The playground was crowded. Both the 5th and 6th grades were out for lunch, and used the playground after their meal to expend built-up classroom energies.
Being the smallest boy and the poorest reader in the 6th grade did little to massage my poor self-esteem or help to lay the foundation for a more eventful life. However, size was my immediate problem, not my lack of reading skills. Because I was small, I became the target for any boy looking for a swift playground fight victory or a self-anointed bully seeking self-fulfilling entertainment.
But on this particular May afternoon, things were going to change for me. The doormat of the class, the unskilled and uneducated ragamuffin of Seymour Elementary School was about to blossom and ascend skyward, up the juvenile pecking order that is most pronounced by schoolyard boys. Before continuing my narrative, let me tell you what iniated this elevation of personal confidence.
About a month prior to this eventful day, while swimming in a small man- made lake called Anners Dam, I made a discovery. Imbedded in the mud near an ancient oak tree that acted as a catapult to swing nearly naked boys into the center of the lake, I found a small stone. It was rectangular in configuration, with tiny specks of gold scattered throughout its dimensions, presenting a glowing appearance. I immediately adopted this precious jewel as a divine gift, promising to keep it near me always.
Afterward, when life’s fabric began to unravel or my 11-years life experiences escaped the solution for problem solving, I would touch the stone. Its smooth, cool surface and imaginary pulsating helped to give me the confidence to overcome any present terrifying circumstances. The stone would remain in my pocket or at close proximity for the next fifty years.
Yet, on this hot May afternoon on the playground, the magic stone proved invaluable.
Terry Jackson, the meanest, largest, and angriest kid that ever wore blue jeans honed in on my shadowy figure skulking in the far corner of the playground. As Terry lumbered toward me, under escort of several wannabe bullies, I knew Armageddon was approaching.
“Hey Caussey, who said you could come out on the playground with the men?” screamed the charging bully. “You need to get back into the cafeteria with the rest of the girls before I mash your face.”
With hands the size of catcher’s mitts, he picked me up by the shoulders and flung me to the ground. I lay sprawled on my back in the grass, tasting the dirt-filled air, surrounded by laughter’s ring.
The stone seemed to bulge in my pocket. I placed my hand in my pocket, felt the stone and cupped it in my hand. Exiting my pocket, the icon became the centerpiece for a closed fist. Terry stood a few feet away, leading cheers at my forthcoming demise.
Getting up, I walked directly toward him. His stomach appeared to be the biggest part of his anatomy. With all my strength I punched him in the middle of his stomach.
Air gushed from his mouth like a Dr. Pepper left too long in the sun. He fell like the giant from the beanstalk, his blue eyes disappearing into reddened cheeks as he fell to his knees. The entire playground became hushed, with open mouths the by-product of the disbelieving crowd.
On his knees, Terry was about my height. Looking into his slumbering eyes, he didn’t look so terrible. However, with snarling word and baited breath, he threatened me. Terrified, I turned to run, but my elbow caught him under his chin, sending him sprawling face down to the ground. Seeing Terry fall with a thud gave me such a fright that I fainted, landing on top of him. My forehead struck his neck, pushing his nose into the turf and sending blood into a dripping pool nearby.
In the principal’s office we each told our stories. Parents were called and apologies made. Terry cried, telling his mom in principal Johnson’s office that I maliciously attacked him on the playground without provocation. Witnesses could not be found to substantiate his story, but many kids readily admitted it was not my fault. With dancing eyes and a camouflaged grin, Mr. Johnson told me to never fight on the playground ever again.
The next day at school, classmates were especially friendly. Mrs. Paris, my reading teacher, praised my reading ability as I stumbled through oral reading. It is amazing what a little praise and some luck can do to help restore one’s confidence.
Today, when I teach youngsters to read and they are having trouble, I do my very best to praise and compliment them despite their unfounded abilities, because they may not have a magic stone. But what they do have is a teacher who loves them unconditionally and is willing to share the magic stone of believing in yourself and the power of possibility within themselves.
Durhl Caussey is a syndicated columnist read across America. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.