The Hundred Dresses

Last week, my daughter and I went to see a production of “The Hundred Dresses” at BYU. Last month, we read the book by Eleanor Estes for the mother/daughter book group at our city library.

The story is about bullying, and the conflict and regret Maddie feels for not standing up to defend Wanda  from her friend. Maddie justifies her inaction in several ways–the victim never complained or cried, and Maddie had a genuine fear of becoming a target herself. But she always felt that participation in the bullying, while mostly that of a passive bystander, was wrong. Then Wanda moved away.

The play constructs an ending in which Maddie is able to apologize to and receive forgiveness from Wanda, but the book, like reality, lacks this neat resolution. Maddie is never able to apologize and make things right with Wanda. Not being able to apologize may be worse than admitting you are wrong. I know exactly how that feels.

When I was growing up, I desperately wanted to have friends and especially to have a best friend. I distinctly felt like a back up friend; someone other kids would hang out with only if their preferred friends were gone for the day or mad at them. I was the neutral agent, the peacemaker in minor playground disputes. But I was no one’s first choice, and was desperately unhappy because of that.

LaTosha and I exchanged Best Friends jewelry in 5th grade; it was the first time anyone wanted to share a necklace with me. That year, a new girl moved into our school. Her name was Jamie. Not many new people came to our little town, so a new kid in school was a unusual. I saw this as an opportunity to make a new friend. Jamie didn’t know that I had few friends; she had fewer friends in this school than I did. So it would be perfect if we became friends. And we did. Jamie, LaTosha, and I were friends. But three’s a crowd, and soon it was Jamie and LaTosha who were best friends, and I was back to being a bench warmer. It didn’t take long before Jamie started being mean to me, making the catty little comments that hurt long after the actual words were forgotten.

But it didn’t last forever. After a few months, Jamie’s family was moving again. Her last day at our school, she was especially mean to me. And I’d had it. I told her that she was ugly, that no one at our school had really liked her, and that she was FAT.

And then I got on the bus and left. I looked out the window and saw her, still on the asphalt outside the school, trying to scrub away tears and control the sobs. Less than a minute had passed, and already the heat of anger and flush of triumph had faded, and I was left with the stomach-turning sourness of shame. I would have apologized then, but it was too late. I never saw Jamie again.

Jamie was a cute little girl. She was plump, and it is a special kind of meanness for a skinny little girl to call a plump, unhappy little girl “fat.” And Jamie moved at least twice during that school year, from one insular small town in rural Texas to another.

It is impossible to avoid offending others in this world, just as it is impossible to avoid all hurt. But I never want to guilty of that malicious cruelty again. I avoid deliberately insulting anyone, because I do not want to find myself offensive.

The play continues at BYU this weekend.

15 comments for “The Hundred Dresses

  1. October 21, 2011 at 9:05 am

    From an LDS perspective, this sin haunted me for years, especially as a teenager. How you can complete the repentance process if you are unable to apologize and make restitution? I don’t know if I met Jamie today that any apology I could offer would mean anything to her-there is a good chance that she has no memory of the incident that seared into my mind. Could it be better to have that particular incident unresolved if it means that it permanently changed my actions toward other people?

  2. ji
    October 21, 2011 at 9:34 am

    Yes, to answer your last question in no. 1. Not that unresolved is good, but unresolved is of lesser importance than your permanent change.

    Your message is a good way to start a day — thank you…

  3. October 21, 2011 at 10:32 am

    This one brings back a lot of memories for me. Guilt for “unresolved sins” was once a major emotional factor in my life. I used to worry quite a lot about my state of salvation, and whether or not I had made proper restitution for any number of minor infractions. I remember how in YM we were taught that the reason certain sins (e.g. chastity-related ones) are so bad is because no proper restitution can be made. What I’ve come to realize is that that’s not specific to those sins — really, proper restitution can be made for very few of our destructive actions.

  4. Martin
    October 21, 2011 at 10:55 am

    Boy, do I ever relate to this post — I was cruel on a couple occasions when I was young, and just thinking about it still distresses me. I still wish there was some way I could undo the damage I did, and it’s thirty years later. Even if I had had the opportunity to apologize, I’m not sure it would have helped much. Some things can’t be fixed. I’m glad it still hurts, though, because I don’t ever want to be like that again.

  5. busracer
    October 21, 2011 at 11:53 am

    Rachel, this is a moving story because I have felt exactly what you describe. There are several people – way too many – scattered through the years that make my heart sink when I remember them for the very reason that I see now how hurtful I was to them.

    For me, the realization that I hurt them and want to say “sorry” but can’t has made me come to appreciate the atonement more deeply. I’m left with the thought that all I can do is hope that Christ will touch their heart and help them heal from the hurt I caused; and that he will also help me heal from the hurt I caused but cannot repair.

  6. JKC
    October 21, 2011 at 12:18 pm

    It is realizations like this (No. 1) that have convinced me that the various iterations of the five steps of repentance are more like the five best practices of repentance, and should each not be viewed as an essential requirement for forgiveness, and if they are taken too seriously as essential requirements, can actually be counterproductive to faith in Christ because they limit his grace: “he can’t forgive me because I never made restitution.” I take comfort in Ezekiel’s teaching that a person who abandons sin “shall live,” regardless of the evil acts done in the past.

    We like lists because they are memorable and simple, but sometimes, making lists can both overcomplicate and oversimplify. In this case, I think the repentance list overcomplicates because repentance is simply to change, to forsake sin; it can oversimplify because it reduces the mystery and miracle of grace and forgiveness to a series of discrete propositions.

