I know you’ve read those stories and saw those movies where the ending just didn’t end right…well, this is one of those stories. However, in spite of its bitter end, there is a lesson to be seen; maybe two. Hope you enjoy- Share it with one who needs it. “…ofthestory.”
The Boy Under the Tree
In the summer recess between freshman and sophomore years in college, I was invited to be an instructor at a high school leadership camp hosted by a college in Michigan. I was already highly involved in most campus activities, and I jumped at the opportunity.
About an hour into the first day of camp, amid the frenzy of icebreakers and forced interactions, I first noticed the boy under the tree. He was small and skinny, and his obvious discomfort and shyness made him appear frail and fragile. Only 50 feet away, 200 eager campers were bumping bodies, playing, joking and meeting each other, but the boy under the tree seemed to want to be anywhere other than where he was. The desperate loneliness he radiated almost stopped me from approaching him, but I remembered the instructions from the senior staff to stay alert for campers who might feel left out.
As I walked toward him I said, “Hi, my name is Kevin and I’m one of the counselors. It’s nice to meet you. How are you?” In a shaky, sheepish voice he reluctantly answered, “Okay, I guess” I calmly asked him if he wanted to join the activities and meet some new people. He quietly replied, “No, this is not really my thing.”
I could sense that he was in a new world, that this whole experience was foreign to him. But I somehow knew it wouldn’t be right to push him, either. He didn’t need a pep talk, he needed a friend. After several silent moments, my first interaction with the boy under the tree was over. At lunch the next day, I found myself leading camp songs at the top of my lungs for 200 of my new friends. The campers were eagerly participated. My gaze wandered over the mass of noise and movement and was caught by the image of the boy from under the tree, sitting alone, staring out the window. I nearly forgot the words to the song I was supposed to be leading.
At my first opportunity, I tried again, with the same questions as before: “How are you doing? Are you okay?” To which he again replied, “Yeah, I’m alright. I just don’t really get into this stuff.” As I left the cafeteria, I too realized this was going to take more time and effort than I had thought — if it was even possible to get through to him at all.
That evening at our nightly staff meeting, I made my concerns about him known. I explained to my fellow staff members my impression of him and asked them to pay special attention and spend time with him when they could. The days I spend at camp each year fly by faster than any others I have known. Thus, before I knew it, mid-week had dissolved into the final night of camp and I was chaperoning the “last dance.” The students were doing all they could to savor every last moment with their new “best friends” — friends they would probably never see again.
As I watched the campers share their parting moments, I suddenly saw what would be one of the most vivid memories of my life. The boy from under the tree, who stared blankly out the kitchen window, was now a shirtless dancing wonder. He owned the dance floor as he and two girls proceeded to cut up a rug. I watched as he shared meaningful, intimate time with people at whom he couldn’t even look just days earlier. I couldn’t believe it was him. In October of my sophomore year, a late-night phone call pulled me away from my chemistry book. A soft-spoken, unfamiliar voice asked politely, “Is Kevin there?”
“You’re talking to him. Who’s this?”
“This is Tom Johnson’s mom. Do you remember Tommy from leadership camp?
The boy under the tree. How could I not remember? “Yes, I do,” I said. “He’s a very nice young man. How is he?”
An abnormally long pause followed, then Mrs. Johnson said, “My Tommy was walking home from school this week when he was hit by a car and killed.” Shocked, I offered my condolences.
“I just wanted to call you,” she said, “because Tommy mentioned you so many times. I wanted you to know that he went back to school this fall with confidence. He made new friends. His grades went up. And he even went out on a few dates. I just wanted to thank you for making a difference for Tom. The last few months were the best few months of his life.”
In that instant, I realized how easy it is to give a bit of yourself every day. You may never know how much each gesture may mean to someone else. I tell this story as often as I can, and when I do, I urge others to look out for their own “boy under the tree.”
“Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.
Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.
Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.
Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.
Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.
But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;
And blessed is he, whosoever shall not be offended in Me.”
Matt. 5:3-11, 44, Matt 11:6
Prov 15:23 “A man hath joy by the answer of his mouth: and a word spoken in due season, how good is it!”