In second grade, I had a classmate named Stephen.
Stephen was a little different than other kids. I'll be honest, I don't remember how so; but he was, and so in a glowing demonstration of the depravity of man, all the other kids were mean to him. (Humans! Love us.)
One day on the playground, a bunch of us found a bush with some pointy leaves on it, and we were chasing and sticking each other with them, because that's what you do with sharp flora when you're eight. I was buzzing around fully armed when Stephen crossed my path, and without a second thought, I gave him a generous poke.
Stephen recoiled like I'd shot him, which was totally natural for a kid that A) probably hadn't been clued into the fun, class-wide game of leaf-stab and B) was used to people treating him unkindly day in and day out. At the time, though, neither of those logical thoughts crossed my mind. Instead, I was surprised and annoyed at Stephen's dramatics, and I poked him again for being a baby, and ran off to find my next victim.
The next thing I knew, my teacher called me over from her designated post. To my horror, she was flanked by a crying Stephen.
It's one of my earliest memories of feeling true guilt. Even after I apologized, it sat like a heavy rock in my stomach. Stephen's mom lectured me when she picked him up, which in retrospect seems like something that maybe shouldn't have happened but was fair, and I bawled through my post-school explanation to less-than-pleased parents.
I don't remember getting in much trouble with them — whatever they heard from the parties involved, I think they were pretty much satisfied with the emotional trauma I'd experienced by that point.
Later, though, my mom came in my room for one last discussion on the whole ordeal.
My mom has a sense of justice that emanates from the very core of her soul and pumps through the blood in her veins. She powerfully believes in right treatment of people.
And to this day, I have burned into my memory the image of her standing in my room delivering the final word.
She told me that we do not ever pick on or put down other people, especially people that other people pick on or put down. And furthermore, if I saw others picking on or putting down someone, not only do I not join in, it is my responsibility to stop it from happening; because allowing injustice is contributing to injustice. And Rushes are justice people.
It was not an idea or suggestion, it was a decree. My mother was deadly serious and queen-like in her delivery, and she had hot-rollers in her hair which really added to the overall effect, and she was very scary and awe-inspiring in the moment.
I went to school for the rest of that year ready to take a freaking bullet for Stephen. I also let annoying kids sit with me at lunch, and every last second grade girl got an invitation to my birthday party, and I retired from playground games that involved weaponry of any kind.
I was a changed woman. At first, because Lana Rush had 100% convinced me that I had no choice or would otherwise be cast into the streets, last-nameless; but then, more and more, because I realized how much it meant to people, and how easy it really was, and how important it became to me, too.
If you, like me, find yourself a little anxious about the apparent state of the world these days, can I take a page out of my mom's book and remind us of something?
Justice and kindness are not, and never have been, government mandates or presidential responsibilities. If we want to live in a just and kind world, then it starts and ends with individuals deciding to be just and kind in our worlds.
Policies and procedures may change at the top, but culture happens on the ground level.
Donald Trump can never stop me from inviting you to my birthday party.
Whatever it is we say we want, it's up to you and me.
Get off Facebook and go be nice to someone.