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A Lesson From Lizzie

It was a silly, even prankish game we played in grade school. Actually, we were about middle school age at the time. As is the case in Catholic school, we lined up in silence and walked single file into school in the morning and after recess.

The teacher, usually one of the habited nuns, rang a brass bell, and in we went. Somewhere along the line, maybe it was because of spring fever, we initiated this foolish idea to push the person in front of you in line. Most often we did this as we climbed the stairs to the second floor classrooms.

It began as a simple nudge that had a domino effect. Soon we were all falling into one another. This brought about laughter that didn’t go over well with the teachers. Eventually, we were forced to stop this behavior, as I’m sure someone probably fell and scraped a knee. I don’t remember anyone really getting hurt.

And then when our classmate Lizzie died suddenly and unexpectedly, I was beset with a sense of terrible guilt that maybe our childish behavior somehow contributed to this tragedy. It did not, of course, as Lizzie had one of those rare conditions that sometimes takes a child or adult without warning.

Lizzie was the first young person I had known personally who died. She was beyond a doubt the kindest young girl in our class. As I recall, she was like a mother hen to younger siblings. She had an infectious smile and giggle most all of the time. She didn’t have a mean bone in her body. If she did, I never saw any proof of that. It made me wonder why someone so good was taken from us too early.

While our pushing game was not seen as a form of bullying anyone in particular, it made me think about a few bullies I met throughout my life. Mostly it came down to their words that hurt the most.

Even so, I remember being picked on sometimes for no good reason and for being guilty of that, as well. In my school days, especially in high school, there were various “cliques.” Naturally some kids gravitated toward others with similar interests such as the sporting types or the theater groupies. That’s not uncommon.

Yet we all know there are groups of kids who meld together to be considered the popular kids – sometimes popular for all the wrong reasons. But it happens.

Sadly, kids who bully grow up to be adults who bully, too. I’ve seen it many times. The trouble is it’s harder to stand up to bullies when we are kids than when we become adults. As adults, we are better at reasoning things out or simply walking away. There is real power in turning your back on a bully.

That is just one kind of lesson you don’t learn so much in books but you can learn on the stairwell in grade school with a sweet girl named Lizzie. Teach your children well.

Heather Ziegler can be reached via email at hziegler@theintelligencer.net.

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