I learned long ago that making decision’s impulsively can often lead to a lifetime of shame and regret.
Growing up there was a boy in my neighborhood named Billy. If you are familiar with To Kill a Mockingbird, he was our Boo Radley.
There were about 10 boys in my neighborhood and Billy was a mystery to us. He wasn’t much older than us, but he never spoke, we never interacted with him. Billy only did one thing – he rode his bicycle.
He lived at the end of our street and he would ride past our houses and off into the town. Everyday, you could see him in any corner of our small town – just riding his bike.
He always had the same expression on his face, a look of Zen, Peace, Joy. Otherwise, always going at the same speed, never looking at anything around him, just staying in his zone.
In the evening during the summer we would play a game called ditch, which is basically hide and seek in the dark, outside. Billy, in the evenings, was not allowed to leave the neighborhood so he would ride his bike up and down our street. I can still see it in my mind. Every third or fourth house had a street lamp, so Billy would be invisible in the dark then reappear under the lamp – over and over to the end of the street, then turn around and come back.
One particular night, we were all standing around the front steps of my neighbors house getting ready to start our next game of ditch and one of the older kids disappeared from the group then reappeared a few minutes later with a bucket. He put this bucket down in the middle of this circle of boys and said: “Pee in the bucket.”
Every single one of us, without hesitation or asking “why?,” peed in the bucket. On command. Then resumed our discussion and preparation for the next game. While we were doing that, Billy had past us on the street, had turned around at the end and was coming back in our direction. Just then, this old boy picked up the bucket – I remember standing and watching this – like watching a collision in slow motion. As Billy approached, he slowing walked toward the curb and Billy approached us, disappear and reappearing until he broke the veil of light in front of us.
In that instant, he brought the bucket back and threw the contents at Billy. The urine of 10 boys splashed on the side of his face, down his shirt and onto the ground. All of us boys erupted in laughter. Billy didn’t make a sound. He just kept riding his bike.
Later that night, after taking my bath and being put to bed, I was suddenly struck by a thunderbolt of sadness, shame and regret. I couldn’t stop thinking about Billy.I pictured him going into his home, soaked in urine and facing his mom. As an adult, I think more and more about his mom, how she must have felt and how it hurt her. Having a son with challenges, already concerned about how the world will treat her son, who was just given evidence how the world might treat him.
When I think about that it breaks my heart.
A few years ago, I was visiting my mom and took a walk through my old neighborhood. As a wandered around I look down the street and there is Billy. He looks the same, as if I was 8 years old again, watching him ride his bike up that same street. As I stood there, I began to wonder if he thinks about that night like I think about it. If he still has that hurt like I hold the shame and regret. I thought about talking to him, asking for his forgiveness. Then I decided, “NO!,” I don;t want to absolved of this feeling. I want to use this feeling when I am interacting with my students, my children, my wife or anyone else in any other situation.
I want to remember the feeling of shame that has haunted me for almost 40 years. The regret I feel for making a bad decision, impulsively, in the moment.
So, there are two take away’s from this experience. One, respond, don’t react. Think, take a breath, count to three, consider the legacy of your words and actions. Being impulsive can lead to a lifetime of shame and regret.
Two, if someone asks you to pee in a bucket…. ask why?