I don’t like this part of politics, it demeans us all. I’m talking about name calling and character defamation. This week it’s the digging up of incidents from long ago to be cast in the partisan terms of this year’s campaign. I know, it is nothing new, as old as the republic itself. In some ways we have not evolved one bit.
The Washington Post sent some reporters to rummage through the dumpster of Mitt Romney’s past and they have come up with an ugly incident from the candidate’s senior year in high school. The people who remember the incident recall it so well that they can quote exact words spoken. Romney says he doesn’t remember it all. Maybe, on both counts.
It is a story of a new kid at school, a non-conformist, being harassed and bullied. Some of those involved in the incident remember the 18-year old Mitt Romney as the lead bully. He must have been, whether the words he is credited with speaking are correctly remembered or not. The boy who was bullied died a few years ago and never told the story publicly.
After the story broke, Romney told an interviewer, “Back in high school, I did some dumb things, and if anybody was hurt by that or offended, obviously I apologize.”
It’s up to the voters to decide what we are to make of this 1965 incident, if anything. How closely connected are any of us to the person we were, more accurately, were becoming, and the dumb things we did when we were in high school?
It is also up to us to decide how much attention we are going to pay to the muck-slinging, half-truth telling mess that American politics and journalism has become – or maybe always has been.
But bullying is more than a dumb thing and there is no “if” about its hurt and offense.
My brush with bullying came two years before Mitt Romney’s. It was the summer of 1963 and I was going into the seventh grade. I was taking a summer school class at the junior high school. Back then summer school was for enrichment. It was a biology class. My guess is that I have a lot of the details wrong, but the incident, accurately remembered or not, is as clear in my mind as if happened yesterday.
Each morning I would walk from my house in our suburban development to the bottom of the hill where I would meet my friend Richard and then we would walk together to the school. One morning, there at the corner of Henderson Drive and Gregory Street, I arrived to find a group of boys, I am guessing they were eighth graders, circled around Richard. I know they were calling him names, though I don’t remember the words they were using. There may have been some pushing or shoving; some books fell to the street. My guess is that I was there for no more than 90 seconds before it was all over.
What I remember is that Richard was standing there, his books and homework scattered on the sidewalk. And I left. I didn’t stay and help him gather his scattered things. I didn’t walk with him in the kind of silence that friends would understand. I left. I walked to school alone; certainly not with the bullies because I was afraid of them.
In my memory, Richard and I never walked to school together again.
I was eleven years old. Since that day in the summer of 1963, I have stood up to bullies more than once and sometimes at some cost. But that day, and there is no if about it, I hurt my friend Richard. By saying nothing, by walking away, I hurt him deeply.
I have no idea what happened to Richard, where his life has gone since the few times we talked in high school. I tried Googling his name once, but came up with nothing. Maybe he’ll Google my name some day. Who knows, if he does he might come upon this post. And Richard, if you do, I apologize, not if, but because I hurt you.
I don’t lose sleep over that incident at the corner of Henderson Dr. and Gregory St. I rarely think of it, but when I do, I feel sorrow and regret. Eleven years old, but still guilty of cowardice.
One of the great promises of Scripture is found in Isaiah 43:25: “I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more.” This no more remembering of our sins in not divine amnesia. It is a no more remembering in the sense of no more holding them against us. In fact Psalm 103 reminds us that God does remember, “…he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust.” The good news of he gospel is that our sin, even long ago when we were young sin, is no longer held against us.
Should the news story, maliciously told or not, cause Mitt Romney to remember and be haunted by the long-forgotten incident, I hope that it causes him to seek for the One who knows his frame, who remembers that he is dust, but has chosen to remember his sin no more.