“Sure, I’ve got your bird.”

People have a capacity to be hateful, for the pure sake of being hateful. Psychiatrists and sociologists feed us this trite dribble about criminal nature being rooted from a bad childhood or a counter-productive family life. Sure, many times that narrow-minded politically correct excuse is true. But the experts neglect the single device that drives us to be ourselves, whether it be kind, generous, and heartfelt or downright nasty. Human nature.

Everybody loved Jeremy Hamlett. As the fastest, tallest, cutest boy in the third grade, Jeremy had already constructed quite a fan base. From the growing jocks to the peppy student government enthusiasts to each and every attractive girl at G.L.H. Johnson Elementary School, Jeremy always had a friend. He could make a person feel better about themselves by applying his own life experiences, and was always interested in what YOU had to say. What a great guy.

One day Jeremy came into class crying his eyes out. The girls pined, the boys sat silently, and the teacher tried to lend a helpful “ear.” As the story goes, Jeremy had lost his bird. Poor guy, sitting there crying his eyes out in front of everyone who loved him so much. Surely this would drop his social standing, make him just like the rest of us. The fat, the out-of-shape, the stupid, the socially challenged would all reap the rewards of the fallen hero.

What an opportunity. Drop Jeremy and push myself into the spotlight. Genius!

Jeremy sat in his seat, describing his lost animal to all that would listen. How easy could this be? I would tell Jeremy that I’d located his missing pet, sufficiently getting his hopes up. Then, at the peak of his hope and confidence…

I would break him.

“Sure, I’ve got your bird.”

Jeremy’s eyes lit up like fireflies in the Danville night sky. Jeremy hugged me, thanked me, and let me know that I was his best friend, now and forever. The girls began paying attention to me. The teacher gave me an extra cookie. I’d made friends with the most popular boy in school. Who cared anymore if I wore sweatpants or had ratty shoes. Who cared if my hair was greasy and always had a frown on my face. I was popular now, ready to lower the boom on Jeremy Hamlett’s precious psyche.

I was sitting in my living room floor playing Nintendo when my mother told me that Jeremy was on the phone, asking about “a bird.” After a moment of recollection, it hit me. The Nintendo controller made a cracking sound as it hit the floor at roughly the same time as my jaw.

I’d forgotten to lower the boom.

My mother made me go to Jeremy’s house, to tell him the truth. What an easy way out! All I’d have to do was make up a superficial story about being sorry and I was off the hook! Mom was at the peak of her idiocy on that day, I tell you. I confidently hopped out of the 1979 Toyota Carolla onto the gravel driveway, and made the turn around the car. That’s when I saw Jeremy, standing there, waiting for me.

I can’t remember what I said. All I can remember is the look in his eyes, the feeling of loss, the tears he tried to fight, the way his hands clenched in rage and despair. I learned years later that Jeremy had been abused. He was poor, living in a loveless home, and struggling to get by in life. He loved his bird. But who was I to know? I wanted to be popular. And isn’t that the point in the first place?

People have a capacity to be hateful, for the pure sake of being hateful.

Its a term commonly used but rarely explained. Why do we act as we act? Chalk it up to human nature. Why is there war? Human nature. Why do humans feel greed or lust or envy? Its all human nature.

Often I've succumbed to this scapegoat, but, thinking back, a single event shaped my life like no other before or since. I considered it a simple fact of human nature. Id made the joke but Id forgotten the punch-line. I apologized for lying to him, and told him that I never, in fact, had ever had his bird. At first he looked shocked like hed seen a ghost. Im guessing now that it was disappointment at the situation. Or at me. He lowered his head and closed his eyes. I knew that he didnt want me to see him cry he was proud, just like me. As the tears broke through the corners of his eyes I explained to him how I thought I was making a joke of the whole thing, that I didnt seriously want to cause him harm. It was all a joke! A great, big, heartbreaking joke.

The longer I stood there in the driveway, the more real the situation became. I could see him quivering when he moved, and hear the crack in his voice when he would ask me time and time again if I knew where his bird might be. I couldnt lie to him anymore what would be the point? There was nobody around to see me embarrass him. He could cry, for there was no-one but me to watch him suffer.

I wouldve forgotten all about that day if it hadnt been for what Jeremy told me. I wouldve expected a verbal lashing. I wouldve warranted a punch to the face. I wouldve gladly accepted a beating from my mother. Jeremy could have let me take the easy way out. He couldve let me blame it all on human nature, how everybody makes mistakes. I couldve rationalized it out as a method of revenge, a sort of sick pay-back for years of missing popularity or grief. Jeremy was just like everyone else, and everyone else was heartless. But Jeremy changed my life, with three simple words.

"I forgive you."

I stood there motionless in the driveway as he turned away from me and walked up the stairs to his front door. I couldn't speak. I couldn't talk, or think. The base reality of it all was so vivid in my mind for the first time in my life that I couldn't understand what I'd done. I had purposely manipulated the heart of a human being. He cared just as much as I did. He loved things the same way that I did. He had a mind and a body and a soul. I ripped him apart from the inside. He should've killed me.

But, he wiped the tears from his eyes and forgave me, and to this day I thank him. You never know what someone is feeling until you touch a nerve in them. Sometimes the experience of dealing with human emotion can change ones own emotions or beliefs. The remorse I felt for lying to Jeremy Hamlett was indescribable, and to this day I've vowed never to lie again. It has gotten me in trouble more times than not. I've lost many opportunities because of my inability to openly destroy someone's character. But after each experience I open my eyes and understand that in this world of poverty, crime, and dishonesty, the only thing I can do is keep my soul clear and pray with all my might for a better day.

He forgave me.

It's time to forgive myself.

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keeping my soul clean