298. An Apology to Stewart

When I was five or six years old, there was a boy named Stewart whose life didn’t seem to be having a good start. I don’t remember much about him; in fact, I only remember one incident. But if that incident was typical for him, he couldn’t have been having much fun. I hope it wasn’t typical.
There were about six of us playing near Stewart’s house. Stewart came outside, and whoever was our leader (probably one of the oldest among us) said we should throw rocks at Stewart, and we started throwing them. We kept throwing them until Stewart’s mother came out, and then we all ran away. I don’t know whether I actually threw any rocks, or whether, if so, I aimed at Stewart. I don’t know whether any of us did, or whether any of us actually hit Stewart. Maybe Stewart’s family subsequently moved to a community that didn’t have rough kids like us. But that’s not my point.
I feel like mentioning Andy or Arnold. But I only remember their names, the fact that they lived nearby, and a few other unrelated details; they may have had nothing to do with the incident. I’m sure that if I mentioned the incident at all when I got home, I told what the other kids had done, and said little about my own role. I don’t remember much about that neighborhood where we lived for two years, but I do remember that incident.
I wonder how many of the children were feeling what I was feeling: intense guilt. I was feeling like a really bad boy. I was doing something I did not think
anyone should ever do, and I didn’t feel as if there was any way to stop doing it. If I had suggested that we stop, maybe others would have rallied around me in support, but maybe they would have started aiming at me, too.
Now I’m forty-seven, and I still remember. As a teacher, I often run into kids like Stewart, Bobby (myself), and whoever was the leader. I can’t blame any of them for being who they are, because I was who I was, and I forgive myself. When I see kids starting to gang up on anyone, my first approach is to stop it from happening, but as soon as possible, I try to address an individual in the group. I’m tempted to focus on the child who seems to be the leader, but I try to avoid using that child as a scapegoat. When a group becomes a gang, each member is responsible.
I’m sorry, Stewart. I have no idea what has happened to you since that awful event. I hope that you didn’t remain a victim – that the new place you moved to had kids who became your friends. And I hope you didn’t become a rock- thrower. I know that sometimes happens to victims. But I take responsibility for the role I had, and I’m really sorry.

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