From the time I was a young boy all the way through my most of my thirties I tended not to fit in with most of my peers. I was introverted, socially awkward, lacked confidence, and often felt shunned and ridiculed by my peers, classmates, and co-workers.
This often made interacting with people painful.
I often played or read alone in my room, and dreaded most group activities.
Some of those shadows remain to this day, though as I have changed, the sunlight-to-shadow ratio has improved immensely. But I still reflexively find myself hesitating to do things in groups even when I know that the group loves me.
I’ve learned that shadows almost never completely go away, and can negatively impact my attitude, life, and decisions, but the light of understanding, compassion, kindness, forgiveness, and gratitude—for everyone including myself—is the best antidote for and protection against even my darkest shadows.
One time when I was probably about 9 or 10 I accepted an invitation to go on a trip to the mountains to play in the snow with a large group of children, most of whom I didn’t know. I was one of the smallest and youngest. The older kids taunted and teased, and then shunned me. I was lonely and feeling bad about myself and angry at the others.
To make matters worse, I was very scrawny (people kept describing me as gaunt). I was a city kid who lived in a temperate climate and wasn’t used to snow or cold weather. I came from a family of seven. We couldn’t afford fancy snow gear–or any snow gear for that matter.
For example, I didn’t have water and snow-repellent shoes or overshoes. I think I only had 3 pairs of shoes: “sneakers”, dress shoes, and slippers. So I went with the sneakers.
Before I left for the trip, mom tried to help me to keep my feet warm and dry by having me wear two pairs of cotton socks–we didn’t have wool or thick cold-weather socks–and she gave to me some thin plastic bread wrappers to put over the socks before I put my shoes on to try to keep my feet and socks from getting soaked. She did her best with what she had.
Unfortunately, between my complete lack of body fat and of being conditioned to cold weather, and with the outfit I had on that not only didn’t help me to stay dry or warm but did invite ridicule from the older boys, I was very quickly wracked with uncontrollable full-body shivering and felt absolutely miserable and alone on a snowy hilltop crowded with people having fun.
At the bottom of the snow hill a parent volunteer had opened the tailgate of his station wagon and had made a big pot of cocoa for us. He was a stranger to me. I shook like a leaf in windstorm as I stumbled over to him for some hot chocolate. I must have been a picture of abject misery.
He handed a cup of the of the wonderfully-smelling steaming elixir to me. I thanked him, and began to turn away. He said voice, “Excuse me son.” I turned back toward him, concerned that maybe I’d done something wrong. He continued in a kind voice, “I’ve noticed that you are always so polite. Many boys aren’t. I appreciate that you are. Thank you.”
It was a simple acknowledgement, but at that moment it meant the world to me. Where there had only been freezing coldness a moment before, this kind stranger had brought warmth. And remarkably, even now as I remember his kindness 45 years later, it still warms my heart.
Thank you to that wonderful person and to everyone who brings kindness and a smile to those badly in need of both. My world is a brighter place with you in it.
A kind comment in the midst of bullying or other challenges can really make a life-long impact. I relate well to what you’ve shared here, Russ.
Thank you, Denise. I suspect we are kindred spirits.
Oh gosh, I took a break from writing a similar (similarly painful) memoir only to find this in my Reader. Thanks, Russ.
Thank you for taking time to comment, Glen. May there have been such people in your life who were there for you at critical moments. Sometimes there were for me, and sometimes there weren’t–as I suspect is true for most people–but I cherish those who were.
I remember the plastic bags in leaky winter shoes too and that feeling…
It saddens me to think of any child experiencing such things. May you have become a stronger, more compassionate person as a result of such times, and may your life have been blessed by such people as the kind man in my story.
My life has indeed been blessed, Russ, by much kindness and greater love.I suppose back then we were not alone… amny children were going through similar things, but family pride kept it under wraps.
Thank you Russ, this is much more warming than any cup of hot chocolate. I hope that man feels your sentiments in some way, where ever he is today.
I do too, my friend. Thank you.
Geez Louise. That’s all anybody needs is a kind word and sometimes a blanket. Did you stay warm after that or did you keep going back for cocoa?
That is so often true. LOL! I don’t remember! It was nearly half a century ago.
Many times, your posts bring tears to my eyes…this one did today. I’m grateful for that man who showed you kindness. ♥
Thank you for your beautiful comment. I love to hear when something that comes from my heart creates such a close connection with the hearts of others that happy or healing tears flow.
Have a tissue?
Thank you, J. I love to hear when something that comes from my heart creates such a close connection with the hearts of others that happy or healing tears flow.
What a touching story Russ! A few kind words can lift misery and change someone’s life. ❤
Thank you, Val. I certainly agree!
p.s. I cried too 🙂
Russ, a kind word to acknowledge a young person’s strength is very meaningful. With hot chocolate – it has to be a dynamic combination. The best hot chocolate we ever had was when my daughter and I joined a friend cross country skiing one day. It was only about 9 degrees and very windy. My daughter was about 10 years old but she was very cold. About 1/2 way through my friend stopped and magically produced a thermos of steaming hot chocolate to save the day.
Thank you for sharing that story, Bill. That hot chocolate must have tasted like an elixir of the gods and warmed your spirits as well as your bodies.
We still joke about how cold it was that day, and what were we thinking. 🙂
Your story shows the importance of a kind word, it really can change lives.
oh, this is such a beautiful story, russ. sometimes just one person can make such a huge difference in another’s life –
As you make in mine more often than you know, my friend. You are there like a morning sun with kind comments that warm and brighten my day.
thank you for your very kind words, russ )
Russ, what a delightful story about the warmth and compassion shown towards you by one man and how it impacts you still today. Just goes to show what a difference we can all make in ways we don’t even know 🙂
Hi, Sherri. It is always good to hear from you. I agree with your comment. I doubt the man remembers the incident or most of the many other times he was likely kind to others, but I’ll bet many others remember his kindness.
I teared up while reading your post. Thanks for sharing it, Russ. It’s amazing what impact few positive words can have on a person. Btw…..being an introvert too, I can so relate to what you said. And thank God for introverts……many great things come to this world from this solitude space. I’ve come to appreciate it more and more.
Thank you, Kristi. Good points about the value of the solitude space. I cherish such moments.