Sunday, April 24, 2011

My Peter Pan Moment

Not the pain of this but the unfairness was what dazed Peter. It made him quite helpless. He could only stare, horrified. Every child is affected thus the first time he is treated unfairly. All he thinks he has a right to when he comes to you to be yours is fairness. After you have been unfair to him he will love you again, but he will never afterwards be quite the same boy. No one ever gets over the first unfairness; no one except Peter. He often met it, but he always forgot it. I suppose that was the real difference between him and all the rest.
-- J. M. Barrie

The above, of course, is a basic definition of a Peter Pan moment: the moment when a child realizes that fairness is not automatic, and that people sometimes behave unfairly to one another for no good reason.

I think i knew, on an intellectual level, that life is not fair. I'd been told that it wasn't, i'd seen small examples of it, but somehow, it never really sank in. Somehow, i really believed that if i behaved fairly and played by the rules, everyone else would eventually come around and behave as they ought.

When i was fourteen, my boyfriend and i were babysitting during a board meeting at the church. The kids were my siblings and the pastor's young daughter, Kelly*. Joe* and i were sitting with Kelly, playing some game. I don't remember what. Kelly did that thing that little kids do, where they pretend to hit you and you pretend that it hurts, and everyone laughs. Kelly hit me, and i flopped over on my back, tongue protruding, gasping, "I'm dead! You killed me!" Kelly was sitting next to my sprawling legs, and Joe was leaning over us, a good 12-18 inches away from me.

Just then, the pastor's wife Mary* came through. Seeing me on the floor with my tongue out, Joe leaning over me, and her daughter laughing, she automatically assumed that we were making out (or worse. I never found out and never want to know what exactly she thought was happening.)

"Guys, do you really think that's appropriate in front of the kids?" she snapped, as she flitted through the room.

I was confused. I honestly did not know what she thought was happening. Sitting up on my elbows (which brought me about 10 inches away from Joe, who had leaned back as i sat up), i looked at him, befuddled. "What was she talking about?" He shrugged.

Mary came back through the room then, and snapped (even more ferociously), "Guys, seriously! You're supposed to be watching the kids!"

That night, my mom asked me what had happened. Apparently, Mary had told her that Joe and i were behaving inappropriately. I explained what happened, and Mom explained why it had looked bad.

"Mom, we really weren't doing anything," I said, shocked and hurt.

"I believe you. But Mary was upset. I think you should call her tomorrow and apologize."

"I didn't do anything. What do I have to apologize for?"

"Well, sometimes you have to apologize for other people feeling uncomfortable, even if you didn't actually do anything wrong," she explained.

It was too late to call that night, so we decided to call her in the morning. I went to bed, still upset, but hopeful for the morning. I was certain that when i called Mary and explained what had happened and apologized for upsetting her, she would understand that she was in the wrong and would apologize to me, and everything would be all right. I still believed that if you just played by the rules for long enough, everyone else would eventually fall into line. I also believed that if you apologized when it wasn't your fault, the other person would be shamed into realizing their own guilt and would immediately apologize.

The next morning, i went to my mom's room and called Mary. My mom, knowing more about the world and Mary than i did, stayed there to support me. When Mary picked up the phone, i said that i was calling to apologize for and explain the events of the previous night. I told her what had happened, explained that it had been perfectly innocent, and apologized for making her uncomfortable.

Mary said, "Oh, honey, it's okay. You know I love you, and I like Joe, and I'm happy that you two are dating. And I trust you, and don't think there's anything inappropriate about your relationship. I just think that some things are inappropriate in front of kids."

We talked for a few more minutes, and it became increasingly obvious to me that Mary not only still thought that something inappropriate had been going on, but also thought that i was apologizing for my actions, and not for her perception of what happened. (I was apologizing for her misunderstanding. Even as a naive fourteen-year-old, i wasn't about to apologize for something that genuinely never happened, especially since i wasn't entirely sure what she thought had happened.)

When i finally hung up the phone, i burst into tears. My mom held me close as i tearfully related the conversation. She said that she'd thought the conversation would probably go pretty much that way, and was sorry that i'd had to go through that.

In that moment, i learned that people, even adults, don't always play fair. I learned that just because you're playing fair doesn't mean that anyone else will. And i learned that you still have to play fair anyway.

See, your behavior will quite often have absolutely no effect on other people. People tend to do what they're going to do, and will gladly ignore any attempt on your part to stick to the rules if you're not going along with what they want to do.

Sometimes, all you can do is your best. All you can do is make sure that your behavior, at least, is above reproach.

That way, when you go to court, it will be clear that the other person is in the wrong.

"The most important thing to remember when it comes to forgiving is that forgiveness doesn’t make the other person right, it makes you free." -- Stormie Omartian 

*names changed

No comments:

Post a Comment