Saturday, March 09, 2002

Over coffee yesterday with the priest and her boyfriend the policeman, the priest said that she had run into a girl who had bullied her when she was young. The priest had just moved back to Sweden from Africa, where she had spent her early childhood, and she was the strange new girl in school.

"Petra?" the priest asked when she ran into the bully.

Yes, it was Petra, who was now working as a waitress at Gondolen, a fancy cocktail bar and restaurant on Söder overlooking Stockholm harbor, not a mile from where the priest lives.

"And what are you doing, now?" Petra had asked.

The priest said that all the old feelings came rushing back and it felt strangely as if in that sentence, Petra the Bully was trying to assert herself all over again.

This isn't surprising, really, because one of the priest's great strengths is her vulnerability. She lays herself open when she leads, which gives her tremendous power because one can't help but believe in her deeply. But at the same time, I know that she finds it exhausting to be so vulnerable.

"I may be wrong," she said, "but I feel like I can always pick out people who were bullied when they were young."

I wondered how she could see this.

"They have a certain sensitivity about how other people feel," she said.

I asked her if she could tell whether I had been bullied or not.

"Well," she said, "With you I can't tell whether it's because you grew up in a very kind family, or because you were bullied. I think maybe it's a combination of both."

She laughed.

She was right.

The Swedish word for the day is of course mobbing. It means bullying.

- by Francis S.

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