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Outwardly Entitled, Inwardly Tortured

02.11.20 Posted in today's words by

Max Reif’s most recent poem to appear here was “Home” (January 2020)

Outwardly Entitled, Inwardly Tortured
A Treatise on Learning and Teaching Compassion
By Max Reif

After The Fall—
which took place
when I was about 7—
my insides
became noise,
to drown out

I became capable
of victimizing others
to amuse my friends,
the only court of opinion
I cared about,
my own center
being inaccessible.

One Saturday night
in high school,
out in my convertible
with buddies from
the football team,
our letter jackets
keeping us warm
in the breeze,

we picked up
another boy on the team,
who’d been recruited because
he weighed 350 pounds,
a sad boy
who lived alone
with his grandma
and compensated
by acting like a clown.

After getting him drunk,
we let him out of the car
to stagger around
in the plaza in front
of the high school.
I trained my Ford Galaxy’s
high-powered spotlight on him
and we all laughed to see
his shadow projecting
30 feet high onto
the school’s façade.

Another time,
as our busses were
about to leave
a wooded camp where
our Confirmation Class
had spent the weekend,
I tied a smaller boy
to a tree in the woods,
then went to tell my friends,
whom I believed would find it
as funny as I did.

I was not capable
of empathy. This
did not show
on my clothes or
my report cards.
In fact, I did not
know it myself
until several
nervous breakdowns
after leaving home.

Now I’m a teacher,
and when I see children
smirking and laughing
at someone behind
the person’s back,

I search for a nugget
of wisdom, learned
on my own hard road,
to share with them;

but only time, I’m realizing,
can tell them—if
they are fortunate, I mean—

in a way that gets
their full attention.

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