Over the past month, Pearl and I have watched two shows that caused me to reflect on some of the “less successful” (to put it lightly) aspects of my past. The first was a Without a Trace episode about a kid who was picked on, (I guess it’s called bullying today) by his classmates. The second was a movie on Hulu called The Browning Version.
Without a Trace
For both of these, there were moments during the show when my past hurts welled back up inside of me. The Without a Trace episode brought back very painful memories of my junior high years, in Hawaii, when I was beat up on a regular basis. Although the scenes in the episode were not exactly like my situation, there was enough similarity to trigger emotions that I haven’t felt in decades.
I was often stripped naked by the “bullies” before they beat me up. In those days my sanctuary was the band room. I knew that, when I was there, Mr. Hamm would keep those kids away from me. So I spent a lot of time in the band room, practicing and playing with the other band kids. But one time, when Mr. Hamm had to leave the band room on a short errand, the “bullies” barged into the band room, stripped me naked, beat me up, and locked me in a tuba locker.
Here’s a picture of me in Maui.
But that wasn’t the worst of those events. The worst, at least from my perspective anyway, was when I was attacked in the locker room showers. The locker rooms were right across from the home economics building. The kids tackled me while I was still wet from my shower, picked me up (there were about six of them I think), took me to the back door and swung me out the door before locking it. My first reaction was to the pain from being thrown and hitting a poll with my side. But as I came to realize where I was, I was overwhelmed with shame. I was standing naked in front of about fifty girls who were waiting for the bell to ring. The only way for me to get my clothes on was to walk past them, around the locker room building, to the front door. It was by far the most humiliating day of my life.
Now, while these bullies were beating me up, they told me WHY they were doing it. They told me as they beat me up why they hated me so much. It was because I was white. Yes, I know first hand what it means to experience prejudice, discrimination and racism. I know, from genuine experiences, what it is liked to be hated because my skin is a different color. I lived that way for two years of my life.
Of course, there are those who have told me (the defensive non-whites that is) that the REAL reason I was beat up so often was because I was an easy target (certainly, they reasoned, no whites have ever been beaten up for racial reasons). By that time in my life, I had already given my life to Christ. I didn’t believe in fighting. So usually I just took it. I let them beat up on me without making any effort to fight back. So even though the actual words from the mouths of the “bullies” were racially motivated and hateful, there is probably some truth to the fact that I got more than my fair share of that hatred because I didn’t fight back.
Note: Today, I’m not as convinced that not fighting back is always the right Christian answer. But that’s a different topic for a different day.
Watching that Without a Trace episode brought those old emotions back to the surface. I could empathize with that kid so well because I have lived it myself. It is not a “what if” scenario in my life. I actually lived it.
The Browning Version
I experienced a very similar reaction while watching The Browning Version. It’s a movie about a teacher, Andrew Crocker-Harris, who is dealing with all of his failures. Although he began his career as one of the top minds in the country (England), he had experienced a constant string of failures from the time he left university until the day he was forced to retire, without pension, from his teaching job.
At one point in the movie, he was summarizing his list of failures to the man who was having an affair with his wife. As he went through his list, I felt the same sort of empathetic emotions that I felt watching Without a Trace. It was “been there, done that” on steroids!!! I know first hand of the failures “The Croc” (as he was infamously referred to) was dealing with in that movie. I have had a very similar string of failures in my own life and career.
I think it was the number eighteen that first triggered my empathetic emotions. Crocker-Harris was leaving his job after eighteen years and that’s how long I was married to my ex before she left me. So that number probably served as an emotional trigger of sorts. But over and above the infidelity, just looking at the kind of man he was, you know, I can relate to that. I can understand why he was not liked. I can understand because I am that same kind of man. I may not be as sour as he was in the movie…but then…according to the movie, he became increasingly sour as the failures and disappointments mounted. So it was my impression that he wasn’t always as uncaring and unfeeling as he was in the movie. So yeah, I could see myself one day being just as dark and bitter as he was in the movie.
And yes, I am that same kind of person. I am not interested in what is cool. I do not care about sports. I am not one for social drinking or partying and such. I enjoy more enlightening activities. And yes, I understand that this makes me dreadfully boring. I understand that my friends and family would actually spend more time with me if I wasn’t so dull.
