Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: Crime and Punishment (not about the book) (07/21/11)
By Sydney Avey
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“You need to learn how to stand up for yourselves,” she would repeat every time we showed disinterest in the revenge plots she urged us to carry out against kids she suspected of slights so slight we couldn’t see them.
I don’t remember what crime the neighbor boy committed, but I do remember dishing out an elaborate punishment she conceived. I was to take my little sister to the yard duty teacher and accuse him of throwing a rock at her. To add credence to my story, I took my sister into the school bathroom, pinched her cheeks red and splashed water for tears into her eyes. She was a credible victim and neighbor boy got called on the carpet. As it turned out, he did happen to be throwing rocks on the school grounds. Even he believed us and headed for detention with an apologetic look in our direction.
Another time, mom got it in for a neighbor girl I used to play with and wrote a viciously funny anagram detailing her character flaws. She set it to music, taught it to us and bugged us until we tracked the offender down in the playground equipment room and sang it to her. The memory of her bursting into tears in the ball checkout booth still haunts me.
That retribution pleased our mother did not please us. Getting away with masterful deceit did not outweigh the sick shame of lying to a teacher. Lacking the courage of our mother’s convictions, slogging through multiple verses of a poetic taunt was tough stuff. I will admit that meting out our mother’s judgment brought a certain satisfaction in the drama of the performance. The power of exacting payment – reducing neighbor boy to penitence and neighbor girl to tears – was heady stuff.
Why did we willingly play the pawns of punishment? Not for the reward of our mother’s favor – we knew better. We played along to get her off our backs. But at some point we did learn to stand up for ourselves. We began to say no. We suffered the slings and arrows of her diatribes, but we found that superior to feeling shame in our hearts.
When I became a Christian, I armed myself with Romans 12:19. “Vengeance is mine, I will repay,” says the Lord.
“Mom, let’s just give them enough rope to hang themselves and see what happens, “I would tell her.
Mom spent the last years of her life in assisted living where she was forced to learn to deal with people. We had long conversations about picking your battles and cutting people some slack. She grew in her understanding of the complexity of human relationships.
I have often wondered if we hadn’t acquiesced so readily to play executioner to her whims if she might have learned these lessons earlier. I’ve also wondered at what point it is legitimate to mete out social justice on behalf of another. As a young mother I once watched a bunch of boys kick at a smaller boy in a park. I didn’t know the boys, but I entered the fray to halt the injustice. The smaller one who was taking the abuse essentially told me to butt out.
I’ve come to understand that punishment is more likely to be a crime that falls on the head of the pugilist than it is a satisfying resolution. The heat of its passion is an ineffective salve for wounded feelings.
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