I’m not going to chop up the story into little bits or dissect it with the sharp knife of culture, suffice to say that the journey wasn’t a safe one. It wasn’t often a journey made by a single person. One tended to go with others. Bandits then, like now, tend to go for the isolated man or woman rather than the group. It saddens me that too many people end up making journeys on their own.
I was talking about safe and unsafe places with a group of young people. They were happy to throw out names and places where it wasn’t safe – war zones mostly. Some of them had parents in the army that had been sent to some of the unsafe places around the world.
We came a little closer to home, to places in Inverness that they considered not safe. Sometimes it was linked to just a certain time of night. Other times it down to certain streets or alley ways. We nodded sagely as we ticked off the no-go areas in our heads.
Then the bomb dropped.
I’d read earlier about places in some city centres where owners of grocery shops were part of a scheme to provide young people, any people, with a safe place to be. A sticker in the window told a young person that the owner of the shop would phone someone if you felt you were being followed or at risk. You could wait in the shop while a parent came to collect you, or a friend, or a police car. The shop with the shop owner was a safe place.
Schools don’t have a visible sticker anywhere giving a person reassurance that it’s a safe place.
School of me wasn’t a safe place for just the one year of my life. The school was a rural secondary school. Pupils were bussed in from surrounding villages. Much like the certain streets and alleys my young people had named, there were certain villages that were labelled as unsafe. The bullies came from one of those villages. Had there been mobile phones in those days, had the bullies possessed them or had I, there might have been the one going cyber hate spilling across the screen. At the end of the day, we headed for separate busses and they couldn’t touch me until the next day. Thank heavens for small mercies.
It was never that bad, she says, looking back. It was all verbal and done at a distance. The pencil case tossed to the floor, the face up close to mine, the whispers and giggles as I walked by. It was intimidating. There were threats to fight me at the end of the school day – an empty threat seeing as we all had busses to catch.
What struck me then, and still gets to me today, is how the un-bullied never stepped in. "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing." so said Edmund Burke.
It was visible day in day out. My misery was there for all to see and they never stood up for me. I wasn’t one of the pretty people, one of the popular ones. Maybe it was the glasses with their plastic NHS lenses that did it, or the overbite of my mouth, or the skirt level that stayed stubbornly just below the knee, of the face void of make-up, or the eyes that didn’t ogle boys but read books instead.
It was just for one year. I worked myself into a better class and they lost interest.
Safe places are fast disappearing.
“As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the Lord surrounds his people both now and forevermore.” Psalm 125:2
If the person I am now was poured into the person I was then I wonder whether I would ever have become the victim of bullies. Then I was a quiet girl – now? Still quiet but full of confidence. The confidence is not Mel-manufactured but God given.
I consider myself very blessed that God has taken away the “unsafedness” of places for me. That’s not to say the place is safe where I’m called to go, but in that unsafe place I am safe because God is there with me.