“My religion is very simple. My religion is kindness.”
Today’s story is contributed by Elizabeth Parsons
I was one of the cool kids growing up. No prom queen. No belle of the ball. But no reject either.
The nerd in the class? R.J. “Booger-face”, “Dork-dude”. Gangly, mangy and awkward — R.J. was fodder for bullies.
He had few friends. His family was poor. He couldn’t afford the Chuck Taylors, Polo Ts, and Sebagos… the trendy “icons of cool” the rest of us wore.
Teasing R.J. became the unofficial school sport. When he wasn’t the object of jokes, he was completely ignored.
I felt sorry for R.J., and was routinely polite. But I didn’t befriend him, I’m ashamed to say. Having a nerd as a friend would have been social suicide… too much for image-conscious me.
At the time, I was about to turn twelve. There were 32 kids in my class. On the invite list for my twelfth birthday party, only 28. Everyone minus R.J. and a few other “losers.”
Dad asked to see the list. “Who’s missing?” he asked (though I suspect he already knew). The nerds, I thought to myself. “Tina, Jamie, Juan, and R.J.,” I confessed.
“There are 32 kids in your class, Liz. This list has 28,” he noted, “Tell me why.” I didn’t open my mouth. My guilt-stricken face said it all. Dad didn’t miss a beat.
“You’re inviting everyone — or there will be no party.”
I threw a fit. It wasn’t fair! It was MY party! And why did he care anyway? But dad wouldn’t relent. Begrudgingly, I did.
The next morning at homeroom, I walked down the aisle, placing an invitation on each desk. R.J., in the back of the room, hung his head.
When I placed an invitation on his desk, he looked surprised… with such a big, appreciative look in his eyes. Then he shyly looked up at me, a warm smile on his face, and enthusiastically said, “Thanks.” Geez, I thought, I didn’t ask him to marry me!
As mad as I was that Dad made me do it, I was actually kind of proud. It felt good. To the other kids, it was a chance to have fun. To R.J. this was a chance to be someone.
I won’t lie. I still hoped R.J. wouldn’t show up. Of course, he did. Still, the party, one of the best. Mountains of chips, a giant cake, coolers of Cokes.
My favorite thing? We had a piñata filled with candy and toys, dangling from a tree in our back yard. R.J. took a swing (we all did). Guess who busted it open? Yep. R.J. You should have seen the triumphant look on his face. You’d have thought he won the lottery!
When the party was over, at the end of the night, R.J. pulled me aside.
“Thanks for inviting me,” he said, his voice wavering a bit. “I really had a good time.”
Sure, most of the other kids said thanks as they left. But not like that. They spoke from their lips.
R.J. spoke from his heart. I now understood why Dad cared who had been left out.
It really sunk in. A lesson for life.