(Ok, I wrote this years ago, but there is still a rift in the Anglican communion....)
Donny Davis & the Episcopal Church/Anglican Communion
Ok, so Donny Davis was mine, though I’m pretty confident in thinking that anyone reading this had one of their own. He was the bully who terrified and oppressed me for almost two years in the fourth and fifth grades at our school in Anawalt, West Virginia. Everyone—or almost everyone (bullies excluded) had a bully who terrorized them for some period of time while growing up.
Donny Davis was lots bigger than me. I’d been a sickly only child and weighed, I remember this, 47 pounds in the third grade. Besides that I couldn’t see and wore these huge, Coke-bottle bottom glasses in plastic frames that always slipped down on my nose so I was constantly pushing them back up. I did this mostly with the middle finger of my right hand since I am hopelessly and profoundly right handed. One of the things Donny Davis would do is smack me when I pushed my glasses up in his presence.
“Don’t give me the finger you little needle dick-ed bug fucker,” he would say when he smacked me on my ear, causing my head to ring for several minutes. I didn’t know what ‘the finger’ was or how I was ‘giving’ it to him when I was just trying to see. And, though I could reason it out, being ‘a needle dick-ed bug fucker’ wasn’t part of my normal vocabulary or self-image.
Finally, Arnold Butler told me about ‘the finger’ and showed me how to push my glasses up with my index finger. And since we didn’t have gym in fourth grade and take showers together, Arnold couldn’t tell me if I was, in point of fact, ‘a needle dick-ed bug fucker’; however, he told me it most likely wasn’t true.
Don’t you dare tell me that children aren’t the most cruel of all human beings. For almost two years of my life, I lived in mortal fear of Donny Davis—his slaps, his pushes, his robbery (I actually gave him my ‘lunch money’ most days), his insults and his cruelty.
Bullies are the worst part of human interaction. Bullies defile and diminish and degrade those smaller, weaker or, most often of all, just too scared to stand up to them. Donny delighted in pushing me down in the hallways of our school when Anna Marie Osborn, who I loved with the passion only a 10 year old can possibly contain or control, was around. He demeaned me, I later grew to understand, because I was smarter and kinder and ‘dreamier’ than he could ever be. There was that, and the fact that I was afraid of him and what I imagined he could do to hurt me, humiliate me, harm me in some unknown way.
It all ended like this: one day in fifth grade, when Mrs. Short, the teacher went out of the room, Donny came over and took my Geography test from me and tore it into shreds. I’d made a 100 on my test and he made 46 or something like that. In that startling moment, I realized the reason he bullied me so unmercifully was that he, in his own way, ‘feared’—little, scrawny, half-blind me! I don’t know why I realized that in that moment and no other—I’d call it the Holy Spirit today—but then, in that moment and no other, I had an epiphany. “Donny is afraid of me,” is what the epiphany relayed to me.
I stood up and picked up the pieces of my geography test off the floor. (I’m still fascinated by geography, by the way, and can’t get enough of maps or National Geographic.) I picked up all those pieces and put them in my notebook, knowing I would carefully scotch tape them back together into one sheet of paper later that night. And then I said to him—not knowing where it was coming from or how I was saying it—“I’ll be waiting for you down by the underpass after school.”
Everyone in the class heard me say it and their collective gasp sucked most of the oxygen out of the room. And just then, Mrs. Short returned and told Donny to go back to his seat. And in his eyes before he did that, I saw a flicker of something I never expected or dreamed of from Donny—I saw ‘fear’.
Arnold Butler and Kyle Parks and Billy Bridgeman tried to talk me out of the showdown at the underpass with Donny. I’m sure they thought he would maim me if not kill me. And I half-listened to their advice, but in the end all I could remember is the flicker of ‘fear’ I’d seen in his eyes.
The ‘underpass’ went below the Norfolk and Western Train tracks where the nearly eternal coal cars carried the black gold most of our fathers mined each day away to Pittsburgh to make the steel that built most of the buildings all of us on the East Coast have come to take for granted. There were 123 steps down from the school to the underpass and a little stream ran out of the hill beside the walkway under the underpass. On the other side of the underpass was the place where school buses stopped to take us all home. And that was my Armageddon, that was where I would meet the enemy, that was where I would either die or begin to live.
It was February, I remember that, and cold as only the mountains can be cold. But I ran down the steps and took off my coat and shirt, revealing my chicken-skin-white chest devoid of muscles. And, after handing my glasses to Arnold Butler, I stepped into the stream and picked up two rocks that fit in my hands. Freezing and wet, I awaited Donny Davis in that grade school Rubicon.
When he came down, I walked up to the sidewalk. I was fully prepared to die rather than continue to endure his abuse. I was willing to crush his skull with those rocks I carried and drown him in the three inches of water in the chill mountain stream.
He was with two of his friends—bullies all—and all the people from our class were risking missing their school bus to witness the showdown. He paused and looked at me—fierce and freezing and unafraid. Not a word was spoken. He and his friends crossed over to the other side of the walkway and went quietly to catch their buses. And none of my friends spoke either. Arnold gave me back my glasses, Billy took the rocks from my hands, Kyle helped me put my shirt and coat back on and we all went home.
And never again did Donny Davis try to bully me, or anyone else for that matter. It ended that simply.
Donny is like the AAC and the ‘third world bishops’ (I know it is politically incorrect to call them that—‘southern hemisphere bishops’ is more acceptable—but they are from another world than the one I live in and that needs to be made clear…they live in another place from me, just as Donny did.) And I am sick and tired, finally, of trying to appease them. We, in the Episcopal Church have given them our lunch money and been pushed down in the hall and slapped on the ear for far too long. There is nothing they want from us but our ‘fear’ of them and our illusion of being able to ‘get along’ and not be bullied if only we ‘give in’ enough. It is far past the time we should have picked up the scraps of our geography test and told them we’d be waiting at the underpass.
It doesn’t take much courage—though it takes a tad. What it takes is reaching the point when death (or disunity) would be preferable to being the victim of bullies.
There’s an underpass down the steps and a stream with some flat rocks and the possibility of finally, finally, finally saying “no more…no more…no more.”
Death, disunity, the total collapse of the Anglican Communion…there comes a time when that would be preferable to not being able to truly live out the lives we’re called to by God.
That time, I think, is long past. But it might as well be today.
The water is chill but the rocks fit right in your hands and I can almost guarantee you, bullies won’t stand up to a half-naked victim who will be a victim no longer…..
Jgb/ January 2007