Monday, April 17, 2006

Penitence for Joe

I’m going to go back, way back. About 35 years back.

In my almost 45 years of living on this planet I have done quite a few things that:

I would like to forget about…
I’m not proud of…
I would Love to do over…
I’m Ashamed of…

While I realize that we are not perfect beings, I also realize that when we have a chance to at least say ‘I’m sorry’, we should do so.

When I was a young boy growing up in Miami Florida, I did something that has haunted my conscience ever since.

It was the summer of 1970 and I was three months shy of turning 9 years old. I had a collection of friends who lived on my block and we were always getting into trouble either by ourselves or together as a group.

We always had someplace we could hangout and play or plot our next escapade. Sometimes the hangout would be a simple sheet hanging over a clothes line made into a secret hideout. Sometimes it was one of the rooms in our houses. And sometimes it was just in the middle of the road or nearest mud puddle.

Then one weekend ‘it’ was built; the perfect hangout. At the time it was the biggest tree-house I had ever seen. It was awesome. It was perfect. It was in Joe Robinson’s backyard. Joe’s Dad worked with my dad at a welding and machine shop in North Miami and he was always making something in their backyard. The Robinson’s lived about 10 houses down near the end of the block and was a great in-the-middle meeting place for the rest of the boys on the block.

We made the tree-house the official hangout place from the moment it was built. We were always in it. Even when Joe wasn’t home, we were in it. One day while Joe was away, we were in the tree-house goofing off and planning our next adventure. We had been there for an hour or so when the Robinson’s arrived back home. These next few minutes would be the minutes I wish I could go back and change and the reason I write this today…..

After arriving home, Joe realized that we were up in the tree-house and started to make his way up the tree ladder. However, when he got to the trap door on the floor of the tree-house he found it locked. He hollered at us to open the door and let him in, but we refused. We told him that we had changed the rules that would allow him entrance to the tree-house. We told him that he would have to do what we said if he wanted to come in and be part of the gang. He agreed. He asked what it was that he had to do…..
We just looked at each other. We had not thought before hand what it was that we wanted him to do.

And then I said it.

I told Joe that if he wanted to be part of the gang and come up into the tree-house that he would have to drink a cup of gas; as in gasoline. He agreed to do so. So we came down and I went to his Dad’s shed and poured some gas from the can into a small cup. We all stood there in awe as he attempted to drink it. He managed to get a swallow down and the he went into some kind of convulsing motion as his body tried to expel the unnatural substance that was now burning his esophagus, stomach and lungs. Steve ran into the house to tell Joe’s Mom what just happened as the rest of us ran home.

As you can imagine, they rushed Joe to the emergency room to do whatever they had to do for him. Later that day Joe’s Mom came down to my house and proceeded to rip my Mom a new one verbally. My Mom, not one to be out-shouted, told Joe’s Mom that if Joe was dumb enough to drink the gas in the first place it was his own fault. Probably not the right thing to say, but like I said, my Mom didn’t take crap from no one.

Joe was never the same after that day. He made a sort of hiccup/burping sound every time he spoke. I have a feeling that the incident slowed down his learning and motor skills as well. He just never seemed the same again.

Joe’s family moved away before the next school year ended and I never saw Joe again. I have thought about that day hundreds of times over the last 35 years. If I could go back and change the events of that day I would do so in an instant.

Joe, I may never meet you again on this side of judgment. If you somehow run across this blog and read it, know that I am truly, truly sorry for what I did that day. I would love to tell you in person but I may never get the opportunity to do so.

Joe, forgive me.


Sarah said...

HI WayneDawg,
That was probably very hard to do, and we all have things that we need to confess. The whole thing of Easter is to remember what jesus died for, and that we are forgiven.

You've unleashed your burden, and already hung from this cross that you bore for years. Congratulations for letting go of your guilt.

I, myself, had similar experince of 'cleansing' about 3 years ago to a priest. It helped to forgive myself, which we must do in order to accept Jesus' forgiveness.

Easter is a time to let go, and rise again. May this season find you feeling cleansed.

God bless you.

WayneDawg said...

Thanks Sarah

Badbeans said...

Boy, the previous post really makes me feel rotten about the grief that I was about to give you. But I've done that in the past anyway.

We all have done things that we wish we had not. And all sin will be paid up on this side of the grave, except for the one unforgivable sin, which is the only one that will buy you the one way ticket to hell.

I am sure that Joe is fine since you have not received summons to appear in court concerning a lawsuit surrounding the long term effects of his injuries. And, if he were dead, his parents would have sued you. So rest easy knowing that you can see some postitive in this sue-happy society.

Wadical said...

Guilt can oft' be confused with the scar left behind by the white hot branding of a hard lesson learned. Both must be lived with and both must be overcome. But they are not the same. Living every day with the memory may well be your cross to bear.

Forgiving yourself or even having Joe forgive you, while necessary and good may not alleviate the memory that lingers in the back of your mind. A scar is a "healed" wound. The pain may be gone, but the reminder will always remain, and it doesn't take much staring at that scar to easily remember the pain which accompanied it. Perhaps it is as God intended.

Perhaps you're a better person for the memory of that day. I HOPE you're a better person. You learned a lesson that many children, adolescents, even adults never do. I'll just bet that you are quick to defend an underling. I'll bet that you are the one who never stands by to watch a bully do his work. I'll bet that your children will be raised with the lessons of your childhood firmly engrained as wisdom in their minds and hearts.

Bad things happen. We may cause them, and sometimes God may allow them. It is not what happens to us, but how we deal with and learn from what happens to us that shapes who we really are.

And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are called according to his purpose.

If Romans 8:28 is correct, then you have become a better man for the lessons learned from your transgressions. Your remorse is proof of that. Telling this story to a Sunday School class of children, a group of Boy Scouts or even one bully whose attention you've...well, managed to grab may just change the lives of others as well.

You may call it "penitence", I call it good stewardship of a painful lesson. What shall you do with the unique knowledge and insight into the pain endured not only by the tormented but also by the tormentor that God has entrusted you with? Forget it? Bury it? No. I don't believe that is what God intended. When Jesus returns (and he will...hallelujah) and sees that the seed of your lesson learned has been planted in hearts over and over and that you have multiplied the return, he will say to you "Well done, my good and faithful servant".

My greatest fear is hiding God's candle under a basket just long enough to cause another to stumble. You do well to tell of your lessons learned. It is Jesus, the "Light of the World", that shines within you and illuminates not only your path, but perhaps more importantly, the paths of others.

WayneDawg said...

Thanks for the very perceptive comments Wadical.

K9 said...

/bark bark bark

man i am feeling the anxiety too.
i hope making post has made this burden lighter for you. i know you believe you are forgiven, and you are.


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infinitesimal said...

You were a real mean 9 year old.
and you had a chance to stop him, and you knew you could have, but what did you do instead? laugh inside? anticipate entertainment?

Your grace is the guilt you felt directly after when you saw that you hurt him.

I would imagine that you are right, and he is not the same.

What would you feel like if that happened to your grandchild?

That was a really rotten thing to do. It could have killed him, and i really wonder if you knew that then?

I don't think you did.

How to fix it?
You need to pray for his continued health and fortune everyday until it feels right.

this is just my comment, don't mean to be harsh... i just work with kids is all, a bit of a protector... even if it was 35 years ago.

telling it must make it feel better. I know it will be made right in the end.

thank you for sharing.