I decided to reach into my bag of tricks. Old papers from college writing classes, scribbled notes, a log I kept many moons ago. (Guys don’t do a diary). This was perhaps the most difficult year of my life. A nightmare ensued. It was personal and extremely difficult.
Thanks to a friend I made it through
Way back in junior high school, when I was in the eighth grade… Back when I was the new kid at a new school. Recently transplanted like a cutting from your favorite plant. Back to the Upper Mid-West from the Seattle area. Life wasn’t a bowl full of Fruit-Loops to say the least.
I met this kid from my gym class. His name was Paul. Paul was the popular kid. Smart, friendly, athletic. Got along with everyone. I on the other hand, being the new kid on the block and standing about 6’3, skinny with braces and yes, the ever present head gear. I was a mess to say the least and the butt of many cruel jokes and antics. I am sure I looked like a cross of Jack Sparrow and Ichabod Crane. This was prior to the ever present backpack of today’s student. I was always wandering the halls with a library stack of books in my arms., spilling them all over the floor and picking them up. I’m sure Paul thought to himself, “Why would anyone carry all of these books all the time and bring them home on a Friday? He must really be a dork.” Paul had quite a weekend planned (a football game with his friends in the park), so he shrugged his shoulders and went on.
As I was walking, I saw a bunch of kids running towards me. They ran at me, knocking all of my books out of my arms and tripping me, so I landed in the dirt. My headgear went flying, along with a couple of the braces that looped around my teeth. Paul recognized a terrible sadness in my eyes. I know his heart went out to me. He jogged over to me and as I crawled around dirty looking for my lost headgear, he witnessed the tears in my eyes. As he handed me my headgear and helped me stack up the books, he said, “Those guys are real jerks. They really should get lives.” I looked at him and said, “Hey thanks!” There was a big smile on my face. It was one of those smiles that showed real gratitude. Paul helped me pick up the rest of my books, and asked me where I lived.
As it turned out, he lived near me. So he asked me why he had never seen me before? I told him my family had just moved into town from out West. We talked all the way home, and he helped me carry all of my stuff. He turned out to be a pretty cool kid. He asked me if I wanted to play football on Saturday with him and his buddies. I said yes. We hung out all weekend and the more I got to know Paul and Paul got to know me, the more we liked each other.
Monday morning came, and there I was with the huge stack of books again, in high water flared pants. A regular knob. he stopped me and said, “Boy, you are going to really build some serious muscles with this pile of books every day!” He just laughed and grabbed half of the books from me. Over the next two years, Paul and I became best friends. When we were seniors, we attended different high schools; We both began to think about college. Paul decided on St. Thomas, so he could be a two sport athlete and I was going to the University of Nebraska on a basketball scholarship. I knew that we would always be friends, that the miles would never be a problem. He was going to be a lawyer, and I was going for an animal science degree.
Paul was valedictorian of his high school class and voted the Most Likely to Succeed. I teased him all the time about being a such a stud. He had to prepare a speech for graduation. I was so glad it wasn’t me having to get up there and speak. But as fate would have it, I was elected by the speech teacher at Washburn to also give a rousing oration at our graduation. Why me?? What do I talk about??
Graduation day, I saw Paul. He looked great. He was one of those kinds that really seemed to be coming into his own. I, as well, hand had lost the braces, ditched the Clearasil and matured into a strapping 6’10 230 pound teenage mountain, but was still ever much the child. We both seemed to have found ourselves during high school. He filled out. He had more dates than me and all the girls loved him! Me, I was going out with my future wife Sandy exclusively. Boy, sometimes I was jealous.
This was one of those days. He could see that I was nervous about my speech. So, he smacked me on the back and said, “Hey big guy, you’ll be great!” He looked at me with one of “those” looks of confidence that only my best friend could give me. I returned the smile with a really grateful one. “Thanks,” I said.
As I started my speech, I cleared my throat, and began. “Graduation is a time to thank those who helped you make it through those tough years. Your parents, your teachers, your siblings, maybe a coach… but mostly your friends. I am here to tell all of you that being a friend to someone is the best gift you can give them. I am going to tell you a story.”
I just looked at my friend. His disbelief swelled as I told the story of the first day we met. I was tired of not fitting in and having no friends and that I had planned to kill myself over that weekend. I talked of how I had cleaned out my locker so my mom wouldn’t have to do it later and was carrying all of my stuff home. He looked hard at me and gave me a little smile. “Thankfully, I was saved. My friend saved me from doing the unspeakable.”
I heard a gasp go through the crowd as I told my story about my friend Paul. This popular kid from a different school. I told everyone about my weakest moment. I saw his mom and dad, who treated me as if I was their adopted son over the years looking at me and smiling that same non-judgmental smile. My own parents were in hushed disbelief of what I was telling. But never-the-less showing their support and love for me. My own wife, had never heard this story until that very moment.
Not until that instant did I realize it’s depth. Never underestimate the power of your actions. With one small gesture you can change a person’s life. For better or worse. Don’t be the one who pushes someone else in the dirt, be the one who picks him up, brushes him off, and helps him carry his load. God puts us all in each other’s lives to impact one another in some way. Look for God in others, and let them see Him in you.
Paul died of a heart attack during his freshman year at St. Thomas. I miss him.
Thanks Paul, for everything.
Thanks for allowing me to rant…