A Small Act of Kindness
Once a guy named Joe did me a kindness. I’d like to thank him, but I can’t anymore. So I’m going to tell you this story instead.
Me and Joe (not his real name) went to high school together. He was good looking, great at sports, and had a sense of humor that made people afraid not to be his friend. In other words, he was a lot of things I wanted to be.
I can’t say we were friends. I’d like to think we were, but really we just knew each other, took some of the same classes, sat at lunch with the same folks. Even so, he was important in my life.
When we were in 9th grade, we took a drama class together, and everyone in that class had to perform a monologue. I was a huge drama geek, and I went all out on a scene in which I was a dying soldier. The best thing that ever happened to me in that class was, when my scene was over, Joe said, “Adam, man…” and put his thumb up.
You can’t imagine how important that moment was to me. In those days I felt completely friendless, and all I had going for me was my performing ability. For this popular, strong kid to say to this drama geek that he’d seen me, that he’d recognized that I’d done something well, and that he valued it, meant more to me than any feedback I think I’ve ever gotten.
As the years went by, we continued to know one another. I never had the feeling he particularly liked me, not as a friend, and I didn’t think that was going to change. But I always felt he respected me, maybe even was a little bit jealous of me for being geeky and weird and not afraid to be me, and I really liked that, even needed it.
After graduation, we didn’t see each other again until our 15th high school reunion. I caught a glimpse of him near the end of the evening, talking with some people. We caught each others’ eyes and a funny thing happened: we both nodded, and then didn’t approach each other!
It was like we both knew we’d have nothing to talk about. And yet there was still that moment of recognition. I often wondered about that moment, and vowed to do it differently at our thirtieth reunion, if I saw him.
I won’t see him. He passed away last month. The knowledge of it hit me far harder than I thought it would.
I can’t imagine what his wife must have experienced, finding her beloved husband gone. I’ll never be able to put in a box the unending emptiness his two kids will feel throughout their lives. And yet, I’m devastated just at the loss of the little bit he gave me, which was actually so huge.
I doubt he ever realized what he meant to me, what his gesture meant. He was just being Joe. And maybe that’s the gift I wanted to share with you.
How many people have you done that for, and probably without even knowing it? Just by being you? Changed someone’s life, helped them, without any sense that you were important at all.
You are important, immensely powerful, absolutely necessary. If Joe could change my life with a little thumbs up, can’t you imagine what all the things you do for your family and friends means? Since we don’t, maybe even can’t, acknowledge this to each other in real life, then recognize it in yourself and save your own life.
Thank you, Joe. I recognize you, I give you a thumbs up. You did a good job.