Last summer, at the behest of one of my friends, Denny Gallagher, I did a story on the return of his 11 well-dispersed siblings and their families, who came back to Lima on Fourth of July weekend for the 90th birthday party of their mother, Juanita. At the behest of Bob Whitlatch, who works in development at LCC, I wrote a shorter version for the quarterly school magazine Today, sent to alumni and friends of the school.
After the piece published, I got an email from someone who showed me that there is indeed a jumping-off point when it comes to what a reader’s takeaway will be from what I write.
Since the email was a heartfelt admission of the guilt that comes from the impetuosity and insensitivity of youth, I’ll use only first names for the story my reader told me.
The author, Mike, graduated from LCC in the mid-1960s, and as I began reading, I thought I pretty much knew where Mike would go — perhaps some nice words about the Gallaghers, perhaps a personal anecdote that tied him to the family or even some nice words about my writing.
However, what I got most certainly wasn’t what I was expecting. Mike started by saying, “I read your article on the Gallaghers, and it reminded me of the bullying that a guy I graduated with went through for most of his four years at LCC.”
Mike went on to tell me the tale of a boy named Jim, a classmate. An acne-riddled wearer of Coke-bottle-thick glasses, Jim was a boy who stammered and struggled academically in a school where so many others didn’t struggle. In Mike’s words, “Jim was an easy target for thugs, punks and cowards, like me. I myself, while too much of a chicken-s—- physically to pick on Jim, on occasion, made fun of him behind his back, and for no good reason. I guess he was just there for us as a doormat because of our own insecurities.”
Mike went on to say that a couple years ago, he stumbled upon Jim on Facebook and began feeling such remorse over classmates long ago picked on, those he said “went through so much garbage.” So, he connected with Jim on FB and apologized to him for, using his words, “not having the guts to stand up for him while his life was being made miserable.”
Jim’s response was simple and forgiving, as in, “No hard feelings about high school. I survived.” Mike’s reaction to me was as follows: “That simple, humble and nonvindictive statement from Jim spoke volumes to me about the kind of guy he really is — a loving father and grandfather who did his best with the gifts that God gave him and who is too classy to bear a grudge.”
Mike then went on to say that a while later, he found out through Facebook that Jim had contracted an aggressive form of cancer and, in Mike’s words, “at a time when he should be savoring more leisure time with his kids and grandkids, he’s in the fight of his life against the cruelest and most ruthless bully, cancer.”
Mike told me that he and his wife have made a donation to Jim’s family to help offset expenses and also plan to visit him.
For me, the best part of Mike’s email was at the end when he called Jim “one of the quiet heroes of LCC, someone whose time in school was joyless and frightening, someone far more courageous than those who tormented him and the cowards who enabled the torment.”
What this reader’s extraordinary email showed me was that, while few go through life without regrets, some remain with us a long time, in Mike’s case, more than a half century, especially those that are the residue of long-ago actions and inactions that transgress what should be one life’s basic tenants about doing unto others as we would have them do unto us.
At this time, when so much is written about bullying, my hope is the contents of Mike’s extraordinary email finds its way to our young people.