Don’t be afraid to say ‘I was wrong’

I ran down the long flight of stairs which led to the safety of the playground

By Moira Billinge

The scheduled fire practice had gone well.  Our very stern form teacher had instructed her class of eight-year-olds in the drill we were to follow upon hearing the alarm and we had practised – with military precision – lining up between the three rows of desks ready to walk calmly towards the door when ordered to do so.

My desk was in the row furthest from the door and at the back of the class.  This fact worried me greatly as if there were to be a real fire I would, of course, be the last one out.  

The following morning, in the middle of listening to a school’s programme on the radio, the fire alarm suddenly rang.  My teacher, in a voice nearly as loud as the alarm, shouted: ‘Children, everything is going to be all right but you must remember your fire drill.  Get into your lines now just like you did yesterday. Leave all your things on your desk!’

If she did issue any further instructions, I did not hear them in my all-consuming terror.  In a split second I had decided that I was absolutely not going to be the last out of that room under any circumstances.  I took flight, and, despite having asthma, sped swiftly past the rows of children – and my teacher.

Then, with a frantic tug I flung the door open, raced through the length of two adjoining classrooms and easily passed two more teachers who were preparing their children for a quick exit.  With speed, determination – and at considerable risk – I ran down the long flight of stairs which led to the safety of the playground where people were already starting to gather.

Once there, a new, imminent and possibly worse threat replaced my fear of being burnt alive by gigantic flames: somebody said that we had just taken part in an unannounced fire practice, obviously to test our proficiency and to see if we had taken anything in from the day before.
Calling the register, the teacher reached my name and glared at me with justifiable menace.  I knew at that moment that I was about to regret my act of self-preservation and I started to cry.  Actually, it was probably more like a loud, sobbing wail which accompanied me back to the classroom.

Given my gross act of cowardice, it should have been obvious to her why I was crying.  All the signs indicated a terrified child.  Sadly, this same teacher was not renowned for sensitive insight. ‘Are you crying because you were worried in case I got burnt?’ she asked, helpfully.

I could not believe my luck.  The totally unexpected lifeline offered a most perfect escape even though her personal safety had been the very last thing on my mind.  Nodding, very gratefully, through my tears, I escaped punishment.

How often in life do we do the wrong thing yet try to dodge the consequences of our actions?  It is easier to look for extenuating circumstances rather than to admit our blatant disregard for what is expected of us as children of God.  We can fool ourselves and we can fool others, but in the end we answer to God – who might not be a pushover, but perhaps recognises a scared child and makes allowances.

As Pope Francis remarked: ‘Never forget this: the Lord never gets tired of forgiving us.  It is we who get tired of asking for forgiveness.’


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