I grew up in the days when Bible reading was still permitted in school. I remember Mrs. Harmon, my first grade teacher, reading a story to us every morning before class started. It was the highlight of my day.
One morning Mrs. Harmon read about the miracles of Jesus. When she came to the part about Jesus turning water into wine, Sam, the class bully, interrupted. “That ain’t no big deal! My daddy makes wine all the time! He’d make lots of money, too, if that danged Sheriff would leave him alone!” Sam declared.
Sam was an odd kid. Like any well-breed bully, he would knock you down and kick sand in your face. The strange thing was, sometimes he would help you back to your feet. I liked Sam, even if he was weird.
Mrs. Harmon seemed to like Sam, too. She rarely sent him to the principal’s office and only called his dad for offenses involving the police.
That afternoon, Mrs. Harmon passed out snacks consisting of warm Kool-Aid and crackers, then left for a break. I ate one of the dry crackers, took a swig of the warm liquid, and announced, “This stuff tastes like puke!” They all laughed. “Puke” is a very funny word in first grade.
Sam walked to the front of the classroom. “Don’t worry; I’ll turn it into wine.” Sam held his paper cup in front of him, waved it around, and then took a big swig. “It’s wine!” he said. Sam instructed everyone to hold their cup in front of them so he could turn their Kool-Aid into wine, too. We did as told while Sam muttered the words, “Since this Kool-Aid ain’t so fine, I hereby turn it into wine.”
One by one we began testing Sam’s claim. “Sam, this still tastes like Kool-Aid,” someone challenged.
“It tastes like wine, and we’re going to drink it and get drunk! Everybody take a drink, or I’ll turn you into a dog!” Sam threatened.
Everyone followed orders except Billy, who was also know as the teacher’s pet. “You can’t turn nothin’ into nothin’, Sam! Anyways, I’d like to be a dog!”
Sam persisted. “Drink it, or I’ll turn you into a dog with one eye and two legs, with bald spots and lots of fleas! You’ll only have one ear, and you’ll be scratchin’ so hard, it’ll fall off, and you won’t be able to hear, so a car will run over you, and . . . “
“Okay, I’ll drink it!” conceded Billy.
As Billy drank, Sam fell to the floor and started laughing. “This is how you act when you’re drunk!” he said. Several of us followed Sam’s lead. Within a few minutes, the classroom was in chaos with “drunk” kids everywhere.
Mrs. Harrison, the young teacher next door, heard the commotion and came to check. “Oh, no. I told them not to give you hot Kool-Aid!” she said as she ran for help.
Realizing we had been caught, the class sobered quickly and by the time Mrs. Harmon and Mrs. Harrison returned, everyone except Sam was sitting quietly. “Sam, what’s wrong with you?” Mrs. Harmon demanded, but Sam continued his impersonation.
“I think he’s having a seizure! I’ll call an ambulance!” Mrs. Harrison offered.
Mrs. Harmon reluctantly stopped her. “No. Just call his dad,” she said.
Sam pleaded with Mrs. Harmon. “I ain’t having no seizure; I’m just drunk! Don’t call my dad!” The situation had gotten so far out of hand, however, that Mrs. Harmon had no choice.
Sam came to school the next day with a bruise on his forehead and whelps on his arms. He was quiet for the next week or so and refused to tell anyone what had happened to him.
I began to understand why Mrs. Harmon favored Sam. In the eyes of a first grade class, Sam was a bully. Through Mrs. Harmon’s eyes, he was a frightened little boy, imprisoned by the sin in which he was forced to live.
I’ve encountered many bullies in my life and had sand kicked in my face more times than I care to recall. With each encounter, I have tried to remember that inside every bully is a frightened little child. I try to remember God’s commandment to pray for our enemies. Most of all, I try to remember Sam.