Not a small man, he tried to take up little space. He did nothing to draw attention to himself. He looked out at the world from frightened eyes. This was not shyness. This was fear. He was encouraged often to participate. He chose not to, saying no in a teeny, tiny, little voice. A voice that was born in the winds of whisper. He smiled as he watched the others participate. He laughed, silently, when silly things happened. He was there without being there. Existing without ever becoming real.
It was during the only part of the day that was discussion, not instruction. We talked about each of the emotions. Glad. Almost every one there put their hand up and named things that made them happy. He nodded in agreement. His shoulders had relaxed and, though he didn't participate, he was, in his way, there. I knew nothing of the individual members of the group. All I knew was that they had signed up to take a boundaries class. They were all in their late teens or early twenties. They were all, with a noticable exception, pretty typical for their age.
The feelings discussion continued. We did Sad. We did Mad. We were on scared. Others were calling out movies that they though frightening. The list of real life terrors were called out and you could tick off the list of common fears, snakes, spiders, thunder, lightening. Then I noticed his lips move. No sound came out. But the lips moved.
I took a chance and drew attention to him. 'I didn't hear what you said.' He looked at me startled. Not realizing I had seen him. Maybe not even realizing that he had spoken. He swallowed. And swallowed again. Then he spoke. In a tiny, little, voice, 'When they tease me, when they bully me, I am very afraid.' The room was still. Something real had just happened. For a moment others were entirely silent. They all slowly nodded. Time once again caught traction with the earth and moved on.
The others teaching with me and I all caught each others eyes. If the students could have heard, they would have heard the sound of our hearts breaking.
I feel so powerless at these moments.
I feel so inadequate in the face of the enormity of human cruelty.
We all agreed that teasing and bullying hurt. We all agreed that it was wrong for people to hurl words at someone because of difference. He seemed to appreciate being affirmed. In fact he came up and did one of the role plays. Just one. But one.
I do not have a hopeful end to this story. Even so, I wanted to tell you. I wanted you all to know what happened and what he said. It did something to the inside of me. Something that I hope will lead to change.
And right now I'd say, any change is good.