This overweight boy sits in one corner of his class. From time to time he looks up but turns away his eye as soon as makes eye contact. He sits alone. He does not mind it too much. It is better than sitting with someone who does not like him. But, it is lunch time or projects that fill him with dread. He does not understand why everyone can’t be assigned partners and places. Why does he need to solicit classmates to take him in their group? The reactions vary from sneers to name calling. How sick he was of namecalling! His mommy said that he had some health issues that had made him pile up a lot of weight. He also felt tired and sometimes found it tough to focus. As a result, he was sluggish in his learning, slow in understanding and responding.
Many of his classmates made fun of him, call him an elephant or fatso and snubbing him over and over again. While others were indifferent. He felt like a piece of rag that everyone trampled upon mercilessly, as if he had no life, no feelings. He found his eyes welling up with tears often. But the world that existed at school was cruel. Children, his classmates, went about their lives as if he did not exist, not aware how their barbs were making huge holes inside of him.
Just hearing about the boy made me despair. Sometimes, one wishes that one had a magic wand to set things right. Especially when children suffered. Bullying is a reality in schools. I know the angst I suffered when both my sons were bullied. A child is so vulnerable if he does not belong to a group or does not have friends who cared. It is easier for us parents to ask them to ignore such children. But each child needs to feel loved, deserves to be loved. Without some emotional anchor at school, life often becomes pretty tough. Children can be really heartless and sometimes for no reason.
I saw the trailer of Wonder (I have not seen the movie yet) and my heart went out to the little boy. Frankly, no one would like to be in his position. Going to school with a disfigured face that everyone loathed and made fun of. The child I spoke about above is a real boy who studies in my younger son’s class. Though not having a visible physical disfigurement, he has emotional scars.
One day, the younger son looked very troubled. I let him stew with his emotions for a while before asking him what was bothering him. Out tumbled the story of this boy whom I faintly recall. The son was troubled because in a fit of emotion, he had also called him fat, good-for-nothing boy and suddenly watched the light go out of his eyes, as he walked away with his head bowed down. It was a spur-of-the-moment thing. It made the son feel miserable, immediately contrite for being so mean to another boy. As he unburdened himself, I felt very upset for the boy and for how the son had behaved. That he felt genuinely bad made me feel a bit better. I asked him what he was going to do? And he mentioned that he would apologize to him the next day and would also be more sensitive around him.
Which he did. The boy was non-committal yet acknowledged the apology. It’s not as if the boy had suddenly found a new group or compassionate friends had appeared in his life but at least he found a small ray of kindness in the overwhelming nastiness that he sees. I’ve asked the younger son to try and be nicer and perhaps be more friendly towards the boy. I hope he does. He says his group of friends does not like the boy too much. And at this stage in their lives, their peer group and its opinions matter a lot to them.
Yet kindness is something that we must practise without question.
For it sets us apart from the brutes. To be one with another’s emotions is the rare quality of empathy, and I do hope that all children could experience that so that they would be kinder even to those they didn’t like.
I am hoping that the boy will find his tribe soon.
Sometimes, like I said, I wish that I had a magic wand!