I think it’s safe to say that there’s a story every pastor has that is his/her go to story. If you’re a United Methodist pastor, it’s a story you share at every new appointment… well, today is such a story.
I’ve told this story many of times and will continue to do so in sermons to come illustrating the theme/point of the sermon. You might say, “Wait, if you blog this story, how can you still tell it to people?”
Thanks for asking. First off, the story sounds much better live, with hand motions and facial expressions. Second, and more importantly, no one really reads this blog, so we’re good
I’m sure the story is just as bad as it sounds and as I remember it, but at the same time, my memories are probably a lot worse than it was in reality and actuality (at least, I so desperately hope it is) because memory has a funny way of distorting and exaggerating itself throughout the years of recollection.
Now, this is a story all about how my life got flipped, turned upside down and I’d like to take a minute, just sit right there… okay, I apologize. That wasn’t as funny as I thought it would be.
But do let me take you back to somewhere between ’92 and ’93.
I had just moved to Santa Barbara, CA from Columbia, SC. School had already started, so I was that new kid that got introduced by the teacher by standing up in front of the class. Being the new kid in any context really sucks. It didn’t help that I was from a foreign country: South Carolina.
I remember wondering how long it’ll take for me to meet friends. And who would eat lunch with me, especially since no one was interacting with me, after finding my seat.
That’s when Kenny (for those of you who have heard this story, Kenny is not his real name. I ended up going with Kenny because of South Park and he’s been Kenny ever since) approached me and we started talking about whatever 6th graders talked about back then.
Kenny and I became fast friends. We hung out at lunch and recess. We’d walk home together because his home was the same direction as mine. I was glad to have a friend.
But after the new kid smell and shine had worn off of me, and I started to get to know other kids in my class and grade, I slowly begin to realize that no one else hung out with Kenny. I begin to realize that because my new friends, who played sports with me, started asking, “How come you hang out with that kid, dude? He’s a loser.”
This is where a pastor’s kid should stand up and say, “Whoa, now. Kenny’s a cool guy. He’s my friend.”
If that was the case, there would be a far different (and better) story to tell. Unfortunately, I started listening to my friends.
I slowly distanced myself from Kenny during school. It seemed natural because I liked to play sports during our breaks and Kenny did not.
But after school (when no one was around, of course) Kenny and I would still hang out. We’d still walk home together. Much to his credit, he never called me out on my flakiness and jerkiness. We just continued on like nothing happened in the previous hours of school.
These two separate worlds came crashing together all at once during a PE class.
The teacher decided the day would be spent in a Darwinian activity often referred to as “dodgeball”. He also decided to make me one of the two team captains and gave me first pick.
Kenny was always picked last for everything. But the fact that I got first choice meant that he would probably be picked second to the last, and not last, which, if you’ve experienced this, is a world of difference. You never want to be last pick.
So we started the barbaric and self-esteem killing exercise of picking teams.
I picked most of my “good” athletic friends.
Sure enough at the end, there were two people left: Kenny and, I’m pretty sure the other person was a girl.
I was about to pick Kenny, and I even saw Kenny flinching towards my team’s direction when I heard a whisper from, might as well have been Satan himself (I’m not calling the kid Satan….) “Dude, pick the girl so we can throw the ball at Kenny!”
Without much hesitation, I said, ”Uh… I pick [the girl].”
I saw Kenny’s eyes drop, and I looked away refusing to make eye contact with him like a dog does when it knows it made a mess.
In the heat of battle, with balls flying around everywhere (mind you, these were the hard rubber balls back then) I found myself holding a ball with Kenny still alive on the other team.
From behind, I hear my team rallying a cry together, “KILLLLLLLL KENNNNNYY!!!!! KILLLLLLLL KENNNNNNYYYYYY!”
Kenny and I made eye contact. Time froze for an instant, and his eyes, filled with sadness and betrayal said to me, “Do what you gotta do.”
