I stumbled into the karate studio yesterday evening, just a little early so that I could stretch. I saw a boy, who is about 8 years old, holding his head and just starting to cry. The head instructor called the boy to him and tried to explain that what had happened was because the child had not looked where he was going. “But, I cracked my skull!” yelled the boy, still holding his head. I saw no blood, but I could understand that his head was probably very sore and aching. The teacher continued with his explanation and suggested that the boy come to stand by him and watch what others were doing. The boy uttered something. I saw the teacher frown. “I’m in real trouble now,” said the boy. “I’d better go get a gun and kill myself,” he added. The teacher looked at me and I looked at him, both of us with wide-eyed expressions. “Let’s go into my office,” the teacher said to the boy. As they passed me, the teacher asked if he had heard correctly. I said he had. From where I stood, I could hear the start of a conversation between the boy and teacher, but moved away so that I was out of ear shot.
The boy’s mother came into the studio, with another of her children in a stroller. She had presumably left to do something else while her son’s class was taking place. She went into the office. They all stayed in the room for about 10 minutes, and were still there when the class was over. The mother and her children were still with the teacher when my class was due to start. Eventually, the family left and the teacher came to me and the group of adults who were now preparing for their evening class. He explained briefly what had taken place and asked me to confirm what the boy had said. We all shook our heads in a kind of ‘where did that come from?’ manner. We tried to focus on the class we were due to have. For me, that was very difficult.
I get shocked by the litany of people’s inhumanity to each other. So much so, sometimes, that I feel inclined to avoid anything that purports to be ‘news’, as it becomes a real string of shock and horror, and even more shock and horror. No sooner have I cleansed my thoughts than I find another bombardment. But, I am also often shocked by what I hear people say about themselves, and what they do to themselves, which can seem as inhuman as if perpetrated by another person. So many reasons can explain the source of such views and actions. So many consequences can come from either or both. If we are witnesses to these views or actions do we see them as signals to which we should respond? Do we listen carefully to the bells that are tolling or merely hear a ringing sound? Many of the horror stories that are reported point to earlier ‘signals’ of danger or impending tragedy that were clear but ignored. Clear, that is, when the story is retold and much time has passed. Obvious, that is, when stripped of all the other ‘noise’ and ‘distractions’ that might have been there to blur the signals.
I expect to see the boy again soon, if he continues with karate at our ‘school’. But, if I do not see him, and the teacher indicates that he has not been back, I will begin to ask myself and the teacher if we had seen and missed a signal. But, if I see the boy again and all seems ‘normal’, will I remember the ‘bells’ I heard tolling as a danger signal or just some ‘noise’ that was in my ears?