The tabernacle of Yahweh was crimson, blue and purple…I like to think of it as God’s heart, pulsing crimson, blue and purple just beneath its covering of skin…He decided to put his heart in the center of the Israelite community, instructing Moses to build a worship tent according to his heavenly design…Upon the arrival of God’s heart among the Hebrews, no one could deny it was astonishingly beautiful, woven with exquisite thread, whispering love through the lips of pomegranates and golden bells and sprinkling mercy through wings of giant cherubim…(L.L. Barkat, Stone Crossings).
I am five and when they say to stand, I do. Kindergarten doesn’t seem so hard—these ladies give me juice and sugar cookies—I think I’m getting this thing down. But Shelly Lucas hisses under her breath and reaches her hand out to wave me sit back down.
We’re not supposed to, she says.
She’s just trying to do the right thing (bless her heart), but I throw daggers with my eyes and then turn to face the flag. The others put their hands over their hearts and say the words. I just stand, my face turned away from Shelly Lucas sitting on her mat. Mom said I could stand to show respect. Just don’t say the words, she said; just don’t hold my heart in an offering to that flag. I am five and my cheeks flame and that’s the first time I know.
I am different than all these kids.
My different doesn’t show most days. I chase boys on the playground and roll my hair in sponge curlers and have blue eyes. It’s easy to forget my different when I am one of the best readers in the first grade, when I make straight As and place second in the school spelling bee.
I try hard to make them forget.
But every Christmas there is a play and my brothers and sister and I must stay home. And every year when the kids dress up for Halloween, we cast ourselves in our ordinary jeans and go to the library while they eat their treats. There are no valentines or shamrocks…no turkeys made with the outline of our hands. Every holiday offers the opportunity to be the outcast until the other children handle me with kid gloves—they don’t understand what it’s all about.
At the age of five I must choose over and over again and I am just different enough to make me strong. I stop caring what they think. In the midst of all that crazy—somehow–in kindergarten I find God’s heart.
But in the second grade I learn what outcast really means.
That’s when Robert and Charles Posey come to our class. Robert is bigger—word has it that he was held back the year before and Charles is the younger of the two. There are a few homes up our way that do not have running water and theirs must be one of them. They come to school with the smell of unwashed flesh and dirty ill-fitting clothes.
And when the other boys grab their hair and pull them around the playground, punch them in the stomach until their faces turn red, they try not to cry.
I watch these brothers suffer everyday at the hands of their classmates. I might throw Brooks Ferrell a dirty look, but most days I just let anger boil unnoticed. Then one day, I hear Robert ask his little brother something after they both have been bullied around the playground. The bigger boy stands awkward over his little brother’s red face.
Are you ok, Charlie?
At that small string of words something breaks inside of me.
I don’t think it out, I just yell. I don’t know it with my head, but I know it with my heart. Sometimes, we are called to be places of refuge for each other. I stand up to Johnny Spino and tell him to let those boys go.
Johnny Spino wants to be my boyfriend after that—but that’s another story. It didn’t go far beyond Button, Button, Whose Got the Button anyway.
My Pastor spoke about compassion on Sunday. He told the story of the Good Samaritan. I had just read the chapter in L.L.’s Stone Crossings on Inclusion and I couldn’t stop thinking about God’s heart—pulsing crimson, blue and purple. That’s compassion. That’s where compassion comes from. His heart wrapped around mine.
Sometimes I wonder about the Posey boys. I wonder how they are doing, what kind of scars they have and if they even remember the day in second grade when a skinny-legged girl stood up for them on the playground. I remember other times like this when my heart roared like a lion and I am thankful for my time as an outsider. But I am also grateful to be called into his beautiful heart.
Roar like a lion for someone today—roar gentle as a lamb. Be a refuge. You can, you know. I know a second-grader who did it once.
Sharing with Michelle today:
Photo by Nanny Lee, via flickr.