A tale of two moments...
Just after returning to
It wasn’t long before a particular gentleman and I became friends because of a mutual respect for the level of competition we shared. The games we played against each other were spirited battles and closely contested until the very last move. As we whiled away the hours we talked about our days and shared the stories of our lives.
The old man was sixty-four years old and had suffered a heart attack that left the left side of his body partially paralyzed. He had little use of his left hand and he walked with a slight drag of his left leg. He moved slowly and precariously. As physically handicapped as he was he still possessed a keen mind and was a good conversationalist.
Up until the heart attack he taught high school mathematics. He’d had a good life and what he still believed was a good wife even though she left him after the stroke. (Actually, she left him after he lost his teaching job because of the stroke.) He was a good soul and he was staying at the Y.M.C.A. until he turned sixty-five and his social security kicked in bringing in a more substantial income than his disability checks provided.
It became a regular routine that he and I would walk down Monument, cross the
One particular day it was so cold and a major storm was forecast to bring a significant amount of snowfall to our city. The old man wanted to go to the store before the snow moved in but I just did not want to go out in the freezing cold. I told him that I would go with him the next day and went back to reading in my room. For the next few days the weather did indeed turn nasty and it still stands as one of the worse snows
After the storm broke I tried to check in on the old man and see if he still wanted to go to the store. For several days I did not see him in the lounge and when I knocked upon the door of his room there was no answer. I was a bit concerned at this point and I went to the front desk to see if they knew if anything about his whereabouts. The desk clerk handed me the morning paper and pointed to a column on the front page.
My heart broke as I read how my friend had been picked up by a group of boys while crossing the
My two buddies and I were heading back inside the bar when a hand reached out from the line of those waiting to get inside and grabbed my arm. When I turned around a girl was crying and looking at a rather beefy guy standing next to her.
“That’s him, that’s the guy I’ve been telling you about.”
I didn’t have a clue who the girl was and I wasn’t sure what to do. My two buddies had stopped and the bouncer who knew me pretty well was watching the situation carefully in case something bad broke out. The guy beside her smiled and reached out his hand.
“I’d like to thank you for everything you’ve done for my wife.”
As I shook his hand I tried frantically to remember who this girl was but for the life of me memory just would not come.
Once we were seated the girl and her husband introduced themselves. She apologized for the tears and began to explain herself. It turned out that we had attended high school together. She was a lonely girl without friends and hated her life and the experience she was having in junior high. No one ever noticed her and no one ever paid her any attention. She never got invited to dances or any of the other school functions that she so desperately wanted to be a part of.
As she told her story I still didn’t have a clue who she was. Then she started talking about this wild hippie kid who was always surrounded by a group of laughing happy followers. She told everyone how every time he saw her he grabbed her hand and invited her to participate in whatever adventure was underway. She talked about what it meant to her to be made a part of something and how she developed friendships through the people he introduced her to. She talked about how it had changed her life.
Eventually she went to the powder room with several of the other girls and her husband leaned in close and started to talk to me.
“She was so lonely and hurt in high school. She was depressed and beginning to consider suicide when you came into her life. If you hadn’t done what you did for her I may never have met her. I will never be able to thank you enough.”
To this day I still have no idea who that girl was. It simply is a matter of how I am around people. Whenever I see a person sitting alone by themselves I try to reach out and invite them to be a part of whatever is going on at the moment. To me, the more of us there are having a good time, the happier I am as an individual. I just like bringing people together for a good time.
These two events have taught me one very important life lesson. We can not prevent events like the one that just happened on the campus of Virginia Tech by legislation, new laws concerning gun control or increased security forces. These efforts, although well intentioned simply do not address the real cause of the violent explosions by individuals like Cho Seung-Hui. By the time they make their move against us it is only a matter of how many they harm before they are gunned down by either police or campus security forces.
If we truly wish to stop the shootings that seem to be plaguing our neighborhoods, work environments and school systems the best place to start is with ourselves. Each and every day all of us encounter the weird individual. Whether it is the old lady with the cats, the guy with the scowl or the badly dressed secretary in the next cubicle we ignore these injured folks and oftentimes avoid them entirely. They long to be a part of our activities and to participate in the fellowship we share while they sit in crowded cafeterias eating their lunches alone.
Reach out to these people. Offer them friendship and watch the look that comes into their eyes. You can turn a potential shooter into a real human being. Love truly heals a heart and soothes the soul. I know a lot of us don’t believe in that much any more, but I do and I know from personal experience what reaching out can do. It can save not only the aggrieved one’s life but potentially the lives of those he would have struck out at in anger and lonely alienation.
Look around yourself today, how many lonely hurt people do you see sitting by themselves wishing for nothing more than one single friend? Even if you can't manage the courage to walk over and introduce yourself, please acknowledge their existence with a cheerful smile. It could make all the difference.