Death of Hope

Then I took my staff called Favor and broke it, revoking the covenant I had made with all the nations. It was revoked on that day, and so the oppressed of the flock who were watching me knew it was the word of the Lord.

Zechariah 11:10-11


It was a seminal moment for me, something that would forever shift my perspective. The whole event may have started with the persecution of our band’s substitute conductor. In general, the teachers at our school had no authority over the students beyond the power of an instructor’s personality, and any semblance of order was cast off the minute a substitute was introduced.

Band was the perfect storm: the class was too large for an inexperienced instructor to maintain; about half of the students possessed no interest in performance or art; the times changed from year to year, but if memory serves, band was held right after recess or it was the penultimate class before heading home; and to top everything off, you just stuck a group of boys and girls—just figuring out the birds and the bees, mind you—into a small room, blessing each one with a tool that can produce a loud noise.

Our conductor was abreast of the rowdy nature of the band, and was no fool. Every time before this, when a substitute was needed, he told the instructor to placate us with a movie, and to sacrifice some of the stores of soda to our unquenchable thirst. Yes, maybe this is an American thing, but we did have a bunch of soda held in reserve for our band parties. This whole set up actually worked far better than it sounds on paper. What would a single day off really hurt?

The problem arose when the conductor needed to take a week off. He found a substitute, though, trained in the art of twirling that little baton around in the air. Analogous to the slow encroachments of Hitler leading to the whole issue of WWII, the hive mind of our class spent that week pushing the bounds, and realized there were none.

It’s a weird thing, seeing an adult cry, especially when you’re just a kid. That last day, the dam broke. Most of the student’s weren’t even sitting in their seats, but would hopscotch around the room to wherever they wished, engaging in loud discourse. Some mockingly danced as that sorry core of us who wanted to obey the conductor attempted to follow the sheet music in front of us. What I found most annoying were the students exchanging instruments, ignorantly blaring over us who were attempting to play a song.

Frustrated by this madness, I tried to tell the teacher what was going on, tried to give her something concrete by which she could act. In retrospect, I don’t really know what I was trying to accomplish; if she wasn’t going to stop students from dancing around the room, why would she tell them to sit with their proper instruments?

By the time I made it to the front of the class, there was a lot of laughter going on behind me. I informed our substitute that contrary to what our teacher had told us on multiple occasions, students had exchanged their instruments and were making it impossible for others to perform. It was in turning around, I discovered the joke: Everyone was in their proper place with their proper instrument.

As a score of students shouted abuses at me, I returned to my seat, my seat in the middle of them. I think, and I am surprised by how hard it is to throw my mind back to this moment, the substitute tried to defend me, and then she broke down. Screaming at the class, she attempted to express how contemptable they were, and only one phrase has stayed in my mind of that lecture, her trembling high tones recorded in my memory: “If you don’t have the common decency…”

It was at this point she couldn’t go on and so secluded herself in the conductor’s private office, slamming the door forcefully. Silence fell upon the classroom as it would people who have learned of a death. They were in it deep now. They tried: One of the dancers had the presence of mind to organize the class, and with this student conducting, we preformed whatever piece we should have been practicing.

Things were going to change, the teachers, the principle, the students all agreed. But like in any revolution, those seeking preferment and power, whatever their crimes in the last regime, somehow never fall. We were treated to a near daily anti-bullying campaign, and who would lead it but the dancers, those switching instruments, those mocking and flaunting the substitute’s authority.

So the popular kids, the devils in human carcasses, achieved a sort of fame, standing before our assembled class to lecture us about the bully problem in our school.

You may, my dear reader, think nothing really changed: the bullies never stopped bullying, classes continued to be volatile volcanos threatening an eruption of utter chaos, and I was still stuck in this school until I graduated. However, the truth is that something did change; it was me.

My worldview was shattered in the aftermath of that tragedy. I saw so clearly that there is no justice in life; those whose job it was to punish and discipline instead gave the offenders a chance to shine, to lecture us. So, I stopped thinking in those terms, stopped thinking how I could get help from an adult. In a sense, I stopped caring. Let the classroom go to Hell then.

There was another change: The girl who organized the band after the substitute broke down in tears, the one who lectured us about bullying, I saw her again one day. I remember her being one of the few who at least admitted she had done wrong while addressing the assembly. I saw her again years after graduation and she looked dead inside, as if there was no blood in her face.

The realization came to me: I’d drag them all to Hell if I could. In writing this down after all these years, I still find a fiery burning anger swelling inside me declaring that I would drag them into Hell even if it meant going down there myself. Here is one of the little things that must die daily, for Christ did not die so that He could condemn. Instead, He cried out in the midst of his torture, pleading the Father forgive His Son’s murderers.

I have been disillusioned, my faith in authority shattered, but in its stead something better has grown. Here, in this dark memory, a seed was planted. After tearing up my childish notions that adults could or even wanted to help us kids, grinding those ideas into a mulch, I was left with freedom. It was small, even now it is still forming, but it started way back then, when I learned there was no fixing the problem, life was always going to be torment, no one was coming to help.

Do you expect common decency? Decency is not common. Do you think rules will be enforced against those in power? Why? In the end they are the enforcers. Do you hope that after this latest tragedy people will grow wise? Why, have they ever before? Will some revolution finally set things right, will things finally change? Give up on childish hope; it is the boulder of Sisyphus, and reality is that hill frustrating all of man’s attempts to create Heaven apart from God. To hope in such things is Hell, and to let that hope die is freedom.

“I will not be your shepherd. Let the dying die, and the perishing perish. Let those who are left eat one another’s flesh.”

Zechariah 11:9


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