Is This Really Play?
The small group of sixth and seventh grade boys drew my attention as they stalked down the hall. Something about their snickers and covertness alerted me and I began observing them from afar. On the edge of the gaggle, I noticed a young girl, probably about second or third grade. She was walking slowly, cowering with her face turned into the wall and her body pressed so closely to the bricks I was certain she was wishing she could meld into it.
One particular boy was doing everything he could to get into her space. He leaned over and put his face directly into hers, practically nose to nose. He was saying something and laughing tauntingly, while his friends cackled. The more he did it, the more the young girl cringed and tried to hide and the more the boys sniggered. There was no going backward for her because they had penned her in and their leader was in her face so she was clearly unable to break free.
Instantly I remembered what it felt like to be bullied as a child. I also remembered watching other children being bullied and being unable to do anything about it back then, wishing for someone bigger than me to stop the tormenting behaviors. No one ever showed up and my torment - and other children's torment - did not end. Well, I could do something now. I may not be much taller than most of the kids in the middle school, but I am an adult and if I didn't do something, who would? It was obvious that the boys were not thinking clearly about the results of their actions and they continued on, oblivious to anything but their target. They weren't going to stop on their own.
As I stepped up my pace, I could feel her terror and I wanted to shield her as soon as I could. From down the hall, I sharply called out the name of the leader, ending the exclamation with no room for questioning as to my intent. The entire group of boys froze in their tracks, not breathing, not moving, not taking another step. The young girl glanced at me quickly, tears in her eyes and ducked around the corner to race up the stairs to safety.
"Sweetie," I called out to her, not knowing her name. "Please come here. He needs to make this situation right."
She was so scared. I could see that all she wanted was to run away now that she was free. She cowered and whispered, "No. No. It's okay."
I understood where she was right then. However, it is never okay for anyone to bully another and I said as much to her and the six boys who were standing before me, fidgeting and wide-eyed because they had been caught. The leader's eyes bugged out of his head when I mentioned the word "bullying" and he started stammering, "I wasn't... wasn't... b-b-bullying her. I wasn't meaning to anyway. We were just playing."
The leader apologized profusely to her and to me and the other boys started chiming in as they backed away.
The little girl nodded and whispered, "It's okay," before dashing up the stairs.
I wanted to cry. I was stunned and sick with the knowing that these boys had no idea that their aggressive "play" is the practice ground for bigger, more dangerous activities. The sadness welled up in me as I thought about the state of our world. This was just one small action but, multiplied over and over, it becomes the way of life and we're seeing the effect of that on our planet right now.
This experience of witnessing terrorizing as "play" has me thinking about how I carry myself and how I treat others. It has opened my eyes to the fact that there are some in this world whose definition of "play" looks starkly different than mine. I also realized that it is all the more important that I go forward with love, spreading it wherever I can.
I invite you to look with eyes wide open to what is really going on around you, find the places where you can add love and then... actively be love.
© Angie K. Millgate 1/18/10