Belle of Liberty

Letting Freedom Ring

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Boys of Peace

“Then came they, and laid hands on Jesus, and took him.
And behold, one of them which were with Jesus stretched out his hand, and drew his sword, and stroke a servant of the high priest’s, and smote off his ear.
Then said Jesus unto him, ‘Put up again thy sword into its place: for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword.’” Mathew 26:50-52

During my birthday party on Thursday my brothers and I were reminiscing with our mother about our childhood growing up in Bloomingdale. We lived in an odd sort of neighborhood; the houses were modest but well-kept, with well-tended lawns. Not the sort of place where you would expect to hear fathers beating their children at night, nor where neighborhood children had to live in fear of bullies and neighborhood gangs.

My father was too well-educated to beat us, or even verbally abuse us. For all that he had an Irish temper, he never laid a hand on us and neither did our mother. Consequently, my brothers were not the types to beat up on other, smaller children, though Big Brother very often took out his boyish aggression on Little Brother, at least until Little Brother grew up four inches taller than he was.

Big Brother was a negotiator, not a fighter. He was the consummate business-boy, and with his best friend, built up an afternoon newspaper empire, covering our entire development and even a portion of the Flats. He had a good reputation for delivering his papers on time and being honest in his dealings.

Their gentleness made them targets in our neighborhood. Little Brother was sent for karate lessons to learn how to defend himself. Big Brother got his lessons not from Dad, but from Mom.

Big Brother came home one day from his paper route with torn clothes, a black eye, and even teeth marks. When Mom asked him what happened, replied dolefully that a neighborhood rough neck beat him. Big Brother had been taught that it was wrong to fight. The next day, he came home in the same condition, and the day after that.

Mom said that it was time for him to fight back. “You say he waits behind the house and then comes up from behind to attack you? Then you’re going to listen for him. As soon as you hear him coming – and you’ll hear him – you drop that papersack and you rush him. He won’t be expecting it. You knock him down to the ground, and sit on him and you start pounding him with your fists, get him by the hair and pound his head into the ground, you scratch his face. Whatever you do, don’t let him up until he stops moving!”

At the party, Mom said she couldn’t believe what was coming out of her mouth. What kind of thing was this for a mother to be saying?! But Mom came from the Bronx, one of the toughest neighborhoods on earth. She and Dad thought they’d moved away from the violence – but here it was, amidst the green, rolling hills of suburbia. It was beat or be beaten.

“But Mom!” Big Brother argued. “He’s bigger than I am!”

“Not on the ground, he isn’t!” she replied.

What Mom didn’t realize was that I waited for my brother on the corner where it would happen. Seeing me, he told me to go home. But I knew my brother better than our mother did; he wouldn’t fight on his own. He’d let himself be beaten up rather than break that principle of non-violence. As certain as the sun rose, the bully came up behind him.

“He’s coming,” I said.

“I know.”

“What?” the bully, still a distance off, laughed, “Did you bring little sister along to protect you?”

Big B stood there for a moment with his head hanging. The bully started running towards him.

“Remember what Mom said!” I cried. “Drop the bag and rush him!!” He threw it off. The bully stopped and my brother turned, his fists balled. Then he did it. Before the bully could make another move, he rushed him, forcing him to the ground. Big Brother sat on him, pounding him and scratching him, with Little Sister cheering him on.

The bully finally gave in. By now, a crowd had gathered. Seeing that my brother was all right, I sped home to tell our mother, with the crowd of kids behind me. I gave her a blow-by-blow description.

“So it’s finally over,” my mother said. “And why did the rest of you just stand by? Why didn’t you stop it?”

“You don’t understand, Mrs. R.!” they cried. “This kid beat all of us up. [Your son] was the only one brave enough to stand up to him!”

My brother, the hero. Only he wasn’t proud of the victory. My mother warned him that this wasn’t the end; that the bully wouldn’t stand for being bested. He’d want revenge – and he did. It took some more fights and some phone calls between the mothers before it was settled.

The bully’s mother called my mother.

“Your son scratched my son!”

“Well, your son bit mine!!!” my mother retorted. “Now listen. This can go on and on, until we’re both over at the hospital picking up what’s left of our sons. Or we can end it now! If you tell yours to stop, I’ll tell mine to stop and if I tell mine to stop, he will. But if yours doesn’t stop, I’ll tell mine to keep defending himself.”

According to Mom, the other woman agreed, and after that, there were no more beatings, at least not by this kid. There were even tougher gangs waiting for both my brothers. However, they at least knew how to stand up for themselves.

Big Brother still doesn’t like to talk about it. He’s not proud of the victory at all. He would rather have been left in peace. Eventually, he became friends with this other kid.

Both my brothers have more honor in having the ability to defend themselves, yet not boasting of that ability or using it unnecessarily than any victories they gained in those fights. It must have been something our father said to them that I wasn’t privy to. Something about being a good man, I guess, or being a better man. But it was our rock ‘em, sock ‘em Mom who kept them from being pulverized.

Mom taught us about the Bible and had us memorize us some of the verses.

“What happened to turning the other cheek?” I asked her once.

“Well,” she said, “even Jesus ran out of cheeks to turn!”

The Bible says that both the guards of the Pharisees and the Roman guards slapped Him when He was being interrogated and mocked, his hands bound behind him. But His is the greater power, both for retribution and for forgiveness.

“’Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to my Father, and He shall presently give me more than twelve legions of angels? But then how shall the scriptures be fulfilled? Thus it must be.’”

As he lay dying on the cross, the two thieves between him argued. The first reviled him and mocked, asking why He didn’t save Himself and them, if He was the son of God. But the second remonstrated him.

“’Dost thou not fear Good, seeing thou art in the same condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds. But this man hath done nothing amiss. Lord,’ he said, ‘remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom.’

“And Jesus said unto him, ‘Verily I say unto thee, today shalt thou be with me in paradise.’”


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