When I was in fifth grade, there was a girl in our class named Leigh Aston. Leigh had red hair, a large nose, and freckles. In our estimation, she was not pretty. Several boys in the class made fun of her every day, telling her that she had “cooties” (whatever that was), playing pranks on her, and generally making life miserable for her. The girls ignored her. She had no friend in our class. And I was complicit in this injustice. Though I did not routinely make fun of her, I avoided her and never confronted any of the ringleaders of this jeering, and I never remember actually speaking to Leigh. After two years of this, Leigh did not come back. I do not know what became of her.
Not a year goes by that I do not think of Leigh and regret the cruelty meted out to her by immature kids who were insensitive, who accorded her no dignity, and whose unkindness must have been a daily trauma for her. I was troubled then by what was done to her, and yet I was a silent member of the same pack. I showed her no kindness, only indifference. Though Leigh on rare occasion came to tears, on no occasion do I remember her meeting unkindness with anything other than a bowed silence, or even a sweet (but hurting) smile. For what I did I have long since repented, and while I know that God has blotted out even the memory of that sin, I cannot forget.
I won’t forget Leigh because she is at least an annual reminder to me of the truth that all people are made in God’s image, that even the ugly, obnoxious, uncool, and misshapen are entitled to dignity, to decent treatment, not because of who they are or how they look or who they know or how cool they are, but because they are made in the image of the One who made them, the One who in human form “had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him” (Isa. 53:2).
I won’t forget Leigh because she is a humbling reminder of my capacity for sin, of the need I have for almost daily repentance of the ungracious and cruel way I can still treat people in my thoughts and (though more subtly) in the manner in which I actually treat them. Just yesterday, I was standing in line to renew my driver’s license, one of those experiences (like traffic court) that is a great leveler of people, something people of all backgrounds must do. I looked around and mentally sized up the people there --- those of different race, chain-smokers, construction workers, and resident aliens --- and for a moment thought myself better. You see, I haven’t changed so much from that unkind fifth grader that I was.
I don’t remember the name of a single other kid in those classes, but I will not forget Leigh. She is a reminder to me that God is kind though we are unkind, that God forgives and forgets. I just hope that by God’s grace a now nearly 50 year old Leigh is a beautiful picture of grace, and that God has long since blotted out from her memory our unkindness to her.