I was in high school. Junior year? Probably earlier.
We had tornado drills. The same bell as the tardy bell or the ones to signal class changes, just rapid fire, repetitive. In the part of the world I live in, tornadoes are just something you deal with, more so in March and April, but throughout the year.
When the warning went off, we’d line up, leave the class room and follow the teacher out into the hall where everyone would line up against the lockers, push their knees up and drop their faces against their legs. Legs up, heads down. And wait. Between kindergarten and the final graduation in 12th grade, I’m sure I endured a few hundred of these drills. They weren’t bad, just scary for anyone who’d ever actually survived being in a building that was hit by a tornado (we had a few in my class who became hysterical each and every time, because they did, in fact, survive a terrible tornado that hit their church, like they ended up under pews in the rubble of what was left of the building, but this is another story, maybe).
The exact year eludes me. Is that the right word? Elude? I don’t know what year it was, is what I mean, but that’s not that important anyway.
I was sitting on the tile floor, hugging my legs, glad to be missing out on class, not feeling overly threatened by the weather at all. The kids were quiet, whispering, complaining that the floor was dirty or struggling not to nod off, the usual quiet clamor.
The classroom across from me opened up and out came a small cluster of students from a special needs class. They found seats with their teachers across from me. As always, I forced a smile when one of them caught me staring, then I looked away (I wasn’t a social butterfly which shouldn’t shock you because if you’ve met me…).
He was a kid from the trailer park down the road from where I lived. He had the wrong haircut and definitely the wrong shoes. Being a girl who most definitely always had the wrong haircut and the wrong shoes, I knew well enough how to identify these things. He pulled his legs up to his middle and between his hands and his cargo pants, he was hugging a big black book with Holy Bible written in gold uppercase lettering.
He smiled at his teacher, a little bit jittery and uneasy. And he said something along the lines of, I’m not scared, God will protect me.
Kind of off the wall but, I remember that instance so well, it’s remarkable.
I had been in church all my life. The sight of someone holding a bible was nothing if not normal to me. That being said, the sound of someone mentioning God’s name in my presence was so natural, I shouldn’t have thought twice about what the kid said. But I did.
I felt sorry for him. I immediately looked around to see who was laughing at him, because I expected it and for good reason. And then I wondered what was wrong with him–why did he say something that sounded so innocent it should have come from a child’s mouth instead of a teenager. I can say that now because I’ve thought about this so much over the years and I’ve made peace with the reality behind what I thought and how I felt, the confusion and quite frankly, disappointment I felt with myself in hindsight.
This kid sat down in front of me and proudly professed his faith, a faith I suppose I thought I shared. And my question was, what was wrong with him? Almost immediately after the question crossed my mind, I think a better one arose. What’s wrong with *me*?
I don’t think the issue here was that I didn’t agree with what the boy said. I mean, it is and always has been my understanding that just because you believe doesn’t mean you’ll always be kept from harm’s way. I remember going to my grandmother with that question whenever I saw a video about the Holocaust when I was younger. Does bad things happen to good people? Yes. Why? So he had faith that he’d be kept safe even though we’re not always guaranteed to be? Not the issue. What he said wasn’t the problem. My reaction to it was.
The problem was, I was, like maybe most kids are, so concerned with protecting myself from ridicule from my peers, I had actually allowed that fear to push me into living a double life, of sorts. I was too scared to be at school who I was at home and at church on Sundays. Not only that, but I was judging someone else for not being inhibited the way I was. Maybe.
Perhaps I’ve spent way too much time thinking about this whole ordeal, but I have to say something happened inside me that day that caused me to really take a look at myself and rethink what I was doing and how I was doing it, and as trivial as it might sound to other people, I think what happened during that tornado drill that morning actually changed me, for the better, maybe forever.
Random. Winding. Ranty. Rambly. Maybe even weird. But it feels good to put it all on paper after all this time. And it’s nice to remind myself to stay true to myself and how rotten it feels whenever you lose yourself, then what a blessing it is to see in someone else whatever it is you’ve been missing, yourself. 😉