Monday, February 22, 2010
A Running Descent into Kindness
It was cool, and the view spectacular, as they hiked down from the summit, but Maggie was miserable. She hadn’t wanted to come on this youth trip, she didn’t like the youth group, she didn’t want to be part of this group activity, she hated what she looked like, she couldn’t stand her frizzy hair or her weight that stayed pudgy no matter how little she ate, and all she had around her were slim, confident girls with their straight hair and lilting voices and confident, flirty laughs and sideways glances at her frumpy clothes. And her hair.
Her parents had made her come. This was a rite of passage in the church youth group, this nightmare of a camp in the mountains. Everyone played nice, of course, because it was a church group, after all, and you didn’t want Jesus to think you thought yourself better than someone even if you knew you were. And all the girls were like that. Maggie wanted to scream sometimes, but she only cried when no one was around. She didn’t say much, because she was afraid of sounding stupid. The group leader tried to encourage her and get the other girls to include her in activities but it was hopeless. Maggie was all of 15 and felt either four or 40.
The trail down was wide but steep. Suddenly two boys at the front of the line broke into a run, yelling “Race ya!” as they took off. The rest of the group, 34 strong, followed, and Maggie suddenly found herself running downward, knowing at any moment she was going to trip.
Which she did. A half-buried rock caught her foot, and she tried to stay upright as she stumbled wildly across the trail, finally hitting a fallen tree and landing across it with a thud. It knocked the wind out of her, and she just lay there on the trunk, like a slug, not moving. She heard the laughter, and she felt the hot flush of shame and humiliation.
Then she felt hands on her shoulders, and his voice, the voice of the boy new to the group because he was dating one of the girls; he wasn’t even a member of their church. He was nice looking enough but not one of the handsome jocks; he’d been immediately accepted by the in-crowd because of his girlfriend. Maggie, are you okay? Are you hurt? Does anything feel broken? Take a deep breath. His voice was gentle, coaxing, soft. She was shocked that he knew her name. He pulled her back from the tree as she coughed and caught her breath. Does anything hurt? She shook her head. He stared into her eyes. Did you hit your head? She shook her head again.
His girlfriend stood behind him, staring. He smiled. We’ll walk you down the rest of the way. You need to be checked by the nurse. The youth group leader finally caught up with them, and together they finished the descent.
She spent the night in the infirmary, and was discharged in time to join the group in the large cafeteria for breakfast. She was sore and bruised, but nothing was broken or damaged. She found the group, and there he was. He looked up and smiled. “Maggie, how are you doing? Is everything OK? Guys, make some room here.”
She never saw him again after the trip; he and his girlfriend broke up and he went back to his family’s church.
But she never forgot him.
This is one of the contributions to the One Word Blog Carnival on kindness over at Bridget Chumbley’s place, One Word at a Time. This story, by the way, is true, or mostly true. It actually happened in the summer of 1968. “Maggie” is not the real name of the girl. What that young man did that day taught the entire youth group something about kindness.