When I was in the 7th grade, I had glasses, braces, and what can only be described as a full mustache. I was really popular and boys liked me!
Sarcasm aside, there is one boy in particular who comes to mind when I reflect on my middle school experience: Jason Curtis. Jason Curtis, I firmly believed, lived to torture me. Every day, I would lightly tread into my math class and Jason would greet me by loudly proclaiming, “Look, it’s the ugly one!”
He referred to me as “the ugly one” every single day, and to my face. Jason liked to announce his insults. If it wasn’t “the ugly one,” it was something else. He made fun of my big eyes, my curly hair; he would always find something. Jason sat in front of me, too, so there was nowhere to hide. The class would erupt into laughter, I would roll my eyes and pretend it didn’t bother me, and life would move forward.
I am the type of person who cries when I become angry or upset. I would never let my classmates see, but I would go home, hear Jason Curtis’s voice echoing in my head telling me that I was a monster, and cry. I despised Jason Curtis. This went on for several months until one day I left something behind in math class and shuffled back to retrieve it. I returned to what I thought would be an empty classroom, only to find one person sitting at a desk, head facing the ground.
A solo Jason Curtis was slumped in his chair. My insides flipped upside down and I immediately felt like my breakfast was going to find its way onto the classroom floor. Now that I was alone with him, what awful thing would he say this time? There was no teacher to protect me, no students to potentially come to my defense. There would be no filter. Maybe he wouldn’t see me, I thought to myself. Maybe if I’m really quiet…no, that was ridiculous. Of course he would see me, and if he didn’t see me, he would hear me. There was no escape. I took a deep breath and braced myself for the worst.
“Jason…what are you doing?”
Despite the fact that I am an expert on crying, I looked at Jason as if I had never seen someone cry before in my life. He was crying, real tears. I didn’t know what to do. Do I call the police? No, of course you don’t call the police. He’s crying, not on fire. I was more confused than I had ever been. What do I do?
This happened to me over a decade ago and I still remember the dark cloud that consumed Jason Curtis that day. I asked him if he was okay. Without looking up, he muttered, “Who cares. No one cares about me, and no one would care if I were dead.”
I am someone who believes that all things happen for a reason. I had never forgotten anything in my math class before. There was a reason I had forgotten something that day. There was a reason I had to go back and get it at that moment, at the same moment Jason was in there, crying. I needed to know that he was human, too. I needed to learn to forgive him.
Forgiveness looks like a lot of things. Sometimes forgiveness looks easy, like when someone bumps into you in the hallway and apologizes quickly. You say, “no worries!” and move on with your day. By tomorrow, you’ll probably forget that even happened. Sometimes forgiveness is easy.
Sometimes forgiveness looks hard, like when someone you love hurts you. And it stings. And it breaks your heart. And it weighs you down for a long, long time.
Sometimes forgiveness is about accepting an apology you never received. Sometimes forgiveness isn’t about another person at all.
Sometimes it’s about yourself and releasing yourself from a burden placed on your conscience. Sometimes you need to forgive for your own peace of mind, so you can sleep at night, and live with yourself in the quiet moments. Sometimes forgiveness is hard.
Sometimes forgiveness looks complicated. Sometimes we think that forgiving people means that we accept what they have done. Are you supposed to forgive someone who hurt you? Or someone who made a poor choice? If you forgive that person, does that mean you are agreeing with that bad choice? Forgiveness is not the same thing as condoning, where you would be agreeing with an action. Forgiveness is not the same thing as excusing, where you don’t hold people accountable for behavior. And forgiveness is not the same thing as forgetting. We remember things to protect ourselves. Sometimes forgiveness is complicated.
I forgave Jason Curtis that day. I did not forget. I do not agree with anything he did or excuse any of his behavior. I forgave him.
I let myself live a life free of hate, and I released him of the hold he once had on me. There is the saying that “hurt people, hurt people,” and forgiving Jason that day was much more about understanding the battles that he was fighting and the way he was hurting than it ever was about me or my hurt. So remember that, the next time your “friends” are all out having fun and sending you things on Snapchat to remind you of exactly how much fun they are having without you. Remember that the next time someone calls you a name. Remember that the next time someone makes fun of you. People who are truly happy, don’t treat other people that way. Forgive them. They are hurting.
This story is my own, but I know that each person in here has a story, too. A story of forgiving, a story of asking for forgiveness. Maybe you have a Jason Curtis in your life; maybe you are the Jason Curtis in someone else’s life.
Forgiveness can be easy, it can be hard, and it can be complicated.
Above all else: forgive yourself. Forgive yourself for not being perfect. Forgive yourself for not looking exactly how you wish you could.
Forgive yourself for not making perfect grades, forgive yourself for not always having it together, forgive yourself for all the times you lost your keys or forgot someone’s birthday even though you knew it was on some Tuesday in October. Forgive yourself in all of your flaws, in all of your imperfections.
I never told anyone that I caught Jason crying that day, and he never made fun of me again. It might have been because he got tired of it, or ran out of material, or it might have been because I forgave him.