Figuring out youíre a pacifist is a defining moment. Figuring it out when youíre eleven is an odd thing. Figuring it out on your birthday when youíre eleven because Ted Bundyís being killed that day is a very odd thing. And defending your pacifist beliefs on your twelfth birthday to your class of adolescent peers and condescending teacher stinks, but is a definitely a defining moment.
As a kid growing up in a Friends church I heard about the importance of the peace testimony. It had special significance growing up in Idaho: a very ělive free or dieî state with an air force base less than an hour away from my home. I *love* my Idaho: some of the most real, friendly, giving people live there – but sometimes they want to give you their beliefs whether you asked for them or not.
On my birthday in sixth grade convicted serial killer Ted Bundy was being electrocuted. I remember students buzzing with ěmy mom and dad sayî information regarding the sensational event; but for me it was, ěmy aunt says . . .î because my aunt made sure to talk with my brother and I about things like this. She said it was wrong: humans were not meant to take anotherís life, no matter what the wrong person did. Aunt Faye liked U2, watched MTV, and ate tofu: I figured she was hip enough to know what she was talking about.
For me in sixth grade, it was an odd thought: on my birthday, someone was dying – someone was being killed by another person. He wouldnít have any more birthdays – his life was over. I also thought in the semantics of a kid: shouldnít the man who pushed the buzzer to kill Ted be killed, too, since he killed someone? But who would kill him? Would we all end up dead if people kept getting killed for killing others? In my public grade school I talked freely with my friends about this: we came to our own conclusions, and then ran to the monkey bars to do cherry bombs and zebra drops.
The next year I was still processing it, except I was in a private Christian school where I moved from my public school classification of “not-Mormon” to “not-a-community-church-attender” – I don’t think Quakers are ever on the “inside”. Great place to talk about things outside of the ësocial normí, right? Wrong-O. One year after Ted Bundyís death my geography teacher brought it up. I was feeling a little bit ballsy, living off the birthday high. Normally I wouldnít rock the boat, especially in a school that didnít feel ěsafeî to me – I knew I was different than the majority of kids there, but didnít know why exactly. But that day, I was dressed up, I was going to get cake and presents, and I decided to speak up:
ěI think it was wrong to kill him.î
My geography teacher had abnormally buggy eyes, and all of a sudden, the enormity of their bulgingness was directed at me.
ěI said, I think it was wrong. God is the only person who can give and take life. Humans shouldnít take life.î
All the students, including the delinquents who were sent to my school because public schools couldnít handle them so they spent their days carving on desks, looked at me. A showdown was about to happen.
ěSay that again.î
ěCapitol punishment is wrong.î
Awkward silence. Then . . .
ěHow can you say that?!!î
My past experiences of teachers had been of a loving and bi-partisan nature: they might tell you their opinion about holiday crafts – if they should involve letting the students use power tools or not – but never of a political/personal opinion nature. But not in my private Christian school.
ěSo youíre saying that this man who killed countless people out of cold blood shouldnít have died?î
What should we have done with him?î
ěUh . . . keep him in prison?î
My face started to flush; my birthday high turned into a fight-or-flight response.
ěWhat about the Old Testament commandments regarding an eye for an eye? Iím sure the rest of you students remember that.î
Nodding heads. Lemmings.
ěWho told you this anyway?î
ěMy aunt. She said that humans donít have the right to take lives.î
ěOh, and I bet she doesnít think we should have guns either.î
He then used the majority of the class to continue to grill me, pointing out ěflawsî and getting affirmation from the rest of the oh-so-knowledgeable seventh graders.
I didnít feel like I had the answers, which was really frustrating to feel so attacked and awkward. I knew I couldnít sway him. But I refused to be swayed: for one time in my life, my German stubbornness did something good. What my teacher didnít know is that he affirmed my belief in pacifism all that much more: if folks who disagreed with pacifism were so mean and hostile and judging of others, especially those so much younger than them, then why would I want to believe what he believed – to follow his path to become like him?
As I hear about the government spying on peace protestors, I am reminded of my first defining moment as a pacifist: Iíve never fit in, especially with those in power, and thatís fine – I donít really like what youíre all about, anyway. You can try to bully me around like a teacher bullying a seventh grader, but that looks pretty pathetic, doesnít it? If I can make a stand when Iím an ignorant kid, Iím not about to back down with more life experience under my belt. Anyway, Iíve got to go live my life which today includes playing on the monkey bars with my son – weíre gonna rock at doing cherry bombs.