I was six years old, and our family was living in a low-cost housing development in central California—a group of duplexes arranged in a circle around a grassy area where the kids played. I remember that our neighbors included a gang of older boys (they would have been between seven and ten years old). They looked mean and scary. I avoided them.
One afternoon I noticed this group of boys huddled in the common yard. They were looking down at something, laughing and pushing. I feared they might be tormenting some animal, so I cautiously approached. One of the boys moved and I discovered that the object there in the middle was my little brother Tommy, who was lying on the ground and crying. My fear instantly changed to fury, and I grabbed a board that just happened to be nearby and charged the group, yelling and swinging my weapon.
The boys reacted almost as quickly as I had and fled the scene. I think I hit some of them before they got away, but the battle field cleared in a remarkably short time. I helped Tommy to his feet and burst into tears myself. Then we both ran for the safety of our house. I don’t even remember my mother’s reaction.
I haven’t thought about this for years, but the memory is definitely vivid. I learned a few things that day. I learned that even though I was small, skinny and female, I had what it takes to confront obstacles larger and stronger and more numerous than me. I also learned that violence works.
Obviously this requires deeper reflection. Thanks to the grace of God, I did not develop the violent side of my nature as I grew up. I am an active peacemaker today by choice. But I still need to confront the seeds of violence that are part of my nature. (That’s probably why the memory is so vivid.) They spring up every once in a while, for example, in the presence of injustice. Unfortunately, this is usually some violation of my own rights, rather than a reaction to the plight of the poor or oppressed. I feel concern for the latter, but rarely fury. I’ve learned to control the outward manifestations of my inner violence, but I have to admit its presence.
I have lots of questions: Did I do the right thing in rescuing Tommy in that way? (Something in me likes this memory.) Are there more sophisticated, “adult” ways that I still attack problems by swinging a big stick?
Dear Lord, give understanding. Have mercy. Show me the paths of peace.