THE NICKNAME SLAYER:
It was the first week of high school. My fellow students from our Catholic grade school were joined at the central Catholic high school by students from grade schools up and down the river valley. I quickly guessed that the boys from one of those schools must all have nicknames for each other.
One of them started calling me “Bugs” every time he saw me. That’s “Bugs” for “Bugs Bunny.” That’s “Bugs Bunny” because of my protruding front teeth (which, because they were never straightened, I still have as an adult).
I was horrified. I would like to say that I confronted the kid and threatened the status of HIS teeth if he didn’t stop calling me that, but I wasn’t that brave. Instead, I just dreaded running into him in the hallway.
“BUGS!” I faced the prospect of getting stuck with that nickname my entire life! Most people hearing it wouldn’t suspect it had something to do with my facial resemblance to a cartoon character. Most likely they would think that it had something to do with my personal hygiene.
It wasn’t long, though, before he called me that nickname in the presence of another kid from his school, named John. As soon as he heard me being called “Bugs,” John said something like, “I don’t think we’re going to do that.”
And there it stopped. The reason that I am not now known by that nickname in my 60s is that John intervened with just a few words. This told me two things about John: (1) that he was a compassionate kid and (2) that he carried a great deal of moral authority with the kids from his school. I considered John one of my closest friends from that point on.
I attended the 50th reunion of our high-school graduation a month ago, and John was the person I most hoped to see there, because after fifty-four years, I finally wanted to thank him in person, even though he probably wouldn’t even remember the incident.
He wasn’t there. I asked the organizer of the reunion to give me John’s address, and I sent him an advance copy of this post.
The bottom line that IS the bottom line:
You will never know when a few kind words can change a person’s life.