As a young man, 7th grade to be exact, I struggled with extreme anxiety. It actually started around the 3rd grade. I blame a 2nd grade teacher who used to grab kids by the ear and yank them around the room. I don’t like to speak poorly of people… but this lady was bad news and while I’ve done my best to forgive her… I’ll never forget her.
So, by the time I was in 7th grade I was a bit of a wreck. I had started Junior High School, which meant I had a locker and had to switch classes every period.
Now, for most kids this isn’t a big deal. But, for whatever reason, I really struggled with it. I struggled with the stupid combination lock (still hate those things!) and I was constantly late to class… which got me in trouble… which only made me worry more.
And while this was bad enough it got worse. Much worse.
You see I had to ride the bus to school every day… it was around a 45-minute ride. And when you take a kid that struggles with carsickness and add in a healthy dose of anxiousness disaster results.
What sort of disaster? Well, I used to throw up every morning on that bus. In fact, when I boarded the bus the driver, a kind lady as memory serves me, used to hand me a bag to puke in. I’d then take my seat right behind her in the front row where I’d sit alone since no one in his or her right mind would want to sit by me.
My strategy was always the same… I’d lean forward and press my forehead against the green padded seat and close my eyes in hopes of not puking. It never worked. I always puked. Every morning.
Now, my neighbor at the time was in high school. His name is Jeff. He was a confident, smart, good looking young man who also played football and, you guessed it, had a beautiful girlfriend.
Jeff would board the bus the same time I did. I’d take the first seat and he’d walk to the back where he sat alone in the last row. He was about as cool, and collected, as a high school boy could be.
Since we were neighbors Jeff knew who I was but we didn’t exactly hang out if you know what I mean. This is one of the many reasons I was completely shocked the morning Jeff approached me at the bus stop and said, “Hey, why don’t you sit with me in the back of the bus today?”
I vividly remember saying, “Sorry? I didn’t hear you.” He repeated, “Why don’t you sit in the back of the bus with me today?”
By this time the bus had arrived and I didn’t even respond. Instead, I simply followed Jeff up the bus steps… grabbed my puke bag from the driver… and slowly walked to the back of the bus in order to sit beside the coolest high school kid I knew.
Now, Jeff was one of those young men who was just smooth and confident. He started talking to me about football and other random topics. Once I relaxed and realized this was really happening I was able to totally engage in the conversation.
Fast-forward 45-minutes and we pulled up to the high school where Jeff got off. When he stood up he said he’d talk to me later. I said, “OK” and basically sat there in disbelief at what had just transpired.
My school was about 5 minutes away and as we made our way it finally hit me. I didn’t throw up. In fact, I felt no anxiety. Actually, I felt amazing.
From that day on Jeff and I sat together on the bus and I never threw up again. In fact, a week or so after Jeff and I started to sit together the bus driver went to hand me my bag when I boarded the bus and I politely declined. I knew I’d never throw up as a result of nerves and anxiety again.
Jeff literally changed my life that day with one simple act of kindness. Now, I later learned that my mom approached Jeff’s mom about the situation. So, yes, Jeff was put up to it… but he still followed through with it and no one forced him to be kind to me every day after.
So, the reason I’m sharing this personal story here on Intentional Encounter is quite simple. Never, ever, underestimate how powerful a single act of kindness can be.
Now, I don’t want to be overly dramatic here… but I often wonder what my life would have looked like had I continued on with my anxiety issues. How long would I have continued to throw up on the bus? And had this anxiety stuck with me would it have impacted my adult life?
God has blessed with me so much. My Catholic faith. A beautiful family. Incredible friends. A successful company. And, now, this Intentional Encounter project. And, even though I didn’t realize it at the time, God blessed me as young 7th grade boy when He ultimately lead me to the back seat of that school bus. I thank Him for this. I thank my Mom. And, I definitely thank Jeff. Sadly, I’ve lost touch with Jeff but definitely feel called to see if I can reconnect with him to ensure he knows how he impacted my life.
With all this said, my challenge to you is simple. Never underestimate the power of charity and kindness. In fact, the next time you sense someone is down on their luck and needs a little encouragement don’t wait for someone else to act. Walk up to them and buy them a cup of coffee. Invite them to lunch. Heck, simply smile and say hello. Just be kind. Will you change that person’s life immediately? Who knows? But there’s only one way to find out…. be courageous and try.
Spread love everywhere you go. Let no one ever come to you without leaving happier. -St. Teresa of Calcutta
Until next time… be holy, eat clean, and do more push-ups!