I shut my eyes, and with all that the strength that I could muster in my 13 year old body, I threw the ball in Kenny’s direction. Every time I retell this story, I can’t help but think, “Why the heck did I have to throw the ball as hard as I could?”
I opened my eyes, and time slowed.
The ball was taking a painful eternity to get to Kenny.
It was then that I realized that the ball I threw with all of my strength was heading straight towards Kenny’s face.
I wanted to yell, “Duck, Kenny! For the love of God, DUCK!”
But I couldn’t muster up anything. Or I didn’t have time. Or… I just couldn’t…
I could’ve sworn during this time, Kenny stopped looking at the ball heading towards his nose, and instead shifted his gaze towards me.
“Is this what it’s come to?” I felt like he was asking me. “Is this what you wanted? You happy now?”
“Kenny. Just duck and it’ll fly over you!” my eyes pleaded.
But no. For some reason that day, even with my eyes closed, my aim was impeccable. The ball thudded, and I mean THUDDED off his nose. His head jerked back and blood splattered everywhere. Okay, the blood didn’t splatter everywhere or anywhere. Kenny fell to his knees and moved his hands away from nose only to see that his nose was, indeed, bleeding.
I stood there, stunned, not knowing what to do next. All of my teammates were shouting with joy, whooping and hollering. They might’ve as well lifted me up on their shoulders and carried me off the basketball court.
Kenny never looked up at me. Instead, he kept his eye fixed on the ground, and followed a teacher who was escorting him to the nurse’s office. And I just stood there watching him walk away, head down and shoulder slumped.
And just like that game continued. But I couldn’t play any longer. I got hit by a ball on purpose and sat out and made some excuse to not play the next rounds. PE classes usually felt like eternity, but that day, it felt like eternity and a half.
Kenny never spoke to me again.
A couple of times, I waited after school for him, at least to apologize, but he was never around. After a few days of waiting, my sixth grade patience had ran out, and I didn’t wait for him no more.
Then I moved to Goleta after 6th grade and went to a different jr. high school than Kenny and all of my other “friends.”
People, including my wife, have asked me, have you reached out to Kenny ever since and apologized?
Sadly, no. I thought once I found him on facebook, until I realized I was searching for a “Kenny” which isn’t his real name. As hard as it may be to believe, I’m no longer sure of his real name. So many times, I’ve referred to him as Kenny… which is embarrassing to admit.
It was a lesson well learned.
I remember feeling this weird feeling for a long time during that school year. It took me a while to name that feeling as “guilt”. But it felt different from all the other guilt I’ve felt up to that point. It was an awful, awful feeling.
Years later, I was playing dodgeball with church kids who were in elementary school for some kind of activity. But with dodgeball friendly balls. I was trying to throw the ball low as to not hit any of them in the face. But it was hard to keep the ball down low, since they were all so short. I threw the ball to try to hit this boy, but I completely missed and the ball swerved to the left and hit a girl. Right in her friggin’ nose. All the youth helpers (who’ve heard the story) started yelling, “PASTOR JOE’S AT IT AGAIN!!!!” “THAT’S NOT KENNY!”
Time did freeze for me, again, as the girl was helped up by other youth helpers. Thankfully, she wasn’t bleeding. Crying, but no blood.
I saw all the kids (both her age and the youth helpers) rally around her to make her feel better and I walked up to her and apologized for hitting her in the face.
As the kids were teasing me about the Kenny story and calling me things like “Pastor Joe, the Killer”, a part of me did wish that I was aware enough back then to go to Kenny and help him up, like my youth kids had just done with that girl.
It was nice to know that those kids I worked with were much nicer and aware than I was when I was their age.
Honestly, even if I were to track down Kenny, I wouldn’t even know where to begin. Maybe Kenny had long forgotten about it. Or maybe not.
I guess, “I’m sorry” would be a good place to begin.
13 year olds are jerks. And I think I was one of the biggest.