My 19 year old son said something to me last night that when I try to tell someone about it, it brings me to tears. Let me take you back to last night.
A friend of mine has a daughter in middle school and on day one of school, this girl is already being bullied. That got my son, my husband and I talking about my son’s days in middle school. They were NOT fun for me as a parent. I started telling him about how I advocated for him and I read him an e-mail I had written to the Principal after a certain teacher had resorted to name calling. My son said, something like “I had no idea you were advocating for me.” “But it makes sense, mom. That’s who you are.”
Then we started talking about my days working at his middle school in the Special Ed classroom. There was one very sharp boy in our class and I got to go with him to Math class. In that class there was another boy from the ED room. ED means Emotionally Disturbed. I was VERY naïve to all of these labels etc., as I had spent about 20 years in a very confined Christian ministry setting. I loved going to the Math class and my student really did well. But I became friends with this other boy who I will call John.
I remember going to his desk and putting my arm around the back of his chair (to ask him if he needed help). My arm touched his back and he swung around so quick and almost decked me. As time went on I found out that he lived with his mother who was a severe drug addict and the mother’s boyfriend who beat him (John). Want to talk about me and getting my mind blown. For years I had lived in a very sheltered environment. This got my attention.
I really liked this boy John. I always said hello to him. I always looked him in the eye and asked how he was doing. He started coming over to our room (they were adjoined classrooms) most mornings and just checking in with me. It didn’t take very long before I was spending my measly pay check on my health insurance and feeding John. Every paycheck I’d buy about 60.00 worth of food for him. I’d ask him what he wanted. So it was things like chips, ramen, cookies, beef jerkey. I’d try to buy him enough to last him 2 weeks. His teacher even gave him a locker to store the food in.
But, the food would only last two maybe three days. He was always thinking of his mother and he’d take some home to her. And then he had friends in similar situations as him that he immediately invited to his “locker” and he shared the food. It really was the coolest thing to see, but I never felt like I quite did enough because the food was gone so quickly. Nevertheless, when the next paycheck came I did it all over again. John and I became great friends.
I ended up having to leave that job because of the intense stress it put on me and because I really wasn’t making any money. It was part of my “unloading” to take care of me. I “unloaded” that job.
About 4 years later a teenage boy in our city shot and killed a police officer. It was really awful. The police officer was a man who actually volunteered to help boys just like the one who shot him. The boy who shot him was one of the boys that John fed with the food I bought him. I didn’t know the boy.
My son looked at me last night and said, “Have you ever thought about the fact that it was NOT John who killed the police officer?” “That maybe the impact you had on his life for those two years, helped him in some way?” I had honestly never thought that, but the fact that my son brought it up to me and clearly had a bit of admiration for what I had done for John brings me to tears.
My favorite movie is It’s a Wonderful Life. George Bailey doesn’t want to live. He’s about to kill himself when a guardian angel “Clarence” stops him. Clarence shows George what life in his city would have been like had George never been born. One of the biggest impacts on me was that George Bailey had saved his brother from drowning and later his brother saved a whole platoon of men in the military from dying. When Clarence shows him what life was like if George had never lived – he tells him “Your brother is not alive. He drowned. And those men in the military – they all died because your brother was not there to save them.” Still gives me chills. I’ve always hoped to have just the tiniest impact on someone’s life like George Bailey did.
I just don’t think any of us can ever underestimate our impact on others. You do make a difference. One of my favorite shirts simply states “You Matter.” Please remember that you do matter!