
I thank God I saw Chris that day. Divine providence always has a way of bringing people together at certain times, under certain conditions. That day was an opportunity to not just ask forgiveness, but to heal part of myself too. It was in this moment that I realized how much I needed that closure. I continue to pray for God’s grace to heal any damage I did through my sins, but having that ability to say sorry to Chris, even after all these years, was exactly what my heart needed.
I have faith that God’s love will continue to not only heal my own sorrow, but the wounds that bullying inflicted upon Chris. It’s through that opportunity that I saw my own desperate need for forgiveness. I had repented and knew that God had forgiven me, but being able to look into Chris’s eyes and show him how sorry I was revealed to me even more how much God loves me, and how much he desires his children to be in communion with one another.
May we all strive to desire this same forgiveness, and never forget to treat those around us with the love of Christ.
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Dan McQuillan is originally from Long Island, New York. He currently resides in Rhode Island where he teaches and writes.
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