I have never been very secure in my own writing. I always question if it is worthy of being read or even for the space the words occupy. Part of this insecurity may come from my own introverted nature, my desire to hold back and watch rather than to boldly assert myself as so many around me often do. Sometimes, proof reading is my greatest weakness, even though I know it is of critical importance. When someone reads something I have written and finds an error I missed it is like a knife in the heart, even though I want to know, because I want it to be correct, I hate someone else finding it and then feeling foolish for having missed the error.
I learned as a child that my father did not appreciate my interrupting adult conversations. I was expected to remain quiet while he and other adults discussed whatever the topic was and if I had a thought, well, it was not important enough for them to listen to or consider.
Throughout my childhood, I was always a bit different and frequently picked on, and sometimes the target of ridicule. I was always smaller than my contemporaries, which made me an easy target for bullies, and I found that it was far easier on my psyche to hold back and remain unobserved, rather than to risk the torment that might ensue if I stepped out of the shadows. I would prefer to hold back, to work an issue out in my mind, trying to make sure that I am right, instead of exposing an error in thinking and subject myself to ridicule. Even today, I still seek the security of being right over the risk of error and possible ridicule. I use that word too much, ridicule; I could check a thesaurus and find another word that works, but ridicule has been one of my few constant companions in life.
I do not have a memory of playing with other kids when I was very young but I do recall I spent a lot of time playing alone. Kindergarten was my first real exposure to groups of other kids, but unfortunately that experience ended after only six weeks when my parents decided to move and I was re-enrolled somewhere else. Recently, I asked my mother to explain why I did not finish kindergarten, since I attended first grade at the same school. She told me that she and my dad went through a difficult time and she left for a while. That explains my memory of a Greyhound bus trip with my mother and sister when I was about that age. My only memory of first grade was being punched in the nose on the playground when I did not return a ball to another kid and I threw it instead.
During childhood, I made few friends and resisted most social settings, I was just more comfortable alone. Of course, I have to acknowledge that the fact my parents seemed to move every few years added to my isolation. I suspect these early experiences are among the reasons why I found it difficult to develop deep relationships, and even today, after six decades I only have a handful of people who I view as friends. I have many acquaintances, co-workers who I got along with, and others with whom I am familiar, but only a very few friends. One of the side effects of this isolation is that I never developed the ability to engage in small talk about idle things that help people begin those first steps toward friendship. I can talk for hours with my friends, but I find a few minutes of idle chit-chat with someone I don’t know to be absolute torture.
I was raised in Chicago by southern parents, and which means I spoke a bit slower and with the unique accent of the deep south. Kids in Chicago frequently called me a hillbilly, not that I really knew what the word meant, but I came to understand that it was not used in a kind way to describe people of the south. Funny thing is, when my parents moved me back to Tennessee, when I started the sixth grade, my classmates enjoyed calling me Yankee and telling me to “go home”. It seems I was not destined to fit in anywhere, but in some ways that isolation prepared me to stand alone, and stay focused on my perception of right and wrong and to resist the temptations of peer pressure, because in the end I developed the attitude that I did not care what other people think–so long as I never voluntarily exposed a weakness, or error.
During my freshman year in high school, I was only 4 foot 7 inches and 97 pounds and I was about the smallest kid in that Middle Tennessee high school. Because I was so small, several seniors made it a habit to shove me into lockers, my ability to survive was the highlight of my experience at that school. As a student, I was as average as average could be. You could take the class standings, list everyone in one column and then fold the list in half and I would be in the crease. I remember my high school counselor telling me not to worry because I would not be going to college. Well, at least I had that reassurance.
After high school, and two enlistments in the US Army, I joined a Southern California police department and twenty-three years later retired as the second-in-command. When I was a street cop and detective I was very active, focusing much of my activities on drug and gang crimes, but I was pretty good with burglaries too. I always kept a close eye on my statistics and tried to make sure I was above average in work productivity, which is another way to say I made a lot of arrest and wrote a lot of tickets.
Because of my experience as a drug and gang investigator, I enlisted the help of a number of community leaders to open a Boys & Girls Club in my community. It was a great experience and it was very rewarding to see kids at the club instead of roaming the streets. In our first year open, we took a group of kids to the circus when it came to town. As we arrived back at the Club to reunite children with their parents, I saw a young female gang member who I had arrested a few times. When she saw me she began looking for which was to run, but then she stood still. I walked over to talk to her as her 10 year-old son ran off the bus to join her. I asked why she was at the Club and she told me she wanted a better life for her son than she had. I don’t recall every seeing her again after that, but her son continued to be a frequent member of the club.
Unfortunately, I promoted to the ranks of police administration, which had little to do with actual police work and more with policy and budgets and employee discipline. I excelled at employee discipline, or at least following the rules and insuring my subordinates did too. Needless to say, I was not very popular and the job simply was not fun anymore and was more of a burden. So, I retired early.
After I retired, several people in the community stop me and ask if I remembered them. Some I did, others I did not, but each one wanted to thank me for having arrested them many years ago. Each wanted to tell me about how their experience with me had changed their lives and how their lives were better today because they were arrested and made different choices after that. One told me about being clean and off drugs, that he had a job and his kids back in his life. Another chased me down in a parking lot to tell me he got his life together and owned a plumbing business. And there were others who just wanted me to know they had their lives together.
As I reflect on my journey to this place I wonder, if my childhood had been different, would I have taken a different career path? If I had not grown up being bullied, would I have been as motivated to protect the innocent? And, if I had taken a different path, what would have happened to these people who told me I helped change their lives? Perhaps the bullying and ridicule I endured, the self-imposed isolation to protect myself, had prepared me for the life I needed to live.
Perhaps those experiences were the tools that God used to shape me, to do the work He wanted me to do.
Some day I’ll ask Him, but I’d like to think so.
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