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Kent Bernhardt: Blessed are the peacemakers

I have always been a lover, not a fighter.

Don’t get me wrong, there are many things worth fighting for. If you hurt someone I love, I’ll put up my dukes. Freedom, liberty, the last chocolate cupcake on the dessert platter — those are all on my list of things worth defending.

Throughout my childhood, however, I simply found it easier to let the potential for violence pass harmlessly through me. “Blessed are the Peacemakers.” That was me.

I seldom saw the need to mix it up with the guys who would “knock your block off,” “punch your lights out,” “clobber you” or “give you a knuckle sandwich.”

I met a few of them along the way though, the tough guys who seemed determined to invite me into their world of needless drama. I would usually just ignore them. But when that tactic failed, I would turn to my natural defense mechanism, humor.

“Hey Kent, I’m gonna punch your face in. What are you gonna do about it?”

“Probably bleed all over you,” I would respond.

There was one occasion in the second grade when no amount of reasoning worked, and I was an unwilling participant in a classroom skirmish.

The class bully — for purposes here, we’ll refer to him as “Dennis the Menace” — was well known for his toughness and lack of respect for authority. He was forever balling up his fist and waving it in your face, just to remind you of his mighty power. Bullies do that.

Mrs. Jordan, our kind but no-nonsense teacher, had left the classroom to visit the principal’s office for “just a few moments.” We were to be as quiet as church mice and study diligently until she returned. Those few moments would turn into an eternity.

As soon as he was certain she was out of earshot, Dennis went to work. He roamed the classroom selecting opponents at random. One by one, he would pull boys out of their seats, punch and wrestle them into submission on the floor, and dump them back into their chairs whimpering.

To make a long painful story short, I was the guy he was working on when Mrs. Jordan walked back into the room.

She pulled us apart and ushered us by the earlobes into the hallway outside the classroom. Dennis and I had both begun to cry, and it didn’t take him long to confess — that I started it and it was all my fault.

My protests fell on deaf ears, for in those days it seldom mattered who started it. If you were a participant, you were in trouble.

We both received the standard sentence that would be considered child abuse these days. Mrs. Jordan whipped out her trusty ruler and administered several sharp whacks to our open palms, a stinging reminder that she was the queen bee in this hive.

Two sobbing young boys returned to their desks vowing to exercise better judgment in the future. I did. Dennis didn’t. Within a week, he was in trouble again.

I occasionally thought about that day through the years. I didn’t see Dennis after elementary school. I assumed he must be in prison somewhere.

But one night about 20 years ago, I spotted a man who looked like Dennis in a local restaurant. I thought about saying hello, but couldn’t be sure it was him.

I also mentally entertained the notion of walking over to his table, pulling him out of his chair, beating him to a pulp, and dumping his battered body back into his seat. But that’s not the man I am, so the thought perished. I quietly visited the dessert bar instead.

“Blessed are the peacemakers,” I reminded myself.

And yes, I also reminded myself that the penalty for assault and battery is a bit more stringent than a few whacks with a ruler.

Kent Bernhardt lives in Salisbury.


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