100 Dresses: Bullying and Forgiveness

I have a huge problem with forgiveness. I hate forgiving people. Particularly people whom I’ve trusted in the past.

I also have a problem with trusting people.

And I have a huge problem with bullies.

I’ve told a lot of my close friends, confessed, really, that I have a lot of problems this past summer. But with this trip to Philly that I got back from earlier today, I realize that the problem is not that I have a lot of them, but that I tend to take problems that have nothing to do with me and I internalize them; and make them my own problems.

For years, there was a bully who teased me in high school. And like the girls in the story, I’m sure he didn’t mean to hurt my feelings. He was “having fun” or like that totally bullshit answer to everything that bad parents give to their daughters, “that just means that he likes you” (it’s parents like you that are allowing your sons to behave like assholes in order to convey affection, because that’s totally natural and positive). But for a long time, I did really believe that it was me; that he disliked me for some reason and I remember trying so hard to impress him and make him be nice to me.

Obviously that didn’t really work out for me. But I tried; and it’s the effort that counts, right?! Anyhow, this is truly a beautiful story because it’s not just about bullying; how it can be disguised, or that people will try to hide it as something else, but about a girl who was able to take the negative experience and transform it into something beautiful; something true about herself.

The story follows several school girls who always make fun of a girl named Wanda Petronski because she has a funny name and because she wears the same dress to school every day. They barely even remember why they make fun of her, and in fact they don’t even see it as bullying until one day, Wanda stops coming to school. The basis of the teasing is a comment that Wanda makes about owning many dresses, and because she is obviously poor, they tease her and ask her about her hundred dresses; mocking her to her face, and then accusing her of lying. After all, if she owned that many dresses, why wouldn’t she wear any of them to school?

It’s only when she is pulled out of that school because of the incessant bullying do they realize their crimes. And then, as added guilt, they arrive at the schoolroom one morning to see the walls covered in beautiful drawings of gorgeous girls wearing the most lovely of dresses. All of Wanda’s 100 dresses lining the walls like so many flowers.

And while the story is told from the perspective of one of the girls who had taken part in the bullying, the story is all about Wanda, a girl with no friends, who despite the teasing, takes the high road, and in fact, reaches out to those who persecuted her with love and affection. A girl who is much wiser than her years would suppose. And really, this story teaches us almost as much about forgiveness as it does about bullying.

Obviously, the narrator realizes that even if she wasn’t actively a bully, because she didn’t prevent the bullying, she was as guilty as the ones who had instigated the bullying. But we also learn a lot about forgiveness from Wanda herself; that she not only forgave them, but she went a step further and showed love and compassion for her tormentors.

And a rarer lesson can be learned as well; we often apologize with the expectation that those who we say sorry to are then obligated to give us their forgiveness. But Wanda moves away before she realizes that she’s won the drawing contest; and before the girls who bullied her can ask for forgiveness. So we see a truly selfless act of forgiveness; forgiving and showing affection in a place in which reciprocation is impossible.

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About Angela

Editor, bookbinder, and writer.

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