“Schooldays, schooldays, good old Golden Rule days . . . ”
Every year when the morning air carries a hint of coolness and school buses begin to wind their way through neighborhood streets, I recall again my schooldays. And seldom do I think of high school that I don’t think of Donald.
Alphabetically linked, Donald and I sat in the same row in the same homeroom in our freshman year. It was a traumatic time for all of us. Mixed with the euphoria of finally being in high school was the stigma of being the lowest class. Maybe we tried harder to be “somebody” because of it. But, as often happens, for some to feel bigger, some had to be made to feel smaller.
In our class, Donald was a natural target. His skin was swarthy, his eyebrows jutting, his short frame stooped, the back of his hands covered with thick, dark hair. Donald’s simian-like appearance was duly noted and used against him. He didn’t seem surprised. Ridiculed his entire life, he must have known instinctively how he would be treated in a new school. He scuffled through the halls slowly, head lowered and eyes down to avoid scornful glances.
I don’t know what made me go against the unspoken code that had declared Donald persona non grata. It could have been a protective nature toward small helpless creatures. But probably it was an empathy gained from having been on the receiving end of ridicule more than once. When I said “Hello,” he would answer shyly with a quick glance around to make sure I was speaking to him. While we weren’t actually friends, we were becoming acquainted.
One morning Donald wasn’t in the seat behind me as he always was. To a strangely quiet class, the teacher read a carefully-worded announcement. Donald, an epileptic, had suffered a grand mal seizure in a class the day before. His mother had been called and had taken him home. Distraught with embarrassment and swearing that he would never return to school, he had locked himself in his room. There he took his father’s shotgun, placed the barrel in his mouth, and pulled the trigger.
We had a minute of silence for Donald. Several faculty members attended his funeral. Our yearbook printed a dedication to him under his picture with his 14-year lifespan recorded.
All too little, much too late.
Donald was a gentle soul. He would not have thought of bringing a gun to school and shooting the classmates who rejected him. Instead, he destroyed what he could not face: his own life as he saw it reflected in the eyes of others. It was–as the death of any child is–a terrible waste.
In the wake of school violence today, many have suggested posting the 10 Commandments on school walls to help stop the violence and bring moral teaching back into what has become a moral-free zone. While it couldn’t hurt to have the 10 Commandments posted, Donald’s story reminds me that another biblical injunction needs to precede a prohibition against killing. In what we call the Golden Rule, Jesus taught us how to treat other people: “Do to others as you would have them do to you” (Luke 6:31, NIV). Who knows how much tragedy could be averted if everyone followed that profoundly simple admonition?
It has been almost 50 years since Donald died. Someday I may recall my schooldays without thinking of him, but I hope not. I need to remember. There are still a lot of Donalds around.