Warning: this post contains language which may offend.
“The truth is, everyone is going to hurt you. You just got to find the ones worth suffering for”. – Bob Marley
This story has very little to do with politics or Ireland, but it features memories of a time when I was a school girl many years ago. And the reason I have decided to talk about it is because it threw up a very important lesson about friendship for me at a time when lessons were being learned continually, but of course, the effect of a lesson learned in childhood does not have the poignancy of a lesson learned and reflected on when one is much older.
What actually happened was this: As a ten year old, I became friends with Jenny M who was a lovely Irish girl. She was bright and funny and smart. What I did not know at the time was that Jenny M would betray me and our friendship with little thought to the consequences. Now as ten year olds, if you cast your mind back, what is the most important thing to a child? My answer would be, finding solidarity with someone likeminded, feeling a sense of belonging, being accepted and being happy. Unless you’re far more advanced than your years, and you aspire to greater things, just knowing that there is someone in the class room and the playground who you can identify with goes a long way to feeling at peace in your own small world.
It was lunch time, and we were queuing for our lunch. Imagine: noisy, boisterous girls and boys, a dinner hall, buzzing with chatter and laughter. China and cutlery clinking against the backdrop of hungry children, released from classes and lessons, not silenced by the need to conform. Individuality coming to the fore, wanting to impress, wanting to assert their sense of who they are, vying for attention, perhaps a little confused about their place in the world, but on a huge learning curve.
The school dinner lady (one of say 2 or three others) was serving the meal. I don’t know how hungry Jenny M was, (she may not have had breakfast that morning) but she boldly asked for three sausages. The Irish dinner lady refused saying that Jenny M was only allowed two. Jenny was upset, angry, embarrassed that she had asked but had not received. She turned to me, and whispered: “The Irish c*w!” and swearing me to secrecy: “Don’t tell her I said so!”.
Wanting to be a good friend, shy, wanting Jenny’s approval and feeling accepted and part of a great confidence, I smiled, shook my head, and promised not to repeat what she had said.
Several days later, the incident still fresh in my mind, Jenny M and I were in the school playground and I can’t remember the exact thing that happened, but it involved the Irish dinner lady. Thinking that I had a good friend and confidante, I approached Jenny M and told her what happened. Believing that she was a true friend I repeated her words: “…the Irish c*w!” And asked Jenny, as she had asked me not so long ago not to tell Mrs I.
So what did Jenny M do? She promptly went straight to Mrs I, our Irish dinner lady and said: “Miiissss …Marie said that you are an Irish c*w”. Mortified, I could hardly believe what I heard and saw. This supposedly good friend had betrayed me with little thought as to how I would feel, and how much she had betrayed our friendship.
Of course I was hauled to the Headmaster’s office and I was duly reprimanded. But that day I learned a very important lesson as a 10 year old. Be careful who you put your trust in. In a way it was a
good lesson, painful yes, but it stood me in good stead for the rest of my life. At the time, I had no words for how I felt. I think I forgave Jenny M. Now, looking back, clearly this incident impacted me and the way I view others. Was Jenny a real friend? Should we factor into friendships, the possibility that a friend is capable of betrayal and should we take into account what may/may not have been going on in their life at the time of betrayal. And is betrayal ever something that can be forgiven if there were extenuating circumstances? As 10 year olds – do we know who we really are and do we have the maturity to be a true friend?
I will have to speak about the other Jenny in part 2 of ‘The Irish Question’.
~ Marie Williams 2016
*Jenny M and Jenny C are not their real names.