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.
After a few weeks, I started to bond with another newcomer at the school—a feisty chap named Carlos. He had long, unkept hair, huge studs in his ears, and was always trying to fight people. I was the complete opposite, but we enjoyed each other’s company for some odd reason. There was another boy at the school named Rodger, who had been there for years and seemed to struggle with nearly everything, including making friends.
One particular day at recess, we were casually shooting hoops on the basketball court. Carlos was on the other end, and 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 (probably 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.
As I was calling out, 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, “What are you doing, Jason? Can’t you see that he’s struggling? What kind of person laughs at that?”
It immediately wiped the grin from my face and I felt like trash as I realized what I was doing. I hadn’t been exposed to much bullying up to that point, but in that moment I knew I didn’t want to be one. Carlos and I always tried to be supportive of Rodger from that day on, and I resolved to not only love people as they are, but to always see someone as the person they’re trying to become rather than the person they are today. 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.