This week as I sat devastatingly engrossed in an article about Tyler Clementi, the Rutgers student who took his life after the homophobic harassment and bullying he suffered at the hands of his roommate, Oscar came up behind me, peered over my shoulder and at the accompanying photographs, and asked, “Why is that boy in the magazine?”
He has a sense now that people are in magazines and newspapers if there is a story to tell. Perhaps Oscar, as a budding violinist, was attracted to the photo of Tyler playing his violin. Perhaps he was just curious to see what I was reading. No matter the reason, I feel that when he asks a question, he deserves an answer. But how do you explain vitriolic hatred to a six-year-old?
You can’t, and you don’t.
Instead, I simply said that some of the boy’s classmates weren’t kind to him and that that’s why he was in the magazine.
The inevitable “Why?” followed.
I choked back what I wanted to say . . . that there are people in this world who are so insecure that they feel they have the right to judge other people; that there are people so consumed by hatred that they can’t look past their own prejudices and see the person in front of them; that there are people who derive power, however false a sense, from bringing other people down.
But Oscar is not ready for that . . . yet.
So, instead I say that the boy’s classmates decided that there was something about him that they didn’t like and instead of simply leaving him alone they played a terrible trick on him.
Oscar’s reply? “Why couldn’t they just let him be?”
Indeed, Oscar. Indeed.