Do you need to make amends for past bul­ly­ing?

Hawaii Tribune Herald - - COMMENTARY - — Chicago Tri­bune

Do you owe some­one an apol­ogy? Not for a re­cent slight or mod­est wrong you com­mit­ted, but for a past act that you sus­pect caused an­other per­son deep pain. Do you need to make amends? Maybe the an­swer comes quickly — a yes or no — or per­haps it’s buried deep.

For Bruce Smit, the an­swer was a sear­ing yes. He car­ried guilt and shame for decades, oc­ca­sion­ally burst­ing into tears at the thought of how he and oth­ers mis­treated the Rys sis­ters back in sixth and sev­enth grades. That was some 60 years ago. Smit, now 71, wished to re­pent but was still strug­gling with the bur­den un­til — sup­ported by his wife — he was able to lo­cate and seek for­give­ness from Kath­leen Rys, 72, and her sis­ter, Lor­raine O’Kelly, 70, for his role in bul­ly­ing them.

“We were cruel,” Smit told the Daily South­town’s Donna Vick­roy in Illi­nois. “And for ap­par­ently no rea­son other than fol­low­ing the crowd.” You can read the story at www. chicagotri­bune.com/bully.

Maybe there are in­stances in life where a per­son who feels re­spon­si­ble for a wrong ex­ag­ger­ates or imag­ines the hurt, and with an apol­ogy all bad feel­ing is swept away. Oh that? I never even no­ticed. Such was not the case with the Rys sis­ters, who — for un­ex­plained rea­sons — were treated as pari­ahs their en­tire school ca­reers in Monee. Their iso­la­tion and anguish were all-en­com­pass­ing. No one ever in­ter­vened.

In gram­mar school, no one would eat lunch with the girls, or play with them or sit with them on the bus. Smit re­mem­bers in sixth grade be­ing part of the gang gig­gling at lonely Kath­leen. The tor­ments con­tin­ued at Crete-Monee High School. “When we climbed the stairs to go to our other classes, if some­one bumped into us, they’d run to the wash­room to wash their hands,” Lor­raine said. “We only had each other,” Kath­leen said.

Smit was in med­i­cal school when he be­gan to con­sider the tragedy of the Rys sis­ters’ mis­treat­ment and con­tem­plate his par­tic­i­pa­tion. But atone­ment is not al­ways a fast or sim­ple act to pur­sue. Ex­press­ing con­tri­tion re­quires re­flec­tion, self­less­ness — and brav­ery. It’s dif­fi­cult enough, given the ego’s in­flu­ence, to stand in a church or syn­a­gogue and pri­vately ask God to for­give our sins. Imag­ine then, how Smit felt ar­riv­ing at a Tin­ley Park Pan­era restau­rant for an ar­ranged meet­ing with two women whose child­hoods he had helped de­stroy.

Smit was at the restau­rant with his wife, Tammy, still gath­er­ing his thoughts, Vick­roy wrote, when Lor­raine yelled out from a nearby ta­ble, “I for­give you.” Kath­leen did, too.

What gen­eros­ity. We can’t see the scar­ring, but Kath­leen never mar­ried and has few friends. Lor­raine, who has a fam­ily, also suf­fered deeply. We can’t see the heal­ing ei­ther, but it’s there, the sis­ters say. “It’s just won­der­ful that a per­son from 60 years ago can ask for­give­ness,” Lor­raine said. “It’s like a mir­a­cle to us. It’s a heal­ing to us.”

Smit said he was ashamed, em­bar­rassed — and re­lieved. “I’m so happy they’re still here and that I can fi­nally apol­o­gize,” he said. He had a mes­sage, espe­cially for for­mer class­mates, but ev­ery­one, re­ally: Take ac­tion, be­fore it’s too late, to seek for­give­ness from those you’ve wronged.

So, we’ll ask again, as we ask our­selves: Is there any­one you owe an apol­ogy? Do you need to make amends?

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