Ha! This reminds me of when I was a drinker. He he he… I started drinking beer socially soon after my ex left me. I did this for about eight months before I quit. What I found to be very amazing was how many friends I had while I was drinking! All of a sudden, for the very first time in my life, I had friends who wanted to spend time with me. It’s funny because, when I told some of those friends that I was going to quit drinking, they laughed at me and said, “but Eddie, you never started.” Apparently, two beers is not considered “drinking.” He he he…. But it was enough to make people feel like we had something “fun” in common.
So, no, I am not the kind of person most people like to spend time with. I am as dry, dull and boring as Crocker-Harris was in that movie. And as a result, there are a lot of things in my life that I can look back on and say that I am a failure, rejected by society, a misfit, with no real friends and even some family members who refuse to speak to me.
Dealing With It
But what of it?
As I experienced those empathetic emotions, I thought to myself:
“All my life I have been presented with a choice…a constant choice. I can choose to accept that failure, that rejection, and let it define who I am. Or I can pull my head up out of that muck and see things how they really are.”
None of those things I listed from my past have power over me. They do not define who I am. I am not caught up in reliving those painful moments the way some people do, over and over again.
The truth is, I forgave those bullies immediately after they beat me up. I forgave them every time. In fact, I would have to say that the only way I would have ever let them repeat their crimes was if I HAD forgiven them. Without forgiveness, I would have been less capable of restraining myself.
And by the way, for those of you who think people who do not fight back are cowards, I can tell you from experience that restraint takes far more courage than you will ever need for a fight. I believe it is the cowards who fight, because they do not have what it takes to suffer the shame and humiliation and still hold their heads up high.
And as for my Crocker-Harris-like failures, my great many failures, I happen to know that there is no success without failure. I dare you to ask any successful business man if he has ever experienced failure. The pathway to success IS one long string of failures. It is not only a well known truth in the business world, but also a Biblical fact. The following is only one of many quotes from the Bible that deal with failure:
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” – 2 Cor 12:9-10
So Let’s Get It Right!
And this is where I think Andrew Crocker-Harris had gotten it all wrong. All of us have our own sob stories to tell. But how we live our lives is really a matter of choice. We can choose to live in failure, to live in disappointment, to live in rejection, or we can choose not to. We can let our past pains darken our lives, or we can choose to let God use that pain to bring light into the darkness.
I have a student, Jay Herder, who has been taking lessons with me for about seven years now. The first day I met him, I was impressed by his attitude. It was very early in the morning and the other trumpet students were complaining about having to be up so early for band practice. But Jay bounced into the room saying, “I like the mornings!” He went on about how much he loves to see the sunrise and to hear the birds. He went on for several minutes about all the things he likes about the mornings.
Jay Herder in one of his lessons.
Like all of us, Jay has his own reasons to be dark and bitter. And yet, he does not let his own personal pains, rejections and disappointments ruin his life. Today, Jay is doing well as a college student while also working as an assistant manager at H.E.B. He is also playing his trumpet, active in his church praise and worship team, and volunteers as a fireman. As far as I’m concerned, he’s one of my most “successful” students because he is always moving forward with his life.
In that way, we should all be more like Jay. We should all focus on what’s ahead instead of what lays behind us. Don’t dwell on the rejections and failures of our past. Use those experiences. Learn from them. Let them make us stronger. Then we will be ready to go places we would never be able to go without having lived through those more difficult moments.
Yes, there are times when we will feel sad, hurt, lonely, angry, or disappointed. That’s normal. But it is our choice to not let those feelings define who we are. One thing I know from experience is that when you allow those things define your personality, they feed on you like a cancer…just like they did to Andrew Crocker-Harris in the movie. When you let the rejection, failure and disappointment define you, your life will become increasingly more dark and bitter. You will become lifeless and even hateful. You will blame it on those who hurt you, blame it on circumstance, blame it on your mistakes, but in reality, it was your choice all along. Take it from someone who has more than my share of reasons to be dark and bitter. It is your choice. If I can choose something better, then so can you.
My First Sermon
Interestingly, now that I’ve finished writing this post, I realize that it is very similar to the message God gave me to share in my very first sermon to a church congregation. When Pearl and I were in South Africa in April, I was invited to “share the word” at one of the churches. I asked the Holy Spirit if there was something I should share with them and this post is very similar to what I felt He wanted me to speak about. I had more scriptural references for that message than I do for this post, but it was essentially the same message. Maybe I will share those references in another post.