I was at the pool with my 3 littles when I noticed a boy, about 12 by my estimation, sitting alone at the picnic table where we had put down our cooler. He was one of the campers that swarm our gym’s pool area between the hours of 10:00-11:00 and 1:30-2:30 all summer long. But the other campers were at a different table, and this single camper sat alone with his head down.
“What’s he doing?,” asked my youngest.
“Maybe he wants our lunch,” replied his sister.
“He must just be tired,” responded my oldest.
But I knew. I knew he wasn’t just tired, and he didn’t want our lunch. This kid, in his NE Pats jersey, was alone because he didn’t have anyone to sit with. I walked over to grab our water bottles and struck up a conversation about the Pat’s preseason game. His response was typical of a tween-aged boy being approached by some random mom with 3 kids, but I didn’t care. I wanted to see this kid smile, I wanted to be his friend, I wanted to buy him a puppy. I wanted there to be a buddy bench where another camper would feel compelled to sit next to him.
This week has been a series of juxtapositions. I was anything but excluded as my people, and my people’s people, lifted me up as they supported my Stem Cell transplant fundraiser. For years I’ve voluntarily excluded myself from activities I wasn’t physically up for, but my community has welcomed me wholeheartedly, and has kept including me despite my refusals. Every single time I was about to feel alone, my buddy bench got filled up. This week, when I was feeling so alone, my buddy bench was simply packed.
Some of my earliest school memories are feeling bad for the kids who were excluded. And the guilty feelings that I didn’t always do my best to include them, though admittedly I think I did better than most. One of my fears as a parent is that my kids will be excluded. I worry that they are too different, too eccentric, too unique. That they will be the campers with their heads down. I’ve been blessed to have amazing friends, but I think everyone (even Kelly Kapowski) has felt left out at some time. This 12-year-old boy in his Pats jersey with his head down brought all of those feelings to the surface. And it was worse because I couldn’t do a thing about it.
Imagine if life had a buddy bench rule. If every time you saw someone sitting alone on the bench you went over to sit by their side. Not even having to talk, just to acknowledge that you see them.
I don’t know this kid, but I don’t imagine I will forget him soon.
And I’m certain I will not forget every single person who sat down next to me this week when I really needed a buddy.