The past few days, discussions of bullying have brought back many memories that I thought I had forgotten. One such memory was a letter I wrote over five years ago to a woman named Joanne Spotten. More accurately, I wrote it to the 12-year-old girl she once was. That is the last time I saw her and I have not been able to locate her. Maybe someone else can.
December 26, 2001
It is my hope that this letter finds you happy and healthy. My family and I have just moved back to Utah and I am hoping to be able to find someone who may know you and who can forward this letter to you.
You may not remember me. And if you do it may not be with kindness. For years I have thought about you and hoped that I would be able to locate you in order that I might relieve a burden that I have carried for decades. I truly realize that that is a selfish motive. But I hope that somehow it will help you to know that I am very aware of the pain I caused you and would do anything if I could go back and do things differently.
We went to school together at Orem Elementary. We both were often the brunt of ridicule and teasing by other children, but in my recollection you received more than I did.
Joanne, I honestly do not recall ever joining in with the others in tormenting you. What I do recall completely is utter relief that their unkindness was pointed at you instead of me.
“I’m so glad it’s not me. I’m so glad it’s not me.”
But how could standing by with the silent group while some were harassing and ridiculing you really be anything else but joining in?
Please forgive me. For someone who understands the pain of being singled out, it is inexcusably evil behavior. Never once did I stand up for you. Never once did I confront those who would be so cruel. Never once did I even tell you that I didn’t agree with what they said. All those things I hoped would be done on my behalf yet I was completely unwilling to do them for someone else.
Joanne, I am so ashamed that I did not do any of those things! I do not know why I was such a coward or why I so valued the opinions of people who, at least at that time, were not showing character that was admirable. I have no excuses and no explanations. I am so very sorry that I did not once do what I knew I should have done. You deserved so much better.
For a number of years I have used my cowardice as a bad example to try to teach the teenagers I have worked with in church and my own children. Although I cannot undo the past, perhaps there can be a future benefit to someone else if they can avoid the kind of behavior I engaged in.
I do not pretend that merely telling you that I am sorry will make up for the pain that I contributed to. I know it does not undo the damage. But I still think it is important for you to know that I am deeply sorry and I pray that some day you may be able to forgive me.
Thank you for taking the time to read this. I wish for you the best in life.
Alison Moore Smith