When I was a kid, my sisters and I played outside with the neighbor boy nearly every day. I remember those long summer nights like they were yesterday–itchy with mosquitoes and freshly cut grass.
We mostly got along, but like all kids we fought from time to time.
One particular fight I will never forget. We had found a long strand of rope that we used to play tug-of-war with or tie someone to a tree for a mock execution. You know. Normal kid stuff. But for some reason, the neighbor boy didn’t want to share the rope that day.
It may have started as a legitimate game of tug-of-war, but quickly devolved into an “us against him” battle to retrieve the serpentine object. The neighbor boy had wrapped the entire rope around his arm and was hunched over it like it was a football, kneeling on the ground to keep anyone else from getting to it.
He was bigger than us, but we were many. And so we pulled on his arms, we kicked him, we tried to poke him with sticks to get him to let go. To no avail. Our struggle continued for what felt like hours but was likely barely twenty minutes. The neighbor boy refused to give up, and so we did.
The next day, there was a handwritten note on our front door. It was from the neighbor boy. He stated in his note that he was not happy with the way we had treated him the day before. He did not like being pulled on, or kicked or poked with sticks.
I remember the guilt flooding my chest, as I had been the one to introduce the sticks–though in all fairness, I didn’t poke him hard. More of a jab to the ribs that was meant to trigger his reflexes and catch him off guard. But still, I realized it had hurt him.
At the same time, I felt his feelings were unfair. He could have let go of the rope at any time. In fact, if I remembered correctly, he had taken the rope from someone else in the first place. He had set the precedent that this was the game we were going to play, and then he apparently didn’t have the hardiness of spirit to see it through.
For many years, I judged him based on that incident.
But as I have grown into an adult, I have watched many people endure all kinds of pain and punishment, always blaming those around them, somehow not realizing that all they have to do is let go of the rope.
Sometimes I am even surprised to find a rope in my own hands.
(C) 2021 Barbara Gray – no content may be used or reproduced without permission of the author.