Juneteenth is coming up and my family and I plan on spending it in South Carolina. A couple of years ago, my extended family and I, with myself in charge, attended a Juneteenth celebration in Newport News, Virginia. As a Hebrew (and Passover fanatic), I identify strongly with African-Americans and their identification through their path of freedom from bondage.
I have been the recipient of a lot of “understanding” from people of all backgrounds and economic levels (pale and not, foreign and not). I have been very lucky to have met so many people who just seem to get me. I have parlayed this in many ways and have followed paths that others have not.
Well this Juneteenth I will be celebrating another special milestone in my life, the launch of my new business. This was a 2 year path that ended with a crescendo in my discovery of a forgotten, yet presently applicable, part of my past. An instinct to fight, to hold others off, and to defend.
I kind of matured slowly.
I had blanked out the incident that Alan tells the story of in his post here on Humanthology and I understand why a bit more now after reconnecting with Alan. It was the very beginning of the days I dealt with bullying in 1979, just as Alan was getting ready to move away. I always remembered Alan (but not the specifics of our interaction or the bullying incident at our Hebrew school) and felt like he was dangerous and maybe someone I didn’t want to know too well. It seemed to me that he was in his state of weakness due to the bullying he endured.
It was 30 years later at the culmination of my high school reunion where I found out Alan was publishing stories on the web about bullying in Lexington, MA. I then looked it up and there I was in his story of a time in Hebrew school where I was the victim. Interestingly, when I found and read the story the first time, I felt exhilarated. No embarrassment, but not a great recollection of the incident. While I didn’t remember the tacks in the chair action exactly at that time, I have a vague thought that it did affect me and that I might be more aware of it than I realize even today. What I do recall of that time though, is the realization that there was no safe social place for me, including religious school.
The year around the time when he and the other kids put the tacks on my chair, my life kinda sucked. I did deal with bullying as well by the kids in Lexington, MA. But also, every so often, I would meet an outsider who would protect me socially. Over the next 6 years I became much stronger. Yet that time in my life taught me some strange survival skills that I incorporated into my professional life as fixer of sorts. In the end, I would help companies that have operational or financial distress.
So I hardly ever felt like a victim. More a participant in a moral battle. My question that I asked Alan in his story (“Why Did You Do This?”) was surely designed to make him and the other kids that did it see me as stronger so that he wouldn’t look at me as a victim.
My finding out about Alan and this story he wrote, along with his whole website also coincided with my helping to heal my one of my best friends from his long-term suffering from bullying. It also helped a series of interactions within my work life in general. It brought me to think hard about Alan’s mission and good work. I also thought about how Alan put himself out there on this site and his personal exposure along with all the risks that go along with doing that. That courage has helped me come to terms with my own decision of leaving big law and the dysfunctional situations that I am quite good at surviving now due to my rationalized flight and fight instinct that I developed through my experiences with bullies.
So now I have chosen my own path (which by the way I was very reluctant to choose) and now can focus all my energy. Bottom line is that throughout my life and especially during grades 6 - 8 in Lexington, MA, I realized that I had some “mark” that those with wisdom saw in me. Adults who were smart and anyone who viewed things from the outside saw that mark and “got me”. They always got me and have always helped me, especially an African-American judge and Vietnam Vet who gave me a chance, where others would have not. They “got” me! It has made me live a life that seems so easy and lucky.
Editors note: This story was written in June 2012, in response to a story written by David's bully.