The time had finally arrived. I had made it! My dream of six years had at last come true.
First grade! What could be more awesome?
The year wore on without a hitch. Everything was perfect. After all, I was on top of the pile. I was accepted by my peers as one of the “neat kids”.
And why shouldn’t I be? I was top of class. I was the smallest little squiggle on the playground, and I could run the fastest. Little kids were really “in” that year. I had won every marshmallow pie so far for finishing my workbooks first. I was from a good family with a good name—way better name than most students.
Whoopee, life was great!
Today was Valentine’s Day. My teacher, beloved Mrs. G, had us busy making clever heart-shaped cards for each other. I thought mine were the prettiest—much nicer than those of the slow, unattractive girl in the corner.
Carmen was her name. Carmen, the gawky girl with big sunken eyes and drooping shoulders. Carmen, whose last name was the worst in town. Carmen, who was looked down upon by all the other kids in the class. Some called her “ape face”, and once during recess, a sixth-grade boy even spat on her.
But she deserved those things, didn’t she? After all, she wore ugly clothes and shoes with holes. Her face was plain. Her hair was poker straight, not curly like mine. She didn’t even have freckles. Freckles were cool, and they were “in”.
Sure, deep down, I felt sorry for Carmen. But I couldn’t let my classmates see that I felt pity. I had a reputation to maintain.
I watched Carmen from my desk, and my curiosity got the best of me. As inconspicuously as possible, I wandered by to see what she was doing. She was making a heart card. I watched as she painstakingly glued a spiked border around the awkward mass of paper and glue.
“Ridiculous,” I thought. “Green and orange together? Everyone knows you don’t put green and orange together.”
I thought of my beautiful pink, blue, and lavender creations sparkling with silvery glitter and labeled neatly with even lettering. This girl was a poor excuse for humanity. Surely, God must not love her as much as He loved me to put her in a family with no looks or talent.
Carmen looked up at me. Her watery brown eyes were sad and empty. But I could see a slight sparkle there as though she hoped for an expression of approval from me. Something mean and snarly awakened from the little girl monster child deep within me that should never have come alive. Pointing to her green and orange Valentine, I said it coldly and bluntly.
“It’s ugly. So are you.”
The small sparkle in Carmen’s eyes vanished. She winced slightly, and her eyes dulled. I could see that her soul was deeply wounded. I shall never forget her expression. It is as clear to me now as it was then. It was as though I had struck with a knife, yet she absorbed the blow without fear or malice. Those bottomless brown eyes seemed aged and worn as she simply looked at me, and looked at me, and looked at me.
What seemed to be several minutes was actually only moments, but I was affected, and oh, how deeply. Guilt and shame swept over me. At that moment, my wretched sensitive little heart was permanently scarred with tortuous regret. I managed a small giggle for the benefit of my classmates looking on, and stumbled back to my desk.
Why, oh why, did I say it? If only I could call back those words. But they had flown like time from my grasp and could never be recalled. My heart ached and my soul begged for the mercy of forgiveness, but I couldn’t ask for it. The others would know. They would know.
I spent the remainder of the day in soberness. My usual carefree heart was shadowed with guilt, and my moments of laughter were cut short, stabbed with remembrance of my sin.
The following day was a party day. I should have been excited. Mrs. G was handing out our gift boxes filled with candy and cookies and heart cards from our friends. My name was called, and I received my box bursting with gifts from my many friends. Without much interest, I glanced over each card and set it aside.
Then I saw it on the bottom of the pile—the green and orange heart!
My heartbeat accelerated, and my hands trembled. A tremendous lump formed in my throat. I opened the card and read.
Yew are smart. yew are nise. i lik yew
I cried. Oh, how I suffered. I cried and cried. I had to leave the classroom. I cried some more. Mrs. G wanted to help, but I couldn’t explain. The eyes of the class were upon me. They might find out I was soft. I discovered the weight of the world at six years old.
I carried the burden of that green and orange heart for fifteen years. Then one day, at the age of twenty-one, I apologized. It was easy to ask forgiveness from Carmen. She and I had been friends for years, and we could almost laugh over it now. I wish I had apologized sooner. How important it is to overcome one’s foolish pride.
We are all God’s children. He is no respecter of persons. We are all striving to become all that we can be, but each one of us is traveling at our own pace. How futile it is to compare ourselves to one another. How silly we must sometimes appear to our Great Creator as we clamber over each other, scrambling up that ridiculous pedestal of pride that we go to such great lengths to construct for ourselves.
That seemingly desirable ascension is nothing more than ghost froth, the foolish illusion of personal accomplishment, as we trample upon the ruins of our neighbor’s character. How we deceive ourselves by thinking that to rise above another is our well-deserved premium real estate, when it is nothing more than a false and fated height of pride and prejudice, reached by looking down our noses at those we presume to be less wise and wonderful than ourselves.
If ever you are tempted to blurt out mean and hurtful words to snub someone—anyone—the one with the unpopular name; the kid with dark skin and funny hair; the one with the fat nose and short legs; the dumb boy who never gets anything right; the chubby girl whose legs talk to each other as she walks; the one we think is too young to understand; the one who lisps so badly; the one who smells so poorly; the one whose dad had a fight with mine; the one who wears such weird clothes; the one who talks too much; the one who never speaks; the one who always gets in trouble; the one who is always well-behaved; the one who can’t bat the ball past the pitcher; the one who can’t carry a tune in a dumpster, let alone a bucket…
How terrible regret is. How thankful I am for repentance. If ever you are tempted to think that maybe mean and ugly words hidden under the guise of sarcasm won’t bother the other kid or hurt yourself, come and find me. I will personally describe to you the tremendously deep feelings of a six-year-old little squiggle who learned a most valuable lesson from a Christ-like friend and a green and orange heart.