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Update on a past fearPosted Tuesday, January 12, 2010, at 12:24 AM
The virtual community phenomenon just took on a very serious tone for me.
I must be one of the last humans alive to have finally joined Facebook. It is both fascinating and frightening regarding the many hundreds of people who suddenly find you once you have registered as a member. I've heard from all sorts of people from my past, those I'd long ago forgotten as well as those I still wish to forget!
And every once in a while a long forgotten memory will come flashing back because of a face and a message from a Facebook contact. Such happened to me within the last two weeks.
Kevin was the older kid who terrorized me in my youth. I had just moved into the neighborhood and discovered a certain pecking order to the social interactions of we who would walk to and from school each day. I guess he felt he needed to establish his territorial control over the new guy. Every afternoon he would come after me, some days with just his fists but most days with imaginative "tools" to scare the rest of us into accepting him as the enforcer of his rules and laws.
King Kevin, we all called him behind his back. I learned several good life-long lessons from my nearly two years of taunting by him. I discovered how to run! I explored the many uses of ice on bruises. I discovered how to fight back, both fairly and not so fairly. After being ambushed by him on several occasions, I learned principles of group leadership and how to organize others also terrorized; we became a gang whose sole purpose became that of ambushing King Kevin.
To this day I vividly remember the hour I first stood up to him and knocked him breathless to the ground. Not so long afterwards, another family moved into the neighborhood and Kevin changed his focus to the newest kid on the block. I had survived from fifth grade through seventh and eighth, and by my high school years Kevin simply became a figure from my past that I barely saw in an inner-city high school of 2,200 students.
Last week, Kevin sent a generalized email to everyone listed from my high school who attended over the five-year span of his studies. He was looking for "friends," a category on Facebook where you can link up with people and find out what's going on in their daily lives.
Kevin decided to describe himself and what his life has become. He listed his four children, each from a different mother, that he was a never-married bachelor, and that he is upset whenever he's called back into court for non-payment of child support. He mentioned his years as a "guest" in one of our state prisons, in case anyone wondered why he had just suddenly "dropped out of the party scene." He also lifted up that he was currently unemployed but that he loved getting wasted on the weekends and would welcome any of his old classmates to join him.
At the end of his introduction, I was offered the opportunity of listing myself as "a friend of Kevin" so that he could continue sharing his information and receive mine. I politely declined the offer. Later on in the week I went to his site and found something rather disturbing. No one was listed in his friend section. I know that generalized invitation to join him went out to nearly 1,600 of us. No one chose to become his friend.
Maybe the rest of us have grown up and moved forward with our lives. Maybe the rest of us have friends of our own, both in real life and also in the virtual world of Facebook and other internet communities. Maybe the rest of us remembered the terrorizing that took place from King Kevin and decided we wanted no part in becoming linked to such a memory from our past.
And maybe, just maybe, if there had been a responsible adult overseeing the events with the neighborhood kids during my fifth through seventh grade years, Kevin could have been salvaged and shown how to get his own life in order and grow up.
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P.T. Wilson is the senior pastor at Gobin Memorial United Methodist Church, Greencastle, and is also the University Chaplain at DePauw University.