There’s a recurring element in the story line of the TV series The Middle that struck a familiar chord with me.
This plot element focuses on a low-brow family whose kids are the scourge of the neighborhood.
The situation immediately reminded me of a family in the town where I grew up, a gang of boys who have always been, in my mind, synonymous with “no good.’’
The oldest of them was several years older than me, so their reputation was well established before I started crossing paths with them.
Well, “crossing paths” isn’t the right term, because the object seemed to be to avoid crossing paths with anyone in that clan.
In fact, now that I’ve had the occasion to reflect on it, I realize that those boys never did anything to me or, for that matter, caused any trouble that affected me in any way.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Like millions of people, I suppose, I am a member of a social-media group for people who grew up in the same town.
I chat in an ever-growing network of people who share memories of the schools and neighborhoods and shopkeepers in that town and who, in many cases, have had some direct connection to my family or me.
In the several years that I have engaged in this conversation, I have had several encounters that I would not have expected.
But nothing surprised me more than to see, suddenly turning up in conversation strings, the name of one of the older members of the Terrible Tribe of my past.
My first reaction was surprise that he had survived this long, what with what I imagined had been his lifestyle.
My second reaction was astonishment at the tone of his conversation, which was laced with nostalgia for the people and places we had been familiar with fifty years ago and more.
And it was an affront to my smug attitude toward him and his kin that I picked up from his profile the fact that he has been successful in an elite kind of business with which I would never have associated him.
Inevitably, he and I became involved in the same conversation and wound up talking directly to each other.
He said that he didn’t remember me, but he had warm and complimentary things to say about my brother and my family in general.
In fact, he said, “If you needed a friend, you always knew the Paolinos were there.’’
Clearly, he wasn’t referring to me.
This exchange prompted me to think more carefully about my relationship with those boys and to realize that I had had no relationship with them at all.
I had nursed revulsion for them for more than six decades without any insight into their personalities or their possibilities.
So I am grateful that through the unlikely vehicle of a social medium, I was prodded to reexamine an impression I had formed when I was relatively young and inexperienced.
This experience has reinforced for me ideas that I myself have preached and taught for more than thirty years: the fundamental goodness of human nature, the possibility of redemption in every human life, the need to approach each person — as Pope Francis has both taught and practiced — with the equanimity practiced by Jesus.
In the movie People Will Talk, Cary Grant, playing a physician, hears a bed-ridden old woman say that her doctors have given her up for lost.
“The nerve of some doctors,” Grant replies, “giving people up for lost as if they had found them in the first place.’’