When I was 13, a Christian told me the devil was going to eat my soul.
I don’t want to say I ever struggled with my faith. I think I woke up one day and realized I didn’t have any. That was an awful feeling.
Not as awful as the day I started telling people I didn’t believe in God. I called myself an atheist.
Half of my half-witted classmates (as all classmates tend to be at that age) were mystified by the idea that someone dare cast aside God and question His existence. Half of my classmates really didn’t care.
Then, there was Stephen.
Stephen was a troubled youth. All throughout my 13 years in the Platte County school district, Stephen always needed to make some feel inferior. In middle school, it just so happened to be me and my lack of faith. Later, in high school, it would be hipsters who listen to alternative music and didn’t chew dip like he did.
I’ll get to Stephen’s “farm boy” phase in a few paragraphs.
It wasn’t until college that I really started to think about Stephen as a person. I mean, how can you really consider someone’s humanity after they had kicked you in the shin so hard your bruise was the size of a softball and you couldn’t run in gym class.
“No coach, I don’t want to sit out and give him another reason to call me a derogtory term for female gentalia.”
In high school, Stephen decided the redneck-farm boy look gave him credit and respect. The truth was, I knew more about farms and cattle than he did.
Now, Stephen is a baby-daddy who wants to be a cop. But he never will be. He still thinks he’s a farm boy.
Despite it all, I find Stephen a pitiable person, because when I really started to think about it, he was so unhappy. Sure, when I was 13 and he tell me every day in the hallway that I was going to hell and recruit other so-called Christians to his chanting, I wished death upon him.
Now, I wish he was happy, because when I got to high school, I became Stephen.
There was this kid, Harley, who just wanted a friend. He was an outcast. I remember one day, someone much meaner than I stuck a .45 round in his locker and the school resource officer found it.
Harley had been bullied like I had in middle school, but instead of just wishing death about his bullies, Harley made a list. He was forever known as “the potential Columbine.”
My regret is that I didn’t treat Harley with respect. I didn’t befriend him. Maybe I did.
I knew there were a few times I defended him, but I wasn’t above mocking him and then accepting the food he gave me. Without going into details, I could have been a nicer person.
All of these bruises, emotional and physical, I wouldn’t trade for a better coming-of-age experience. First off, there is no such thing as better.
The greener grass is something we convince ourselves of so we wake up in the morning, until you realize that the color of the grass doesn’t matter. In this metaphor, you’re a cow and cows probably don’t care what color the grass is.
I hated being bullied and later, I learned that I don’t like being a bully myself. This wasn’t because I was a victim, it was because I developed empathy, actually, through Harley.
There’s a lot of anti-bullying propaganda in our schools. I may the only person on the planet that thinks this, but I wish it would stop.
Yeah, kids can be mean and they can take it too far, but I’m glad my childhood wasn’t filled with unicorns and rainbows, because the world isn’t filled with unicorns and rainbows.
The world is filled with people. And sometimes, not always, people suck.
It’s not the green grass that gets me out of bed in the morning, it’s knowing that at least once today, I’m going to see a moment where someone doesn’t suck.
At least once a day, I promise you will see kindness or love or compassion. The truth is, the cruelty will often prevail.
People are guaranteed to be mean to each other.
But yesterday I saw a child’s face light up as he grabbed a piece of candy at the homecoming parade that a high schooler had thrown to him, and you know what I realized?
The grass is perfectly fine the way it is.