I woke up this morning at 4:00 AM.
I had a dream that was so real and it was a memory that I had buried and forgotten about.
In my dream, I am watching the events as they happen. It is like watching a movie that you know what is going to happen and you wish you could change the events that were about to take place. I cannot change it. The reason why the story doesn’t change is because it retells an actual event that happened in December of 1971.
Why am I waking up in a cold sweat remembering an event that took place over 45 years ago?
Here is the story…
When I was in fifth grade there was a new boy who came into our class. He was new to our school. He started about three weeks into the school year.
By that time in school everyone had divided themselves into their own social subgroups and friends. Everyone already found a place to fit in. You usually hung with two or three other buddies and for the most part everyone got along. We had all grown up together and most of us had the same teachers since we were in kindergarten.
Maybe if he had his picture in our class composite he may have been remembered by more people. He didn’t have his picture taken. He missed picture day and I probably would have forgotten all about him had I not had a life event that involved him.
Nobody played with Darrell. He was an outcast. He was alone.
He was shunned by the whole class, and you would be shunned too if you sat with him at lunch or joined him in his solitary games at the fringe of the playground during recess. It was bad enough to have him in the same classroom.
All you needed to know about Darrell was that he was filthy. Smelled and wore the same clothes almost every day of the week. Looked like he slept in them most of the time. He was loud and it seemed to my 10-year-old thinking he was trying to keep people away from him.
He was ignored and over-looked. The butt of cruel jokes and commentary that were so much of the conversations of other 5th grade boys.
I had never spoken to Darrell.
His family had moved into a run-down house just a few blocks from my own and I never once saw him riding his bike or even playing outside. As a matter of fact, I couldn’t tell you if he even had a bike.
Frankly, that’s all I knew about him. And I thought that there was nothing else to know about him.
As the Christmas holiday approached, we drew names to exchange gifts. I was happy I did not get Darrell’s name, I just wasn’t sure who drew my name.
I’m sitting in my 5th grade classroom on the last day of school before Christmas break. Mrs. Day is my teacher and I am waiting for our Christmas party to begin.
I waited anxiously and noticed that Darrell had given his tattered wrapped present to another student so I knew he did not draw my name. I saw that he received his present from another student and I waited… but no one brought me a present.
My name had been drawn by another student that was absent that day. I didn’t get a gift. And everybody else noticed. The teacher said, “Oh, that’s okay. We’ll make sure you’ll get it when we get back from Christmas.”
Bullies and time had already taught me all too well that you don’t cry in public. Stuff like that wasn’t supposed to matter. I strained to make myself look unfazed, but I remember how hot my face was and that my throat was so tight that I could barely speak.
I felt like I had just gotten a big fat rejection notice.
All the other kids started playing some game. I stood off to the side trying not to vomit.
Out of the corner of my left eye I saw some movement. I turned to see Darrell holding something out to me. It was a book-shaped box containing several rolls of Lifesaver candies. A common Christmas gift in that day. The sort of thing you grab at checkout stand when you don’t really want to think too much about the gift. That’s what someone had given him.
He put it in my hand and said, “I want you to have this.”
I just stood there. I didn’t know what to say and couldn’t have said it even if I had known. My throat was so tight I could barely breathe. Finally, I croaked, “But it’s yours.”
Darrell said, “And I’ve already gotten it. Now it’s yours. Everybody should get something at Christmas.”
I just stared at him. Not because I was at a loss for words or was afraid I would cry.
For the first time, I noticed how nice and kind Darrell was.
I tried to give it back to him. He refused and walked away and retreated to the same corner of the room where he would carry on conversations with himself and play his solitary games.
In shame that I carry to this very day, I was too afraid to say anything to anyone. I didn’t even say thank you to him. I hid the gift in my desk and tried to assimilate back into my group of friends. All the while knowing that there was a boy playing by himself in the corner that was a much better person than I was.
Now I wish I could tell you more about Darrell. I wish I could say that we had become fast friends and that maybe I had even helped all the other kids discover what a good person we had in our midst.
But that isn’t the truth. I have not one single memory of Darrell after that. I learned that his family moved away over the Christmas break. Something I am sure was something he was used to.
In time, the house that he lived in would remain empty and eventually torn down.
I returned from that Christmas break, just as concerned to finding my own place in my little world of Oak Harbor, Ohio and to avoid being the outcast and rejected.
In my own eyes, I was not enough. Sometimes I was blinded by the effort to be accepted. Envy and intimidation blinded me at other times. There were times, I was condescending or competitive or too preoccupied with my own fears and wounds and grievances.
Blindness becomes a habit.
We learn early in life to see only certain kinds of people. The ones who we think matter.
And we learn to look past or look through other kinds of people.
Those who we think don’t matter.
I suspect we fear the stretching and growth we would experience if we would see people as God sees them.
Darrell may have continued to be the ostracized loner, maybe he moved to Argentina, or been abducted by aliens. Maybe he is the homeless man I pass along the way. He may even be my neighbor that I don’t know that currently lives a few doors down from me.
He may be a doctor or surgeon that has saved many lives. He may have been a solider that selflessly fought bravely for the freedoms I enjoy.
He may have become a teacher that changed lives. He may be the guy that works at the local factory. Maybe he is the mechanic that works on my car.
He may have become a great husband and father that raised good kids. Kids that accept others who may be different from them.
I have no idea. I’d like to think that many of these options are a possibility.
What I do know is that a young boy that spent a few months in Oak Harbor, Ohio in the early 1970’s was a better human being than I was.
So why the dream?
I am coming to the conclusion that even after all these years, I still have a lot to learn about acceptance. I have more to learn about loving people where they are in life.
I still have time to become a better person. I still have a chance to get it right.
How about you?