I remember once nearly breaking my hand reacting to a young boy’s change of attitude. To me, there’s nothing more frustrating than watching a person, with so much to offer and so much to live for, become embedded in self-pity and reactive hatred.
There’s no doubt the teenager had a right to feel bad. He had lost his mother, a sole parent, to cancer, and then learned his closest living relative, his only sister, possibly had the same disease.
Shy and withdrawn, he knew nothing of the cathartic effects of sharing his pain with someone, even a friend. His way of coping was to lash out at society. The change was obvious to anyone who taught him. A nice person was becoming a selfish troublemaker.
One of my faults is a bad temper. I try to control it, but on occasion I’m not always successful. Then, too, sometimes it’s a help. On one such day my own reaction was the needed remedy to shake some sense into the boy’s head.
Angered at a disciplinary infraction, I corralled the boy into my office. “I’m tired of being nice to the world, Father. How’s the world been nice to me? It’s time I lived!”
It was then that I practically demolished a book shelf in the room. I had remembered the school law prohibiting corporal punishment. Actually, I had no intention of using my anger against the boy. I only wanted to produce an effect and the action was enough to get us communicating.
Stunned by my reaction, the boy listened. “So, you want to live?” I said rhetorically. “Are you any happier today by doing your own thing? Has your behavior change made you any more satisfied about what has happened to you? Do you like yourself better now? By becoming a person who could care less, will that bring your mother back or change your sister’s situation?”
Ouch, I thought, and wished I had not said the last sentence. But his eyes were wide and listening now. “I know some people who are so intent on living life to the hilt that they’re self-destructing in the process.”
I thought of how those who are bursting with life are often merely plunging into death with an enormous splash. A soul is a terrible thing to waste.
As my anger subsided, he opened up. His pain had been almost unbearable. It wasn’t fair what was happening to him. I agreed. I tried to explain how life always seems to include a share of unfair hurt for all of us.
But life is still so much more than the breath in our nostrils, the blood coursing through our veins, or the response to physical stimulation. Life, in the purely biological sense, is merely the absence of death. Such people do not live, they vegetate.
“Learn to develop your thinking,” I told him. I knew he had a good mind. ”Get in touch with the Power within.” I also knew the life of the Spirit opened up real possibilities of living.
“It’s a funny thing,” I said, “but the mark of true life is not explosiveness or passion. Rather, it’s control and proper discipline. Anybody can let loose. But progress and growth are always so much more.”
I thought back to those times when I had reached out to someone in need. The electricity I felt through such experiences was an unknown quantity to those who think only of themselves. I knew the meaning I found through such action far surpassed any fleeting pleasure.
“Be real,” I advised. “Take the risk of discovering more to life than the meaninglessness you’re now feeling.”
At a recent class reunion, I saw the boy — er, man. “Hey, Father, do you remember that time you almost put your hand through a wall?”
“It wasn’t a wall,” I replied, “but it still hurts when it rains.”
“I’m sorry to hear that, Father, but it sure was a help to me.”
Suddenly, it doesn’t matter that a bone or two ache with the weather