In the microcosm of our childhood neighborhood, we seven boys navigated a world of camaraderie and occasional scapegoating. Though I once experienced their ostracism, it was Adam, a boy a year older than me, who bore the brunt of this particular dynamic more often.
Adam lived with his father, a gruff man who may have been physically abusive. Adam’s simmering anger sometimes erupted in unexpected outbursts, hinting at the pain he carried beneath his suburban façade.
One day, Adam confronted me in the lunchroom, demanding I give up my seat. I defiantly refused, and the incident escalated. Later, when we were outside, Adam pushed me to the ground and challenged me to a fight. Despite the culture of fighting that permeated our young world, I declined, seeing Adam not as an enemy but as a friend.
In retrospect, I realize I should have relinquished my seat. At the time, I failed to see the loneliness and pain in the boy before me, craving acceptance and belonging. My stubbornness only reinforced his sense of being unwanted.
As adults, we often believe we’ve outgrown the self-absorption of our youth and that we’re now capable of deeper empathy. However, our actions and words often betray a lingering need for healing.
My own fear of exclusion and scarcity blinded me to Adam’s needs that day in the lunchroom. True Christian practice calls for self-emptying and sacrifice, following the example of Christ Himself, even in the most mundane of situations.
After the lunch incident, I encountered Adam in the hallway. He looked up, his face filled with apology, and said, “I’m sorry.” We both expressed our regrets and entered our next class, aware that something significant had transpired. In that moment, we took a small step away from our childish ways and moved toward a deeper understanding of friendship and empathy.