His name was Matthew. While he didn’t live on Echo Street, our small block – our neck of the woods – in our part of town, he lived nearby. The neighborhood of my youth included a lot of kids like me. And, some not like me. Matthew was one of those kids.
Matthew talked funny. You couldn’t really understand what he was saying unless you paid attention. I rarely paid attention. Matthew looked dirty. He usually wore the same coat, regardless of the weather, and dirt and snot was typically wiped across his face. Matthew always looked like he just got out of bed. His hair was matted down on one side and sticking up on the other, and he walked around like he wasn’t sure where he was going.
When he would come around me and the other neighborhood kids, Matthew would try to join in on what we were doing. He’d stand off to the side for a while and watch. We’d all hope that he wouldn’t say anything, but he usually did. That’s when an older boy in our group would start in with Matthew. Calling him names. Throwing things at him. Even walking up and tackling and punching him at least once, that I remember. Matthew would cry some, wipe the tears and dirt and snot on the sleeve of his coat, and stand there for a bit before walking off to who knows where.
I remember laughing about it. It was a nervous kind of laugh, one that only came as I looked around at others and realized that was seemingly the appropriate reaction. The kind of reaction that would avoid getting the negative attention of the older boy in our group. I still laughed though. I didn’t say anything; rather, I participated, even passively. I never stood up for Matthew. I wish I would have.
There have been times since then when I recognize a truth that no one can ignore: Loving those who are just like us is easy; it’s loving those who are different from us that’s hard. We can justify our responses with any number of things. I know I do. Perhaps they look or speak differently than me, and I just don’t understand them. Maybe they are saying or doing something I don’t agree with, and I simply can’t allow myself to do anything that might show support for them. At times I notice they have different values or beliefs, and they’re just flat out on the wrong path, at least from my perspective. I don’t always know what it is, but it just is. They are different. And, directly or indirectly, I become the one who starts in on them. Or, arguably just as bad, I become the one who passively stands aside when I should be actively standing up.
I never told Matthew I was sorry. I’ve asked for forgiveness, and I believe I’ve forgiven myself, but I’ve never told Matthew I was sorry. My redemption comes not from my actions, but my actions are my response to what I know to be right. I get it wrong at times, but every single day I try to do the right thing. I try to demonstrate the grace granted to me. I try to stand up for those who aren’t like me. I try to love those who aren’t like me. I’m going to keep trying as long as I live. And, Matthew, wherever you are, please know I ask you for your forgiveness, I love you, and truly, from the bottom of my heart, I’m sorry.