The boy stood with his back arched, head cocked back and hands clenched defiantly. “Go ahead, give it to me.”
The principal looked down at the young rebel. “How many times have you been here?”
The child sneered rebelliously, “Apparently not enough.”
The principal gave the boy a strange look. “And you have been punished each time have you not?”
“Yeah, I been punished, if that’s what you want to call it.” He threw out his small chest, “Go ahead I can take whatever you dish out. I always have.”
“And no thought of your punishment enters your head the next time you decide to break the rules does it?”
“Nope, I do whatever I want to do. Ain’t nothin’ you people gonna do to stop me either.”
The principal looked over at the teacher who stood nearby. “What did he do this time?”
“Fighting. He took little Tommy and shoved his face into the sandbox.”
The principal turned to look at the boy, “Why? What did little Tommy do to you?”
“Nothin’. I didn’t like the way he was lookin’ at me, just like I don’t like the way your lookin’ at me! And if I thought I could do it, I’d shove your face into something.”
The teacher stiffened and started to rise but a quick look from the principal stopped him. He contemplated the child for a moment and then quietly said, “Today my young student, is the day you learn about grace.”
“Grace? Isn’t that what you old people do before you sit down to eat? I don’t need none of your stinkin’ grace.”
“Oh but you do.” The principal studied the young mans face and whispered. “Oh yes, you truly do…” The boy continued to glare as the principal continued, “Grace, in its short definition is unmerited favor. You can not earn it; it is a gift and is always freely given. It means that you will not be getting what you so richly deserve.”
The boy looked puzzled. “You’re not gonna whup me? You just gonna let me walk?”
The principal looked down at the unyielding child. “Yes, I am going to let you walk.”
The boy studied the face of the principal, “No punishment at all? Even though I socked Tommy and shoved his face into the sandbox?”
“Oh, there has to be punishment. What you did was wrong and there are always consequences to our actions. There will be punishment. Grace is not an excuse for doing wrong.”
“I knew it,” sneered the boy as he held out his hands. “Let’s get on with it.”
The principal nodded toward the teacher. “Bring me the belt.” The teacher presented the belt to the principal. He carefully folded it in two and then handed it back to the teacher. He looked at the child and said, “I want you to count the blows.”
He slid out from behind his desk and walked over to stand directly in front of the young man. He gently reached out and folded the child’s outstretched, expectant hands together and then turned to face the teacher with his own hands outstretched.
One quiet word came forth from his mouth. “Begin.” The belt whipped down on the outstretched hands of the principal.
Crack! The young man jumped ten feet in the air. Shock registered across his face, “One” he whispered. Crack! “Two.” His voice raised an octave. Crack! “Three…” He couldn’t believe this. Crack! “Four.” Big tears welled up in the eyes of the rebel. “OK stop! That’s enough. Stop!” Crack! Came the belt down on the callused hands of the principal.
Crack! The child flinched with each blow, tears beginning to stream down his face. Crack! Crack! “No please,” the former rebel begged, “Stop, I did it, I’m the one who deserves it. Stop! Please. Stop…” Still the blows came, Crack! Crack! One after another.
Finally it was over.
The principal stood with sweat glistening across his forehead and beads trickling down his face. Slowly he knelt down. He studied the young man for a second and then his swollen hands reached out to cradle the face of the weeping child.