Next to the clothesline in a neighbor's backyard. This was the first place I remember really getting hurt in my life.
It is one of those sun-drenched fall days, a Sunday afternoon; the weather is crisp but not yet cold. October in western Pennsylvania, culled from the recesses of memory, is recalled as a spectacular time. Leaves of red, yellow and orange falling with each gentle breeze as deer hunters begin preparing themselves and their sons for the annual trek into the forest. Until the time of the hunt, pickup football games are played in earnest. Any relatively open space will do. Which is how I came to be standing next to a clothesline at the age of 7.
Too young to play with the big boys, I was to stand just outside the end zone, which was demarcated by the spot where Mrs. Parsons normally put up her wash. A towel draped over a shoulder, this columnist wiped the football if needed -- Mrs. Parsons' yard being an equal measure of grass and dirt. I marveled at the size and speed of the young men -- Randy, Gary and John, in particular. They seemed to play with such abandon and were contemptuous of the possibility of injury.
Randy made a flying tackle to stop a runner from the crossing the clothesline marker for a touchdown. I didn't get out of the way in time. Randy's legs clipped mine as he savagely (and effectively) stopped his opponent's forward progress. I couldn't stand up afterward and missed school the next day because my legs were so bruised.
Legs heal. Broken bones mend. Wounds close. The recuperative power God has placed inside our bodies is an amazing thing. The physical hurt I've experienced in my life always passes eventually. Other kinds of hurt linger.
Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me. This mantra, which we patiently repeat to little ones to help them deal with the callousness of childhood, is patently untrue. The Lord's Prayer speaks directly to those we hurt and those who hurt us: "And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us."
In other words, hurt is a given. If you are breathing, you get hurt. You receive hurt and you will be its dispenser. If we are the source of hurt, we generally believe it to be unintentional.
Truth to tell, there are times in which the hurt we mete out is deliberate yet few will take responsibility. People say, "I'm fine," or "It doesn't bother me," as a coping strategy for emotional trauma which sometimes feels bone deep.
At the risk of sounding like an episode of Oprah, let's be clear: If you're alive, you're going to get hurt -- and sometimes by something more lasting than a flying tackle. Let's be clear. You usually won't receive an apology nor any acknowledgment that anything untoward has happened at all. This can be frustrating. You can marinate your frustration to the point where it sours all your relationships. Let's be clear. You can be proactive in your hurt. You can do what companies so often do. Write your hurt off as a bad debt. Consider it a nonrecoverable account receivable and get it off your mental "books." Maybe that's one definition of forgiveness. Let's be clear. Forgiveness can be that which we do for ourselves to write off the bad debt of unresolved hurt. It'll take longer to feel better, probably, than bouncing back after an end zone tackle gone awry. But you will get up.
Write it off. Dump the hurt. Do it for yourself.
The Rev. Dr. Jeff Long is senior pastor of Centenary United Methodist Church in Cape Girardeau. Married to his college sweetheart, he is the father of two teenaged daughters.