I only met Larry, the custodian at my middle school, once. It was a Monday morning, and I had arrived at school several hours early to work on the newspaper. Upon entering a classroom, my teacher and I discovered that some punk had vandalized the school by throwing rocks through several windows and plastering several more with egg, which had baked on thoroughly over the weekend.
My teacher sent me to find Larry so we could ask him to help clean up. I tracked him down and told him about the damage. He walked off down the hall to get some cleaning supplies, whistling some happy tune all the way. He wasn’t about to let the extra work ruin his morning. A year later, when his death was announced to the students, all I could think about was Larry’s happy whistling on what should have been a terrible day.
Like most high school girls, I was insecure about everything, and especially my appearance. And if I was insecure on a normal day, I was even more so one particular day when my dad took me to a hardware store after we’d spent a night camping. My hair was only half in what was supposed to be a braid, I hadn’t brushed my teeth, and I was wearing a t-shirt that was probably large enough to fit two of me.
I didn’t really want to be seen by anyone, much less the cute boy who worked at the hardware store. Maybe he wasn’t even that cute, but he was my age about and had a nice smile. Embarrassed, I tried to pretend he didn’t exist, thinking that maybe he would do the same for me.
My dad went back the next day without me, and was asked where his cute helper was. When my dad told me, it took me a minute to realize I was the cute helper. I often think about that when I’m having a bad hair day (of which there are plenty) and I walk out the door feeling a little more confident.
Twice upon a time my car was hit in the spot across the high school where I parked. Both times the responsible drivers were kind enough to leave me a note, which I appreciated even though the damage was minimal. My little blue tracer had been in fifteen minor collisions by the time I was done with it. Which is to say, it wasn’t exactly pretty.
The second kid who hit my car (in that particular parking spot at any rate) was a freshman who had never driven on snow before. He left a little red paint and a small dent on the side of my car, which I may or may not have even noticed had he not left a note. But the way his mom reacted, you would have thought he totaled my car.
Even after I called to say that I didn’t mind the (very minimal) damage to my car, the mother insisted on meeting me at my parking spot the next day after school. I was in a hurry, but I tried to be patient with her as she went on and on about how sorry she was her son hit my car and how nice of me it was to forgive him. Somewhere in the middle of all that she managed to start talking about her other son and how she didn’t want the one who’d hit my car to end up like him. Then she had her son hand me an envelope containing a hundred dollars (a lot, considering we ended up selling the entire car to a junk yard for two hundred just a year later).
I tried to talk her out of giving me the money, insisting that it was way more than compensation for the minor damages. She refused to yield. So I took the money, maybe because I had two other places to be and didn’t have time to argue with her. Or maybe because I saw a mother trying to teach her son a lesson in how to be a good human being. Maybe I learned a thing or two about being a good human being too.
I was the only Mormon working on the high school newspaper staff, which sometimes made me a bit of an outsider. The conversations in the computer lab where we worked were often infused with profanity and decorated with dirty jokes. I was pretty adept at ignoring these sort of conversations. I wasn’t about to tell anybody off, because that would have felt too much like shoving my religion down their throats—something I didn’t want to do under any circumstance. Besides, I was a senior by that point and had been fairly desensitized to high school conversation.
One day after class a friend of mine went out of his way to apologize for how crude the conversations in the lab were. He promised that the conversations would be cleaner in the future. The next day I was working at a computer when another dirty conversation started. I did what I always did and kept typing, not paying attention to whatever they were talking about.
My friend lived up to his promise and told the others to cut it out. He said he promised me they wouldn’t have anymore conversations of that type around me. One of the other students argued that I wasn’t even listening, and I continued to act like it wasn’t. But my friend insisted that he’d promised and that they could go somewhere else to have their conversation.
I’m sure the other students didn’t like my friend policing their conversation that way. It couldn’t have made him popular. But I appreciated it immensely, not so much because he’d gotten rid of the inappropriate conversations that I was used to dealing with, but because he had defended me and my moral code. He wasn’t by any means my closest friend or the one I spent the most time with. But the sort of respect and loyalty he showed me are hard to rival.
I don’t know if these stories mean anything to you. They’re random, insignificant events from quite awhile ago. Most of the people in the stories I barely knew. In fact, they’re such small stories that I probably should have forgotten all about them. But I haven’t.
These are the sort of things I try to remember when I start thinking that maybe humanity is just a miserable lot. I think about these stories and others often because just thinking about them makes me a little happier.
And I can’t think about these insignificant events without wondering if I’ve ever been on the other side of it, doing something small that somebody would remember. It’s the sort of thought that makes me want to be a better person. Just because I never know who is watching—and remembering—the little things I do.