"I'm not angry. Just disappointed."

If you had even a bit of a conscience in your teenage years, those were the worst words your parents could have uttered.  We were discussing them yesterday as we began our last unit of the school year: The Kite Runner.  The year is winding to a close for the senior class, as is my time as a second-string AP / Honors English teacher: only five classes left until graduation.  I've been in regular contact with my friend who is sick, and she could really use prayers: most recently she caught the shingles from someone at the hospital where she was receiving chemo treatments.  Ugh!  Can you imagine?!

The Kite Runner is one of my favorite pieces of recent literature (and many of my other favorites are written in a similar style about similar cultures -- go figure.)  If you haven't read it, you should, now, before you hear anything else about it, and if you're still stubbornly reading, you deserve the slight spoiler I'm about to deliver.

The plot centers around a very traumatic event that happens to Hassan, a young boy in Kabul in the mid-seventies.  His best friend Amir watches it happen, but does nothing, and guilt follows him for the rest of his life.  It gets to the point where Amir can hardly stand to be around Hassan because he feels so guilty about what he has not done for him.   Hassan is one of those fiercely loyal and virtuous people who are simply incapable of being selfish.  At one point, Amir pelts him with pomegranates from their favorite tree, daring Hassan to fight back so that his guilt can be eased a little.  Hassan refuses.  Finally, when Amir is unrelenting, Hassan takes a pomegranate and smashes it on his own face, saying, "Do you feel better now?"

It's a wrenching scene, and I tried to get my students to understand what it was about it that was so awful.  They could understand the pressure and frustration of being around someone who was perfect all the time, but they didn't react as strongly to Hassan's resolution of the situation.  To help them relate, I brought up this famous quote, the one my parents used to make me squirm when I was unrepentant, never thinking they would react so strongly.  Unanimously, they recoiled in horror: "That's the worst!  I hate when they say that!  I'd rather them just punish me!"  I pushed them: "Why do you think it's so much worse for them to say they're disappointed rather than angry?"

Their responses were enthusiastic and varied, but the most insightful came from a girl who isn't one of my regular handraisers.  She said, "I think it's because when you're punished, you can measure it.  Four days with no phone.  Two weeks without going out.  It's quantifiable.  Disappointment is not.  You just have to imagine how awful it must feel to know you have disappointed your parents, and understand that there's nothing you can do, absolutely nothing, except try to win back their trust."