When I was in first grade, my brother Caleb and I lived in another state for a month — I don’t want to explain why. All I will say is that it was unexpected, confusing, and the result of serious complications in my parents’ relationship.
One day we were attending Petal Elementary School in Petal, Mississippi; the next we woke up in northwest Arkansas and were enrolled at a school we knew nothing about. In addition to being unfamiliar, there wasn’t much to like about it.
Petal Elementary had a brightly lit, new building with lots of decorations and a friendly atmosphere. The new school had that asbestos-laden feeling — the ceiling was exposed, the walls were made of green cinderblock, the tile floor looked uncleanably filthy, and some of the lights in the hallway were out. Beyond the architecture of the school, however, the hardest adjustment was suddenly being unknown.
The cramped lunchroom was loud; but I was quiet — there was no one to talk to. The playground was spacious and full of children; but I felt isolated and lonely — I had no one to play with. But then this kid stepped in and did something unexpected: He became my good friend.
The boy had brown hair, wore dingy clothes, and gave the impression he wasn’t doing very well in school. I didn’t care. He made a point to speak to me. He found me at recess and made me his friend.
Just seeing that boy was a relief — I was caught up in a dark and disorienting time and his kindness gave me just enough light to think that things weren’t so bad, that I was going to make it.
How I wish I could find that boy and tell him what he meant to me, that I still think about him and his kindness, that I’ve prayed for him many times. I hope he somehow reads this, and even if he doesn’t recognize himself, is touched by his own act of kindness.
So even if it’s a long shot, if you’re reading this, thank you so much, old friend. You were just who I needed during that month.
If there’s one lesson to be learned from my young friend, it’s this: You never know how important you are to people whom you see every day. You don’t know how much they need you — how isolated, alone, lost, and overwhelmed they feel. You’re there. You can be that little boy to them. You can notice them. You can single them out for kindness. You can be the one whose simple act — even if it seems small — says, “I see you. Don’t give up. Someone’s looking out for you.”
Keep on being kind. Look for that peculiar child, that quiet coworker, that person at church who keeps to him or herself. If you don’t know who you can help, ask God to show you someone who needs the kind of love that boy offered me during my disorienting month in Arkansas.
Be that boy to people around you. Somebody needs it badly, and although you’ll probably never know what it might mean to the person, trust me, they will never forget it.