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First-Person: ‘I was a popular kid & I could have been a friend&#8217

STUART, Fla. (BP)–In the weeks after the tragedy in Littleton, Colo., one of the most difficult questions I have pondered is this, “What’s more tragic, that so many were struck down in their prime, or that the few who made it happen had no more to live for than a high school massacre?”
It’s of course a rhetorical question. Both facts are tragic.
But the issue that I feel most compelled to discuss is the condition of those kids who called themselves “The Trench Coat Mafia.” Though we’ve all asked ourselves and each other, “What could possibly drive a kid to do something like that?” I think if we’re really honest with ourselves, we know.
It’s not violent video games or movies, though those do give us a warped sense of what is acceptable. Could it be that we, the comfortable and stable members of society, are at least partly to blame for those who are not?
I went to school with a boy named Mark. Mark was thin and frail. His voice was more like that of a girl than of a boy. Mark’s parents were older and they didn’t dress him in the coolest clothes. Mark was a wimp and a geek, and everybody knew it, including him. Mark was routinely mistreated. He was chased around the playground, teased in the locker room, always the last one picked for kickball.
I am ashamed to say that I took part in that. Mark’s parents probably thought that their son would be safe and accepted at our Christian school. They were wrong.
When we were in the ninth grade, Mark transferred to a public high school. There he found acceptance and value within a group commonly called “The Punks.” I saw Mark from time to time, and I had grown up enough to treat him like a human. Unfortunately, the damage had been done. A bunch of mean-spirited, bratty “Christian” kids had helped Mark to understand that he was worthless and that he had nothing of value to offer.
We all read about Mark in the paper during the spring of our senior year. He had killed a man with a wrench. I suppose he is still in prison.
Was it all my fault that Mark didn’t make the most of his life? No. Was it my fault that he got into a group of kids at school that brought out the worst in him? No. Was it my fault that he beat a man to death with a wrench? No.
Was it my fault that he didn’t feel loved? Yes, it was. I was a popular kid and I could have been a friend to Mark. Instead, I was weak and selfish, more concerned for my own social standing than for a little boy who had no friends. If only I could do it over.
I resolved that day to be a friend to the outcast, to go out of my way to talk to the people in the corners of the room, the people who are different, the people in the trench coats.
There are people all around us who are dying on the inside, dying to be accepted or even just to be noticed. Some are so alone, so without hope, that they resort to senseless violence. Pain like that can’t stay inside forever. It comes out eventually, and when it does, everybody feels the hurt.
We can’t guarantee that our kids will be safe when they go to school, but we can model compassion for our kids and teach them to reach out to others. As we do, God will bring wholeness to those who are hurting, and much pain will be avoided. I wonder how life in Littleton might be different today if those kids in trench coats had felt loved.
Let’s do everything we can to share God’s unconditional, sacrificial love with the hurting people of our community. Who knows how it might change our world?

    About the Author

  • Matt Price