I was eleven years old when my family uprooted our lives in South Jordan, Utah and moved to Ogden Valley—a group of three small country towns to the north of Salt Lake City. Although it’s only about an hour by car, it may as well be a thousand miles when you’re eleven. As a Monte Vista Mustang converted to a Valley Elementary Bulldog, I was desperately trying to find a place among my new peers while missing my old friends.
I started to bond with another newcomer at the school after several weeks–we’ll call him Carlos. He had long, unkept hair and was always trying to fight people. I was the complete opposite, yet we enjoyed each other’s company. As time went on and we found ourselves with a few more friends, we came to know another boy at the school who we’ll call Rodger. Although we weren’t very kind to him, Rodger seemed grateful for our company.
One particular day at recess while playing basketball, I found myself with Rodger who was struggling to get the ball within a few feet of the rim. He was trying so hard with a look of defeat on his face. I wasn’t any better at basketball (definitly worse), but quickly found the situation humorous and repeatedly called across the court to Carlos, trying to get his attention so we could laugh at Rodger together.
That’s when I heard another voice behind me. My teacher Mrs. Kiesel had seen what was happening—Rodger struggling to make a shot, my excited grin as I got ready to laugh at him, and Carlos turning his head with the same excited grin starting to form on his face. She never said a word other than calling out my name, but she gave me a look that I clearly remember to this day. A look that said, “Dude what are you doing? Can’t you see he’s struggling to improve? What kind of person mocks that?”
It immediately wiped the grin from my face and I felt like trash. This turned into a pivotal moment in my life as an eleven-year-old who was still trying to figure out who he was. An important lesson that I’m glad to have learned so early–not to be a bully, but on a deeper level, to always see someone as the person they’re trying to become rather than the person they are today. To love someone as they are, and always support their desire to change or improve, however drastic the change might be. This might include a new personality, a new look, a new career path, new religious or political beliefs, or new goals. We’re all (hopefully) trying to improve our lives, and these drastic changes are necessary at times.
I always tried to be supportive of Rodger from that day on, and always try to be supportive of others who are trying to make changes in pursuit of a better life. It was a simple lesson, but one that I still think about a lot sixteen years later. So thank you Mrs. Kiesel, for teaching me one of the most important lessons of my life without saying a word.