I recently received a "friend request" on Facebook from someone with whom I went to middle and high school. While I try to keep my friends list to people with whom I am currently in touch, people with whom I would like to be in touch, and people I fear would be offended if I were to un-friend them, I tend to relax standards when it comes to high school acquaintances. This is for the logical reason that, not having seen them in 8 years, I do not know if I want to be in touch with them, not to mention that it is possible they have a different memory of our interactions and would be upset if I were not to friend them.
However, the request I received most recently was not from an acquaintance, but from someone who was rather a bully when I first met them. Throughout high school I ate lunch in the classroom of a teacher who was willing to shelter me, the specific teacher changed from year to year, with the company of a book. I certainly do not blame this individual solely for my reclusive habit, but my middle school experiences played a roll. Furthermore, my personality is such that my feelings toward people tend not to change a lot over time, sure this leaves me with some deep friendships, but I also harbor some old grudges.
It certainly isn't that I think this is a bad person. Although we didn't interact much in high school, I seem to remember some decent memories. I know that toward the end of my high school years it occurred to me that there were definitely reasons that this person may have acted they way that they did. However, I still felt some resentment upon receiving the friend request, as though my desire to put forward a genial face obligated me to suffer their presence. I carry on a large amount of my social life on Facebook these days, and to accept that request would invite them into this rather important part of my life.
All this rumination on bullying led me to yet another memory. This one comes from the beginning of elementary school, and I can not be certain of its veracity. In truth, I deeply hope that this is simply a memory that I have made up, but I fear it is not. I remember writing, then reading for the class a disparaging poem that I wrote about an unpopular classmate of mine. In fact, the only reason that I cling to my hope that this is a false memory is that I cannot imagine a teacher allowing me to complete my recitation of such a harmful poem.
Later in elementary school I got to know this kid a bit better as well. I remember them turning out to be an admirable person, which, of course, does not assuage the guilt over what I believe happened. Especially considering how much experience with scorn, threats, and ridicule I have accrued in the intervening years. I can only hope that this kid eventually forgave me.
But, if this is my hope, then how can I do otherwise than forgive the bullies of my later life? And not the false forgiveness of the self-righteous, but an understanding forgiveness of one who has walked a ways along that path, who understands what the allure may well be, and who understands both the harm it does to the victim and the bully.