It’s funny, in a strange sort of way, how memories seemingly long gone, pop back into my mind from childhood every now and then. That happened to me the other day. It was of a moment in my early life of a powerful conversion. Permit a brief story which, according to me, illustrates the power of God to transform us through love.
It happened when I was in seventh grade, 12 years old, or thereabouts. To my mind, children and early teenagers, are some of the cruelest people on the face the earth. Some of the most hurtful and taunting things come from children’s mouths, directed toward each other. At this time in my life, I was no exception to this widespread tendency. I remember being both devastated by ridicule, and dishing it out with gusto.
One of the most dreadful chapters of my life in this regard was the ridicule and taunts I heaped on a classmate, Gabriel Ridell. Gabe, as we called him, was developmentally disabled to a slight degree. Somehow we knew it was because he had “water on the brain,” and could even see a tube just behind his hairline that was used to drain the water that accumulated there. Whatever his particular issues, the bottom line was that he had some social and cognitive challenges, and went to special education classes at our local school.
Poor Gabriel, we treated him horribly. I and others lived for the moment when he boarded our yellow school bus each day at his stop. I and others called out: “Gabriel….Ritard….Gabe the Reeetarrrrd.” I wince as I even think of it. Gabe, quite outnumbered, knew little to do except turn and shake his fist at us and say “I know you are! But what am I?!”
So awful was our taunting and ridicule that the Bus driver had him sit in the front seat near her, and occasionally she would pull over and tell us to be quiet, and that we should be ashamed of ourselves. In the afternoon, as he would leave the bus we taunted him, calling out the window with our usual venom. We thought we were so cool, but were mere merely cruel. Let me be more specific, I was cruel.
But one day, on the way home, something remarkable happened. Gabe’s stop was near the end of the bus route, and I, and he, and just a few other kids were left on the bus. I was well prepared to call out evil things from the window as he stepped of the bus, but something caused me to stop. There was a woman standing there, with the same red hair as Gabriel. Gabriel caught sight of her and called loudly and with joy through the open bus window: “Mom!!” And, as the door opened, Gabriel dashed out of the bus and into her arms. She hugged him tenderly. As the bus began to pull away, she took him by the hand and began to walk home with him; he overjoyed, she, a loving mother with her son.
I was dumbstruck, and sank in my seat. And suddenly, in a moment, I began to weep for my sins, utterly convicted of my cruelty, (I weep even as I type these words). Gabriel, whom I had depersonalized and so ridiculed, was deeply loved by his mother. He was lovable. The sight of this changed me in an instant. I never saw Gabriel the same again.
The next day I told Gabriel how sorry I was, and asked his forgiveness. When others began their taunts I told them to be quiet, and that Gabriel was cool, and we should leave him alone. I can’t say we became great friends, for we were in different grades and went to different classes. But I remained his friend and defender on the bus, and learned something of his story: how his mother had either been attacked or had fallen when she was pregnant with him (I cannot remember now which). His brain injuries stemmed from that time.
I wonder what of us all, now. What if we could somehow see the tender love that God has for everyone we know? Would it not change us, transform us, even in an instant? Yes, it would. I know that by experience. Merely observing Mrs. Ridell’s love for her son changed me in moment. Love can do that, that’s what love does. We would surely begin to love, understand, and befriend, even the difficult and troubling people we know.
Why not ask for the gift to see something of God’s love for others? I don’t suppose we could take a large dose of it, all at once, for surely we could not stop weeping for our sins. Perhaps even to ask that our eyes be gradually opened to the tender love of God for everyone around us, is best. And surely, even in this gradual way, we will begin to experience the gift of tears, and capacity to weep for our sins of indifference, of hardness, of inconsideration. And also, to experience joyful weeping in how delighted God is over our acts of kindness and consideration. Whatever the tears, fear them not, for they are healing tears, born in godly sorrow and joy.
Yes, seek the transformative power of a revealed and observed love. And if it comes to you, by God’s mercy, you will never be the same again.