Many of you have probably read this post on Momastery.
I just wanted to add my experience and what I learned from it about teaching children compassion and standing up for the little guy. It's not anything I learned by teaching my own children. It's what I learned when I was little, from my mom (who, if you're wondering is awesome so pretty much everyone should learn from her.)
**After writing this story, I don't feel like giving you a list of how you can help your children be more compassionate. I think you can garner those lessons from the story the way it is.**
I think the story of Martin will live on in my family. He will be the experience my children get to hear about when they are older.
Martin was that kid in elementary school that nobody likes. Not because he did anything to deserve it. In fact all the reasons he was hated, left out, and picked on were all the reasons he really needed a friend.
Martin wasn't mean. He was clingy, needy, he wanted so much to be liked. He was lonely. Rejected and abused at home. Rejected and abused at school. I moved into a new school in the second grade. That was when I first saw Martin and saw how rude the other children were to him. It didn't sit right with my little 7-year-old heart. And like everything else that doesn't make sense in the world, I let it all come out to my mom after school.
That's when my mom told me her own story of the kid in school nobody liked. Then she issued me a challenge. She told me she wanted me to be Martin's friend, and that I would probably be his only friend. Not only that, she wanted me to stand up for him when the other kids were unkind.
And she didn't just issue the challenge. She checked up on me...for years. She wanted to know how Martin was doing. Had I stood up for him? Had I smiled and said hello to him? I admit some days I was more sincere in my friendship with Martin than others. Some days it was hard. Some days he was needy. Some days I felt embarrassed. Some days I didn't have the courage to tell people to stop and so instead I only made sure to smile at Martin and let him know I was still his friend.
And yet some days were good. Many times people listened when I told them to stop. Sometimes other kids were kind to Martin as well. I wasn't sacrificing playing with other kids and only spending time with Martin. I wasn't really going out of my way at all. My shows of friendship were mostly done when necessary or as convenient.
And then in the 6th grade, four years later, the most wonderful and saddest part of our entire "friendship" happened. Martin told me that I was his best friend. His best friend. Me. Who half the time was still embarrassed and hoped no one was watching when I was his friend. Who didn't go out of my way to invite him to my birthday party or make sure I always played with him at recess. I felt ashamed.
I tried harder to be a better friend to Martin after that. But I didn't have to do it for very long. That year, Martin ran away from home, was in and out of youth homes and was finally sent away to a special home. I never heard from him again. But before all of that he showed me the large scars on his legs where his dad had purposely burned him, sat next to me in class, laid his head on my shoulder countless times, and kept smiling that huge smile that must have hid so much pain.
I don't know where Martin is today. Given what he had already dealt with in his first eleven years of life, I would consider him a roaring success if he was simply still alive and not in jail. I think about him. Often. I tried to find him on Facebook, but his name is too common. I wish I had been a better friend. I wish I could have understood what I understand now about his life.
For some reason out of all my elementary school experiences, my story of Martin is the one I remember and think about most. In some ways, I think the challenge of it; Of being nice even when it's hard; of standing up for what you believe in; of going against the crowd; of having compassion; all these challenges and lessons from that one experience have made an impact on who I am. They were lessons worth learning. And if my friendship with Martin did nothing for him, it did a lot for me.