Last week, one of my high school classmates died. Bryce was the second to die in as many weeks, quite a lot for a class of about 110 people. We are, after all, only in our late 50’s . Bryce died in a local nursing home. I have no idea of the cause of death, or the circumstances of his life since we graduated.
Bryce was a gentle, simple soul. He was categorized as “slow”. He wasn’t as slow as the children in the special education classes and he was in the regular classroom full time. I don’t think he could read, though, and academic work wasn’t easy for him.
Bryce was a farm boy who quite evidently got up early to do chores. We knew this because he never changed clothes or boots before he got on the bus, and the manure still clung to his boots and the barnyard smell followed him all day.
Our elementary school was old, and there were very steep stairwells inside that led from the outside doors up to the second and third floors of the building. Every time we were out of doors and had to go inside, we all had to line up on the steps. There was always a great amount of jostling, with people bumping into and brushing against each other. Woe betide those who had to stand next to Bryce or any of the other children considered unlovely or objectionable in some way and got touched by them. The only way we found to cope with it was to pass along the experience to the acceptable ones around us, wiping our hands on them and saying “______’s germs, no returns”. Those germs would be passed along until the poor person last in line would get stuck with them. You never wanted to get stuck with the germs.
I am sure that Bryce and the others knew that their germs were being passed along and that they were considered unacceptable by the rest of us. We didn’t exactly whisper. Despite this, I never once saw Bryce upset or retaliate. I never thought much about it until we were in junior high school. I don’t know what the occasion was, but for some reason I found myself in a conversation with Bryce and he thanked me for being so nice to him all the years we had been in school together. I was flabbergasted and deeply ashamed of myself, as I knew I hadn’t been kind to him at all. I was just less mean, I guess.
I thought of that conversation this week as I read his death notice. I am still ashamed of myself. I hope he died easily and I am glad he is at rest. I wish I had been kinder.
How has kindness played out in your life?