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I saw a wonderful new play last night, “A Sudden Spontaneous Event” at the Pure Theatre here in Charleston.
The play opens in Heaven’s waiting room, and without spoiling it, deals with forgiveness and what one big do-over would do if you got a second chance at life. It’s a beautiful play and as I walked home, I found myself wondering what my do-over would be.
Of course, there are regrets, large and small. Ugliness, pettiness, and betrayal. Things that would make me squirm if I were held accountable. Most, I discover, are based on fear: fear of being abandoned, fear of not having enough, fear of being hurt if I didn’t hurt first.
If had to choose, there’s one small act that stands out as the first soul-killer.
I was never a bully in middle school. I tried to be nice to everyone. For the most part, I felt like a junior anthropologist, observing from the outside what it took to be popular.
Kathy rode my bus to and from school and always sat alone. We talked every once in awhile. She always seemed a bit sad, a bit more outgoing than I was, but I never would think she had been bullied. Bullies were the playground “loudmouths” who pushed people.
Bit by bit, she confided her loneliness to me. “I was different,” she told me. I was kind.
Until the day someone did something to her. I don’t even remember what it was. I just remember she found me and collapsed into my arms in tears. Without thought, I wrapped my arms around her and looked over her shoulder. The commotion had brought the popular girls over. They were all staring at Kathy, but also at me.
I caught the eye of the most popular. And, over Kathy’s shoulder, I rolled my eyes and betrayed the sobbing girl in my arms with just that careless, thoughtless gesture.
Kathy never knew.
The popular girls opened their circle to me. Kathy gradually took the hint and stopped seeking me out. I ignored the puzzled, hurt looks she would occasionally throw my way on the bus.
There are worse things I have done in life. Hateful, angry things I wish I could take back. But none haunt me with the poignancy of that very first betrayal – the one that can still make me cringe when I remember. That would be my do-over.