The Martyrdom of Andy

The Martyrdom of Andy

From A 2nd Helping of Chicken Soup for the Soul

The Martyrdom of Andy

Andy was a sweet, amusing little guy whom everyone liked but harassed, just because that was the way one treated Andy Drake. He took the kidding well. He always smiled back with those great big eyes that seemed to say, “Thank you, thank you, thank you,” with each sweeping blink.

For us fifth-graders, Andy was our outlet; he was our whipping boy. He even seemed grateful to pay this special price for membership in our group.

Andy Drake don’t eat no cake,
And his sister don’t eat no pie.
If it wasn’t for the welfare dole,
All the Drakes would die.

Andy even appeared to like this sing-song parody of Jack Spratt. The rest of us really enjoyed it, bad grammar and all.

I don’t know why Andy had to endure this special treatment to deserve our friendship and membership in the group. It just evolved naturally—no vote or discussion.

I don’t recall that it was ever mentioned that Andy’s father was in prison or that his mother took in washing and men. Or that Andy’s ankles, elbows and fingernails were always dirty and his old coat was way too big. We soon wore all the fun out of that. Andy never fought back.

Snobbery blossoms in the very young, I guess. It’s clear now the group attitude was that it was our right to belong to the group but that Andy was a member by our sufferance.

Despite that, we all liked Andy until that day—until that very moment.

“He’s different!” “We don’t want him, do we?”

Which one of us said it? I’ve wanted to blame Randolph all these years, but I can’t honestly say who spoke those trigger words that brought out the savagery lying dormant but so near the surface in all of us. It doesn’t matter who, for the fervor with which we took up the cry revealed us all.

“I didn’t want to do what we did.”

For years I tried to console myself with that. Then one day, I stumbled on those unwelcome but irrefutable words that convicted me forever:

The hottest corners of hell are reserved for those who, during a moment of crisis, maintain their neutrality.

The weekend was to be like others the group had enjoyed together. After school on a Friday we would meet at the home of one of the members—mine this time—for a camp-out in the nearby woods. Our mothers, who did most of the preparation for these “safaris,” fixed an extra pack for Andy who was to join us after chores.

We quickly made camp, mothers’ apron strings forgotten. With individual courage amplified by the group, we were now “men” against the jungle.

The others told me that since it was my party, I should be the one to give Andy the news!

Me? I who had long believed that Andy secretly thought a little more of me than he did the others because of the puppy-like way he looked at me? I who often felt him revealing his love and appreciation with those huge, wide-open eyes?

I can still plainly see Andy as he came toward me down the long, dark tunnel of trees that leaked only enough of the late afternoon light to kaleidoscope changing patterns on his soiled old sweatshirt. Andy was on his rusty, one-of-a-kind bike—a girl’s model with sections of garden hose wired to the rims for tires. He appeared excited and happier than I had ever seen him, this frail little guy who had been an adult all his life. I knew he was savoring the acceptance by the group, this first chance to belong, to have “boy fun,” to do “boy things.”

Andy waved to me as I stood in the camp clearing awaiting him. I ignored his happy greeting. He vaulted off the funny old bike and trotted over toward me, full of joy and conversation. The others, concealed within the tent, were quiet but I felt their support.

Why won’t he get serious? Can’t he see that I am not returning his gaiety? Can’t he see by now that his babblings aren’t reaching me?

Then suddenly he did see! His innocent countenance opened even more, leaving him totally vulnerable. His whole demeanor said, “It’s going to be very bad, isn’t it, Ben? Let’s have it.” Undoubtedly well-practiced in facing disappointment, he didn’t even brace for the blow. Andy never fought back.

Incredulously, I heard myself say, “Andy, we don’t want you.”

Hauntingly vivid still is the stunning quickness with which two huge tears sprang into Andy’s eyes and just stayed there. Vivid because of a million maddening reruns of that scene in my mind. The way Andy looked at me—frozen for an eternal moment—what was it? It wasn’t hate. Was it shock? Was it disbelief? Or, was it pity—for me?

Or forgiveness?

Finally, a fleet little tremor broke across Andy’s lips and he turned without appeal, or even a question, to make the long, lonely trip home in the dark.

As I entered the tent, someone—the last one of us to feel the full weight of the moment—started the old doggerel:

Andy Drake don’t eat no cake,
And his sister don’t . . .

Then it was unanimous! No vote taken, no word spoken, but we all knew. We knew that we had done something horribly, cruelly wrong. We were swept over by the delayed impact of dozens of lessons and sermons. We heard for the first time, “Inasmuch as ye do it unto the least of these . . .”

In that hushed, heavy moment, we gained an understanding new to us but indelibly fixed in our minds: We had destroyed an individual made in the image of God with the only weapon for which he had no defense and we had no excuse—rejection.

Andy’s poor attendance in school made it difficult to tell when he actually withdrew, but one day it dawned on me that he was gone forever. I had spent too many days struggling within myself to find and polish a proper way of telling Andy how totally, consummately ashamed and sorry I was, and am. I now know that to have hugged Andy and to have cried with him and even to have joined with him in a long silence would have been enough. It may have healed us both.

I never saw Andy Drake again. I have no idea where he went or where he is, if he is.

But to say I haven’t seen Andy is not entirely accurate. In the decades since that autumn day in the Arkansas woods, I have encountered thousands of Andy Drakes. My conscience places Andy’s mask over the face of every disadvantaged person with whom I come in contact. Each one stares back at me with that same haunting, expectant look that became fixed in my mind that day long ago.

Dear Andy Drake:

The chance you will ever see these words is quite remote, but I must try. It’s much too late for this confession to purge my conscience of guilt. I neither expect it to nor want it to.

What I do pray for, my little friend of long ago, is that you might somehow learn of and be lifted by the continuing force of your sacrifice. What you suffered at my hands that day and the loving courage you showed, God has twisted, turned and molded into a blessing. This knowledge might ease the memory of that terrible day for you.

I’ve been no saint, Andy, nor have I done all the things I could and should have done with my life. But what I want you to know is that I have never again knowingly betrayed an Andy Drake. Nor, I pray, shall I ever.

Ben Burton

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