When you see a wrong, please speak up

There have been two more atrocities this week, the shootings in Munich and the slitting of a priest’s throat in a church in Rouen, France as he said Mass.
Hate reigned for much of the week and the killing of the priest, 86-year-old Pere Jacques Hamel, was just sickening.

But I’m not going to go on about the violence this week. Enough is enough. Yet neither am I going to write the type of column that I most enjoy, a light hearted romp about the good old days or a look at the often strange ways of modern life.

In keeping with the need for all of us to try to make this a better world, I’m going to relate a couple of incidents in which I should have spoken up for good but remained silent, to my lasting shame. I say lasting shame, because they still bother me today, even though both happened more than 50 years ago. I’ve never talked about these incidents, but as they say, confession is good for the soul.

At Catholic High School in Baton Rouge there was a student, I’ll call him Johnny, who was delicately built and shy. He didn’t seem to have many friends but he got good grades and was obviously a smart youngster.

I wasn’t really close to him but I’d give him a nod and ask how things were going.
There was another student, who I’ll call Greg. Greg could not have been more different from Johnny. Greg was good looking and well built and was a leader of a little pack on campus. He wasn’t a bad kid, though, and he also got good grades.

Greg maintained his alpha male lifestyle as an adult. He became a pilot and I remember he attended our 20th class reunion driving a sports car and accompanied by a beautiful girl who looked like a model.

But, getting back to the school days, whenever he saw Johnny he bullied the smaller boy. I remember one time he came up behind Johnny, put his arms around him and lifted Johnny off the ground, saying, “How’s the little fruit today?”

Johnny didn’t say a word but the humiliation and pain were plain to see on his face. I have no idea whether Johnny was gay or not. He wasn’t particularly effeminate, and certainly didn’t come on to any of the guys.

My shame results from not saying a word when this happened. I should have told Greg, “Hey, man this is BS. Johnny’s never done anything to you. Why don’t you leave him alone?” If I had done so, Greg may have in fact left Johnny alone. Or he may have beaten me up. He outweighed me by a good bit.

Another memory is just as painful to me. When I worked the night shift as a reporter with the New Orleans Times-Picayune in the 1960s, an elderly lady would call the news desk on stormy nights, asking us how bad the weather was going to get. She obviously lived alone and was afraid.

If I answered the phone, I’d be patient with her and try to assure her that it wasn’t going to get too bad. There was another reporter, “Rob,” however, who would pick up the same extension and make the sound of a fierce storm blowing. That was probably very unsettling to the caller. But, for some stupid reason I never told Rob to knock it off and behave himself.

I imagine most of us have memories in which we should have spoken up or taken some action but failed to do so. But in today’s world, let’s try to make sure we do so the next time we need to. Let’s do our own little part to make this a happier world. Thank you, my friends.