It may not have been the worst thing I ever did, but I regretted it the longest.
I was one of those kids who felt picked on in school (boo hoo hoo). Nerdy, teacherâ€™s pet, clumsy at sports, I certainly provided no shortage of targets for the slings and arrows of outrageous juveniles. But at least there was always Peggy Prouty* who was overweight and even lower on the playground pecking order.
Most of my recesses were spent reading in a garden near the school office windows. Peggy hid there, too. We never spoke, never acknowledged each otherâ€™s pariah existence.
One day the queen bees swarmed through. They started in on me first. Then they spotted Peggy, and the chanting began. â€œPiggy Prouty! Piggy, piggy, piggy Prouty!â€ She kept reading, pretending to take no notice of the she-devils dancing three feet away.
I couldnâ€™t believe it then â€“ still can hardly believe it now â€“ but I heard my own voice rise with theirs: â€œPiggy Prouty! Piggy, piggy, piggy Prouty!â€
For 35 years, those ten seconds haunted me. If I could have undone any event in my life, it would have been that one.
Being the good little Mormon girl with regular classes on repentance, I did what I could to erase the thing. I recognized I had done wrong; I certainly felt remorse; I did not repeat that sin or anything quite like it; I couldn’t ask for Peggy’s forgiveness after we had moved to another state, so I prayed for God’s forgiveness. But I didnâ€™t feel better about it, and the memory came back to trouble me, over and over again.
We most often discuss the Atonement in connection with repentance, in terms of justice and mercy: We sin; we repent; Christ in his mercy pays the price of our sin; justice is appeased. Justice is something to be feared, to escape through appealing to Christ. But so what if God extended mercy to me for what I had done? Peggy had been hurt, and my being forgiven didn’t bring justice to her; my forgiveness seemed only to add insult to her injury.
But that isnâ€™t the full story, I eventually learned. Christ â€œcomprehended all thingsâ€ (D&C 88:6), he knows the pain that comes to his people in mortality: â€œhe will take upon him their infirmities … according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmitiesâ€ (Alma 7:12); and his Atonement covers not only our sins: â€œhe was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities,â€ but also our griefs and sorrows: â€œthe chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healedâ€ (Isaiah 53:4-5).
Justice not only holds us accountable for our wrongs, it safeguards the blessings that would come to us but for the wrongs of which we are innocent. In the words of Elder Richard G. Scott at October conference, 2006, â€œThe Redeemer can settle your individual account with justice … Through the Atonement you can live in a world where justice assures that you will retain what you earn by obedience.â€
I donâ€™t know how this can be â€“ how Peggy Prouty can become what she would have been had not childhood bullying changed her in the way I know from experience it did change her; I donâ€™t know how Christ will heal the life of a person spent in a barely functioning body, or with a crippled mind. I only know that somehow the Atonement will someday make whole the grief of a childless woman, and the father robbed of the opportunity to raise his children because of his ex-wifeâ€™s choices, and the innocent victims of wars and drunk drivers and playground bullies and poverty and malnutrition and natural disasters and violent criminals and drownings and fire and loneliness and unfulfilled dreams and talents with no chance for development. I donâ€™t know how; I only trust it will be.
*Peggyâ€™s name has been disguised to respect her privacy. If by some miracle you are reading this, Peggy, I do remember your real name. I am so sorry for what I did.