Every week I get to teach students on Sunday morning. I think of it as a privilege even though I often feel like nothing more than a glorified babysitter. Parents sometimes drop their children off 45 minutes before the start of service and I don’t know if it is because the students are so excited to be there, or if the parents are dropping of their children and then making a mad dash for a quiet caramel macchiato that can be sipped in silence.
I don’t mind the children being there early or late for that matter. I only have to get to see them for a couple of hours a week and it’s those last or first few minutes that can be quite enlightening. For instance, one of my only black students once said to me, “My parents are at the black church this morning, Morse St. Baptist, so they may be running late, you know how black churches are.” He said, holding up his hand and then saying, “No offense.” I wasn’t sure why I would be offended except that maybe my brown skin color is often deemed “questionable”. When I had hair that was mostly straight and black, I was rarely confused as an African American, but over the years my hair has deserted me, like so many of my friends, and the ones I have left I hold onto dearly, never realizing how much I cared until they were gone. Now that I’m larger and bald, I’m often mistaken as African American, but I can assure, offense for the misinterpretation of my race, is never taken.
This morning one of my particularly challenging students was standing next to me. This is a rarity as normally he is kicking balls as hard as he can at the ceiling or walls. I think his sole purpose there is to see if he can maim himself or another student but make it look like an accident. He loves to find a rolling chair and then push it as fast as he can toward the stairs and then jump in it. I think God has sent an angel to stop the chair right before it hurtles down the stairs with the student in it – but sometimes I secretly wish it would happen just so I could say, “I told you so.” But he never falls and I don’t get my wish.
And speaking of “I told you so’s”… I love them. It makes us feel superior and there is nothing like being right that makes me feel more superior than someone else. Then there’s that feeling that they received the punishment that they deserved because they hadn’t listened to you. So maybe you lost a hand, big deal, how you feel at that moment doesn’t matter, your pain is inconsequential what matters is, “I told you so.”
We smile at ourselves because we had foreseen the danger like a prophet or a psychic with a crystal ball. We pat ourselves on the back with pride and we gloat as we share the story with our friends, “Did you see Sally? Yeah, I kept telling her to stay away from the poison ivy, but she just wouldn’t listen. Now she’s practically disfigured by it, but I told her so.” We say, tisking our tongue and shaking our head with false sympathy.
So back to the student, we’ll call him Billy, was just standing next to me when another student said, “Hey, you guys are twins!” It was an obvious joke since Billy has the physical make up of slightly cooked spaghetti. He’s all arms and legs and when he moves he appears to be about to fall over at any moment – like Gumby, but thinner.
Billy looked up at me, his face contorting with terror as he stared at my head. “I am not that… FAT!” The word jutted out of his mouth less like an insult and more a statement of fact – however, it still stung like an insult as I was expecting the word: tall, bald, brown, big – I was not expecting FAT in all caps with an exclamation attached.
I’ve become accustomed to being called names. I don’t even mind the occasional insult to keep me humble, but the three students nearby made audible gasps of shock and dismay. “WHAT! Oh my word.” It was clear that even at 11 years old they knew it was impolite if not down-right rude to call someone fat. I would say that in America, despite that fact that the majority of us are over-weight, fat is quite possibly one of the most cruel insults, more hurtful than say being called retarded or ugly, neither of which is not a consequence of gluttony and ugly is really a matter personal opinion.
Billy’s parents pulled up and waved, I stuck my hand up and waved back as if I were on a parade float. Their was no real emotion in my hand because for a moment I was still on “pause”. That’s what happens sometimes when you are insulted. Your brain doesn’t know how to react, especially when you are at church, surrounded by others and in reality, the statement was true – I am indeed fat. Not rotund or obese. There will not be a need for a crane to lift me into my casket when I die, but yes, I am indeed FAT. I guess the only insulting part of his statement was the exclamation mark on the end of FAT! and since he is only 11 and being home-schooled, I’ll assume that his parents haven’t yet taught him manners or grammar yet and let it slide.