Kathleen Rys, 72, and Lorraine O’Kelly, 70, are sisters. Their sisterly bond was not only a matter of friendship but also one of survival.
Connections with other people and friendships are crucial for our sense of well-being. The Rys sisters missed out on their chance to develop meaningful friendships once they transferred to Monee Elementary School from Chicago during their elementary-school days.
The sisters were shunned at school for unknown reasons. By middle school, there seemed to be an unwritten rule that the entire student body followed: avoid the Rys sisters.
“Somehow the whole entire school got against us … Not one person wanted to get near us,” O’Kelly told the Chicago Tribune.
Students would even move to the other side of the hallway if it meant not walking near Rys and O’Kelly. The sisters turned to each other for support while the entire school rejected them.
Normal school memories of sitting in the cafeteria eating lunch or signing yearbooks are painful for the two sisters. Their memories are of empty chairs next to them at lunch and empty pages that should have been signed by other students.
O’Kelly heartbreakingly shared, “When we climbed the stairs to go to our other classes, if someone bumped into us, they’d run to the washroom to wash their hands … We prayed to God because we knew at least he loved us.”
Bruce Smit, 71, very well could have been one of those students who washed his hands. Now, 60 years after he has been out of the same grammar school as the sisters, Smit wanted to metaphorically “wash his hands” to be cleansed of his mistreatment of the sisters.
It’s an important lesson for all of us. Neither the bully nor those being bullied forget the pain and cruelty involved in bullying.
Smit did not use the amount of time that had passed as an excuse to not apologize to the sisters. He met them at a Panera to apologize 60 years after they graduated for his role in the torment that they faced at school.
Smit expressed his shame and embarrassment over his past behavior. The two sisters forgave him, despite the fact that the pain of bullying still stung.
According to the Chicago Tribune, O’Kelly concluded, “It’s like a beautiful grace. It’s just wonderful that a person from 60 years ago can ask for forgiveness.”
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