    I don’t meant to suggest that some efforts at restitution are not appropriate, but it is a slippery slope from that to believing that we are justified by our own efforts instead of by Christ, though our obedience to the invitation to repent and be baptized.

  7. Kevin Barney
    October 21, 2011 at 12:39 pm

    Sometimes I wish I could do my youth over with an adult’s understanding.

    In second grade a boy was being bullied, and I rushed into the fray. I ended up fighting with another kid, and as we rolled around on the ground I felt a tremendous pain in my right foot. I had broken my right big toe and was on crutches for six weeks. Maybe physically intervening wasn’t the right answer, but at least I have the satisfaction of knowing I tried to help.

    Later in grade school there was a girl, whose name was Lisa, who was teased mercilessly. I don’t even know why; it’s as though the kids had made a Lord of the Flies pact that this was to the sacrificial victim. It was so bad that eventually her parents had to pull her from the school; I have no idea where she went or what became of her. And I never intervened or stood up for her or anything. I just let it play out. I suppose I was worried that the fierceness of the animus directed at her would then come my way. But now, as an adult, I wish I could go back and have in some manner tried to be her friend.

  8. October 21, 2011 at 1:24 pm

    What a lovely (if painful) post. I suspect there are many of us who carry regrets for past mistakes that we feel we cannot correct. I know I do.

    I draw some comfort from these words of Elder Maxwell:

    “Sometimes . . . restitution is not possible in real terms,
    such as when one contributed to another’s loss of faith
    or virtue. Instead, a subsequent example of righteousness
    provides a compensatory form of restitution”
    (in Conference Report, Oct. 1991, 41; or Ensign, Nov.
    1991, 31).

    If that is so, it seems the awareness your painful experience has given you, and your subsequent better behavior toward others, are among the fruits of your repentance. May they be so for us all.

  9. October 21, 2011 at 2:56 pm

    Thank you all for your kind and supportive comments. Sometimes I think the hardest things we are called to do are to repent and forgive so that when we remember our past it may be with regret but not pain, and when we approach our future it is with resolve to be better, not a crippling guilt that stunts the possibility of growth and happiness.

  10. Jax
    October 21, 2011 at 5:26 pm

    It is somewhat off topic, but as I was thinking about similar situations in my past and the difficulty in repentence, specifically in forgiving yourself, I realized that it was analogous to why it is so difficult to repent for physical acts/habits after death. When Jamie moved it was impossible to make restitution and so more time is required for repentence because it takes more time for the opportunities to arise to show/prove that you have actually changed; similar when your body has been lost, how long would it take to show/prove that you have changed away from addictions/immorality/abuse??

    Sorry for the threadjack, but I wanted to share the thought I had had while reading the post. Thanks for sharing.

  11. Chadwick
    October 21, 2011 at 10:45 pm

    I’d say that childhood for me was a mixture of being bullied and also being a bully. As I’ve thought about it over the years, I’ve come to forgive the people who bullied me, even though I have no clue if they even want forgiveness, or think they need forgiveness. That has given me some solace as to the bullying I did. I’d like to think they feel like I do; that they realize I did not fully understand how badly words can hurt, that I am sorry, even if I cannot tell them, and that they have forgiven me.

    I also think that the moments I bullied were merely ways to stave off more bullying coming my way.

    I like Dane’s thoughts here, that there are PLENTY of sins, not just chastity-related, that really cannot be made whole on our part. But by shunning the behavior and feeling sorrow for the sin, the Lord accepts the change and makes it whole.

    I also really really hope I can teach my kids, above all, to be kind. There were those kids that were always nice to everyone, and I hope my kids can be like that, despite the fact that I was not.

  12. michelle
    October 22, 2011 at 1:00 am

    “It is realizations like this (No. 1) that have convinced me that the various iterations of the five steps of repentance are more like the five best practices of repentance, and should each not be viewed as an essential requirement for forgiveness, and if they are taken too seriously as essential requirements, can actually be counterproductive to faith in Christ”

    Reminds me of Elder Christofferson’s recent conference talk.

    Thanks for this post. Tugs at the heart strings for many reasons.

  13. Cameron N
    October 22, 2011 at 3:00 am

    I also thought of Elder Christopherson’s talk. Thanks for sharing everyone, especially Rachel.

  14. Sharee Hughes
    October 22, 2011 at 11:21 am

    Maybe it’s because I’m old(69), but I don’t remember a lot of bullying when I was growing up. Although everyone had their own set of friends they hung out with after school, during school recess we kind of all played together. I lived in a small town and we all went from elementary school through high school together. I think bullying is more common today, unfortunately. However, at my 51st high school reunion last fall (the first we had ever had), one old school friend apologized to me for having not treated me right in hgh school. I told him I had not remembered any mistreatment and had always thought of him as a friend. We now correspond regularly via e-mail. I appreciated his apology, even though I didn’t feel it was needed. I don’t remember treating anyone meanly in my youth (I don’t think I would have even if I wanted to) and hope I don’t ever do so. However, I have been treated unfairly myself from time to time as an adult, and sometimes it has taken awhile to forgive the offender, especially if there has been no apology. That is something I think we always need to remember–to forgive and forget. There will always be those for whom offending or bullying or being mean to others is a way of life. By forgiving them, we not only change ourselves, we change them, even ,as Chadwick said in #11, we “have no clue if they even want forgiveness, or think they need forgiveness.” By our attitude, we change the world.

  15. Leann Stine
    November 26, 2011 at 5:38 pm

    We recently had a young girl in our community commit suicide because she had been bullied. My daughter and I’ve seen many comments online expressing sadness and disbelief over the incident. Would it surprise people to know that people we remembered as bullies were among those who were saddened? It didn’t surprise me too much.

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