Jerry was one of those quiet boys growing up; while teachers loved his polite and kind presence, the larger boys found him to be a good target, meaning that every day he endured a different kind of torture. Sometimes physical, often emotional, Jerry accepted it and continued to live through it.
Contrary to what many believed, Jerry was not an innocent victim of his bullies. Every day, since his stop was the first, he would get on the bus taking up the first seat. As the others would file in, most would give him a nudge or a punch but nobody would harass him. At the fourth stop along the bus route Jerry would always get up and say the most obnoxious thing he could think of, usually quoting something from a book or movie. As all of the other kids were focused on him yelling things like nerd or freak, another boy named Timmy would slip into the seat next to him unnoticed.
Timmy had some physical and learning issues, and at the beginning of that year had been teased mercilessly, as middle school children are known to do. Jerry came up with this plan after watching the boy unable to defend himself leave the bus every morning in tears. He figured he could handle the teasing.
Nobody, other than the bus driver knew what Jerry was doing, but for the rest of that school year nobody even noticed Timmy on the bus. I’d love to say this ended up happy, but like many a hero’s fate, , tragedy was not far off as Jerry went too far one day. As he was walking from the bus to his house three other boys from the bus met him and proceeded to beat him so bad he ended up in the hospital.
Not wanting to say anything, like most boys, he lay in his pain feeling a little peace knowing that he could handle that, but Timmy never would. While lying in his hospital bed, Timmy’s mother showed up. Timmy could not go to the hospital because of fears of catching something: She looked at Jerry and with tears flowing mouthed “thank you!” Jerry began to cry. He knew at that moment everything he had endured made a difference, and he was able to relax into his recovery.
When he returned to school he noticed that people treated him differently. Though he was one of the smaller kids in his class, the others looked at him as if he was the strongest of all the leaders and nobody ever laid a hand on him, nor did he ever hurt another kid.
After a few months Jerry had gone over to play with Timmy, and Timmy’s mom asked why he did what he had. Jerry said:
“When I was in elementary school I was teased and went home crying every day until another boy stood up to the bullies for me. He became my best friend! He taught me how to not get picked on, but I realized that I had become stronger because I had someone who stuck up for me. I thought I could do the same for Timmy because I am so thankful for what was done for me.”
One of the greatest parts about being a Christian is that we are not living our lives for ourselves and we don’t live for some ethereal reward, but we are called to live in thankfulness, and living in thankfulness means that we are living in a paradigm that puts gratitude before personal gain, and others over our own selfish motives so that we can share thankfulness with others.
I have to say, when I first met Jerry many years later as an adult, I would have never known he had experienced the trauma he had growing up; he is one of the happiest people I know. But when he told me the story, in far more detail then I have here, I could not help but cry. He smiled and said; “Everyone does that, but you know, it is OK because I learned that pain is temporary, but doing the right thing out of thankfulness can overcome just about anything life throws at you. I mean when you realize that God has saved you, how can you possibly not be thankful for every day of your life? And how can you not step out and share that thankfulness with others?”
Rev. Dr. Bryan James Franzen