When I was ten, my family moved from Franklin-Madison Road to Germantown Road. That’s when I started riding the same school bus as Willy. I got on first, at the bottom of the hill, and he got on a few minutes later, at the top of the hill. He was tall and lanky and a bit awkward. He’d climb the bus steps, walk slowly down the aisle, and plop into the first empty seat. He almost always sat alone.
One day as Willy walked past me, I invited him to sit with me. He smiled and sat down. We began to talk. We talked… and we talked… and we talked. The next day he sat with me again. And we talked… and we laughed… and we talked. Every day after that, Willy and I sat together on the bus. He seemed hungry for a friend and I enjoyed his happy spirit. We didn’t really run with the same crowds at school, but when we’d see each other, we’d always wave. We were bus buddies and that overrode any social lines set for us by kids at school. We shared a seat for years—I guess until I got my first car at seventeen and started driving to school.
Time passed, graduation happened, and I lost touch with Willy. It wasn’t until our twenty-year class reunion that I saw him again. It was great to see him. We picked right back up where we left off, talking and laughing. And then out of nowhere, Willy’s countenance changed. He became somber, leaned in toward me, and spoke softly.
“Becky, you were my friend and that meant so much to me. You have no idea what was happening to me during those years. But our friendship helped me through it,” he said.
I don’t know what Willy experienced as a child. I can only speculate that it involved some kind of abuse. His words have haunted me. While I was going to spend-the-night parties and riding motorcycles, he was suffering in the school bus seat right next to me. I didn’t have a clue. Fifty-three-year-old me wants to go back and rescue that little boy—do something about it—help him. But I was just a kid myself. I lacked the tools to recognize Willy’s pain.
I learned a great lesson from my friend Willy. We never know what the person right next to us is going through. Any act of kindness, even a small one, might be the hope they need to survive another day.
“Let us stop just saying we love people; let us really love them, and show it by our actions” (1 John 3:18 TLB).