By Joy McMurray
I watched my son’s face carefully as we walked through the hallway towards his new classroom. His stoic expression told me he was trying hard to be brave. It had been almost 18 months since he had last been in a school building. His pre-existing health conditions had caused me to keep him home during the first year of COVID-19, even as his former classmates continued to attend in-person. Now it was back-to-school night of the next school year, and his eight-year-old self was preparing to enter the rollicking adventure of elementary school yet again. As I observed the tension in his gait, my mommy-heart was nervous right along with him.
I reassured myself that he would probably be fine academically, but I had no idea how things would be socially. Would his former friends remember him and welcome him back? Would they have moved on in the year he was gone or still be happy to see him? I feared how cruel children can be sometimes. As we rounded the last corner and came in sight of his new classroom door, a young girl and her mother walked towards us. I recognized the girl as one of my son’s friends from first grade, Sarah, and I knew this would be a critical moment for him. As soon as Sarah saw my son, she exclaimed, “Sam! I am so happy to see you! I was hoping I would see you. I have a new friend named Grant I want you to meet. He is kind and smart just like you, and I think you two will be friends.” Sam stood there, a bit stunned by the exuberance of this welcome and all the new information to process, but I saw his sweet, quiet smile begin to form, and I felt that everything was going to be okay. I also knew that I would love this little girl forever, for her kindness to my son.
Perhaps this moment, so glorious and unexpected to Sam and to me, may seem simple or mundane to others. But as I’ve reflected on it, I’ve been more and more impressed at what a profound moment of kindness it was. Kindness requires that we take the time out of our rushed, self-focused lives to think of someone else and what they might be thinking or feeling. If we don’t do that, we won’t know what we can do to increase their happiness. Sarah, instead of only being caught up in the nervousness and excitement of her own new school year, had actually been mindful of Sam and what might be nice for him—to meet a new friend who he had things in common with. Her sincerity and wisdom amaze me, especially since she hadn’t seen Sam in so long. How did she remember to think about him? How did she guess just what he was wishing for in his heart?
I’m also amazed at the purity of her motives. True kindness involves treating another person with warmth and courtesy not because you think you’ll get something out of it but because you believe in their fundamental worth. Sarah didn’t mention how much fun SHE was going to have now that Sam was back or how much she was looking forward to going to his house to play with his fabulous Legos. She didn’t, in fact, talk much about herself at all. Her thoughts were focused on Sam and what would be nice for him. Sam doesn’t have the cool attitude or impressive sports skills that often bring peer admiration at his age, so Sarah wasn’t mindful of Sam because he was popular or important to other people. She was kind to him because she understood, fundamentally, that each person has great worth.
I’m happy to report that this experience was the beginning of what is turning out to be a great school year for Sam. But Sarah’s actions also helped Sam’s mom, by giving me hope and reminding me that kindness abounds in many places, often unlooked for. Sarah showed me that children are—perhaps especially are—capable of great kindness. Here’s hoping that we can all bring more joy into this journey of life by being like Sarah and treating others with kindness, regardless of how much they can help us with our problems or how “important” they may or may not be in the eyes of the world.
*Names in the story have been changed to protect the children’s privacy
Joy McMurray is a relatively ordinary citizen of Provo. Once upon a time she was a high school teacher in upstate New York. Now she is chief navigator and expert nurturer in the McMurray clan, and she and her husband love their four children very much. Currently she serves on the community council of her local elementary school and on Provo’s Transportation and Mobility Advisory Committee. She loves reading, swimming, and helping things grow.