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Monday, July 13, 2015

Hands Off!

I was catching up on a social media site this afternoon and came across an interesting post. Alvin was talking about something that had happened in his workplace. In short, he was telling one of his colleagues that they needed to apologize to another of his colleagues. Colleague B had gone to Colleague A's desk and helped themselves to Colleagues A's chips. Not only did B take the chips without A's permission; they believed that A should just get over it. Alvin was of the opinion that an apology was necessary because even though it was only a few chips, they were taken, not asked for, and food is important to A. 

This all sounds so very ineloquent compared to the lovely way that Alvin stated it, but I hope that you get the general idea. There were, of course, comments that came in on both sides of the issue. I added my thoughts that people sometimes take both joy and comfort from food and that A may have felt violated when her belongings were taken. After thinking about it for only a few moments, I was back in seventh grade.

Even as a kid, I was always very good at sharing. It came quite naturally to me, perhaps because of starting in an environment where we had little but shared it with one another. Whenever I had some extra money, it was always much easier to spend it on others than on myself. I remember being in the local department store and finding a dollar bill on the floor. A whole dollar! Enough, in those days, to buy at least five candy bars! I took it to the cashier and said that I had found it on the floor. I was told that nobody had said they lost any money, so it was mine to keep. What would I spend it on? Maybe Liz would want something, like radio batteries. Or something for Gram, perhaps? I don't remember what I ended up buying, but that was my typical thought process.

So, back to the seventh grade. I remember that I had a cold that left me with a cough and sore throat. Gram used to buy two different types of cough drops. One was absolutely dreadful and smelled like old, rotten bacon. It made me ill just to open the package. The other was essentially cherry-flavored candy, but it kept the throat moist and helped with the soreness and cough. When I found the courage to tell Gram that the stinky lozenges made me sick to my stomach, she immediately quit making me use them, thank goodness.

Now, you need to consider what school was like in these days. We girls had just been given the right to wear pants to school instead of skirts and dresses. Not jeans, but trousers. And we were not supposed to eat candy or drink things or chew gum. But we were allowed to use things like cough drops. From what I understand, nowadays these things need to be dispensed by a school nurse or some other Officially Designated Person of Responsibility and Power. 

So Gram had sent me off to school with some cough drops to get me through the day. I had them in my cute little purse which probably held nothing else but a pen and some tissues. While I was in one of my classes, which had a very loose format, I went to speak with one of my friends. When I got back to my desk, it was obvious that my purse had been moved. I was both worried and angry. I opened it up and found that several of my cough lozenges were gone. Now I was really mad.

There was no doubt in my mind who had taken my belongings. There were about four or five of them. The tough girls. These were the girls who had the reputation of beating up other girls, or even boys, for any number of reasons. And I was definitely not tough. I had grown up in an abusive background, which turned me into someone who was afraid of being beaten. I had experienced it more than enough times. But I was furious that my property was taken and my private things violated. And I needed those cough drops, darn it!

Without taking even a second to think things over, I stormed over to where the other girls were sitting. I looked straight at them and asked if they had gotten into my purse and taken my cough drops. They smirked and looked straight back at me and said that yes, they had. Their attitude was full of, "Yeah, so what?" Knowing that any one of them could easily beat me up after school, I came right back with my own dose of attitude. I told them that those were mine and they were never to touch any of my things EVER AGAIN. If they had asked, I told them, I would have shared what I had. So if they wanted anything of mine in the future, they could ask, but they shouldn't even think of touching any of my stuff again. There was no name calling, no crying, and no threats to tell the teacher or principal. Just me saying, "Hands off!"

The girls viewed me differently after I read them the riot act. I was the only person who had ever spoken to them that way. They knew, and I knew, that any one of them could have beaten me senseless, much less the whole group of them at once. They said okay, they wouldn't take any of my stuff ever again. And they didn't. And they didn't beat me up, either.

But here's the really amazing part. They made it clear to me and anyone else that they would always protect me. By standing up to them, I had earned their respect. Throughout the rest of my school years, they were always around and they always had a smile and a happy greeting for me. And though I was never the type to be in a fight, if someone had tried to start anything with me, they would have definitely finished it. All because this skinny, wimpy girl had the courage to tell them to keep their hands off her things.

So I feel gratitude to Alvin for defending his colleague and encouraging someone to do the right thing. And I thank him for helping me remember a time when I learned that even the weak can be brave.