The little boy who sits next to my first grader daughter has been bugging her. “He calls me a baby,” she said. “He says I’m just a little cry-baby. In the lunch line, every day.”
“People who make fun of other people are usually insecure themselves,” I said. A little too intensely, and it came off as cheap psychology, but I meant it. “We should probably feel sorry for him because he doesn’t know how to be kind.”
She nodded a little. Then a few days later she said “That boy is calling me baby again.”
“He’s probably insecure,” I said.
“No, he’s not,” she answered. “I know because I asked him if he was, and he said no.”
I laughed. But she wasn’t supposed to ask him. She was supposed to… I don’t know what. Take my advice and see the kid more clearly, understand where he’s coming from, so that she wouldn’t be bugged by him anymore. She’s only six, and that’s a tall order for six.
Tall order for thirty-three as well. I recently came into contact with someone who bugged me, one of those mean girls from junior high. “Bugged” is too mild. “Tortured” is perhaps too strong, but it’s somewhere in the middle there. I can’t think of her without thinking of the day I glanced at her and her friend as they were calling to me. They had their faced pressed up against the glass of the school’s front windows, distorted and scorning, a follow-up to the constant trash talk of P.E. class. That sounds so mild, writing it out like that. I should have let it roll off my back. People in junior high have suffered much worse. And you know, I was the classic nerd, Hermione Granger on steroids, so I suppose it was to be expected. That’s the day I remember most, but there were others. They all rolled together after a while.
One of my deepest fears for my children is that they will turn into me. I am scared that they will be teased, scared they will be hurt. And of course they will; no one gets through life without a little of that. But what I fear more is that they will respond to the inevitable pain in the way I did: after so much hurt, I expected the worst from people. I developed a giant chip on my shoulder, and for years I did not trust that anyone could know me, really know me, and also like me.
For me, the most useful definition of the word charity is not “the pure love of Christ,” though I know it is that. What helps me to understand charity the most is thinking of charity as perfect clear-sightedness. By this I mean that when I have charity, I see others, and myself, with the same vision that God has. When God looked at me and the curt, standoffish manners I had in high school, He saw me walking home from junior high trying to hold in the tears until I made it to my bedroom. He saw me building walls so that no one could be let in enough to hurt me. He knew where I was coming from. And when God looks at those girls, what did He see? What was going on in their lives, that they would feel like they needed to be mean girls? I don’t know.
But I know this: When we have charity, we no longer see through a glass darkly, but face to face. The clear-sightedness of charity, that ability to really see everyone as God sees them, is a promise that begins in this life and continues for eternity. I find my vision clouding, but I cling to the promise of clear-sightedness found in the scriptures, and to the clarity I find in the temple. And I pray, with all the energy of my heart, for the gift of clear-sighted charity. For me, and for my tender children, who have not yet been wounded. Not yet.