Sunday, October 17, 2010

Spit Balls - A Dubious Memoir

Judybug at Seven
 Schools aren't like they used to be. Hardly a day goes by that the news channels don't report some sort of school violence - ranging from hair-pulling fights and fist fights to shootings that result in serious injury or death. By comparison my generation was tame. We weren't so violent, but don't think our little hearts were pure.

I had a bit of 1950s savagery in me when I was in the second grade. There was a boy in our class (I'll call him Johnny) who no one liked. I don't know exactly why - but looking back - I think it was because he seemed so perfect, and we got it in our arrogant little heads that he gloried in his perfection and needed to be taken down a notch or two.

The worst crime in our second grade class was throwing spit balls when we thought the teacher wasn't looking. We would tear off little pieces of paper from a notebook, dampen them by putting them in our mouths for a few seconds. Then we would form them into little balls and throw or spit them at our classmates. The teacher saw no humor in spit balls and dealt out punishment to spit-ball-throwers. This activity was sure to get you a spanking.

One day at recess a friend of mine made a suggestion to our little group. He would throw two or three spit balls when the teacher wasn't looking and say that Johnny threw them; and the rest of us would swear to it. Since I thoroughly disliked Johnny, I was a willing participant in this conspiracy. The conspiracy was quite successful, and Johnny was duly punished.

But that wasn't the end of the thing for me. By the time I walked home from school that day, my conscience had me in hand. I thought about what I had done.  I thought about what I had learned in Sunday School - that it was a great sin to lie. Even at my young age I understood the difference in a white lie meant to spare someone's feelings and the more serious "bearing false witness" in order to get someone into undeserved trouble. There was no getting around the fact that what I had done was to bear false witness. I did not sleep well for several nights. I had nightmares. I don't remember worrying that God would punish me (although maybe I should have worried) - it was enough for me to know that God was not pleased with me.

I wish I could say that I confessed to the teacher and restored Johnny's reputation, but I didn't. I was seven years old, and I guess my character wasn't that well developed. But what I did do was make up my mind to never do such a thing again. I had learned that whatever short-lived pleasure I might get from this kind of behavior wasn't worth the toll my conscience would take.

Remembering this incident brings two questions to mind. How did we progress from spit balls to shootings? And is personal conscience a thing of the past?

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