I was six or seven. And like most summer days, I was playing outside. I lived in a neighborhood that had about 10 or 12 of us kids. And we played together a lot. Afternoons usually found us playing football or tag, or reading comic books. Or running through sprinklers. Or enjoying the cool, sweet taste of a popsicle.
But not on this day. As I made my way outside, I didn’t see any of my friends. I don’t know where they all were. Maybe their moms had all forced them to go shopping for new clothes. Or something equally as despised by kids.
Instead, as I made my way around the neighborhood, I almost ran into three boys I didn’t know. Three BIG boys. Big to me anyway. They were at least 10, and maybe a little older. That doesn’t seem like much now, but at the time, they seemed like three giants.
I almost ran into them as I rounded the corner of a house. But I stopped short. They had their backs to me, and they hadn’t seen me.
On any other occasion, I would have gone up to see what they were doing.
But not this time.
I could tell there was something not quite right. They were hunched together, intent on whatever they were doing. And laughing. Their seemed to be something cruel about their manner and laughter. Conspiratorial.
I ducked back behind the corner of the house, and listened. I couldn’t tell what they were doing, but I felt like I needed to stay hidden.
I took a quick peek. And there they were, still turned away from me, huddled together in whatever task they were doing.
Finally, they finished, and they discarded something on the ground as casually as they might an empty Coke can they had just drained.
I withdrew my head back into hiding, much like a turtle might. My heart was racing as I hoped they didn’t come my way.
They didn’t. Instead, they went the other direction. Still laughing, and casually walking, ready to embrace whatever else the day might bring their way.
I slowly made my way around the corner, and crept toward the place they had occupied only seconds earlier.
I looked down, and my heart suddenly sank.
Lying on the ground was a bird, with still a flicker of life remaining, and a large nail sticking out of its body.
I didn’t understand. How could someone intentionally do something so cruel? And seem to derive so much pleasure from it?
I didn’t understand.
And I still don’t.
But I’ve learned over the years that sometimes people choose to be mean just because they can be. Because sometimes it’s the easier way.
But I also learned that it doesn’t cost any more to be kind to people. To provide a smile. To give an encouraging word.
To do a favor for someone, with nothing expected in return.
Life is hard enough as it is. We all have problems in our lives that we face every day. Why heap cruelty on top of the lives of others?
I’ve thought back to that day many times over my life. I’ve wondered how those boys turned out. What are they doing now.
And do they ever remember that day. And if so, what do they think about it. And are they still pushing figurative nails through the lives of others.
I like to think not. I like to think that day was something they still remember.
And I like to think that they learned from that day, too. That today they are helping people to fly and succeed, instead of pushing figurative nails through lives of others.