There are few things I can say about myself that generate as much dislike as what I’m about to confess.
You see, back in school– I was popular.
I wasn’t ever the most popular person in school, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t in the running. Popularity embarrasses me– then and now– and I’ve always seen it as a consequence of unavoidable factors being multiplied in the minds of those who have no sense of decision-making skills.
Still, it certainly makes things easier– especially when your parents move so often that you’re always the new kid and especially when you’re significantly different from everyone else. When you’re popular, those differences become funny or even cool– and the nuances of this very important game were never lost on me.
When I was in the fourth grade, I began another new school. It was a small school, and the communities and cliques inside were already well-formed. I made my way through the first half of the day as quietly and as invisibly as possible, as I observed the ropes. Invisible was as good as popular, but unpopular could result in horrible things. I wanted to avoid that fate at all costs because I went to school before zero tolerance policies were in effect.
At lunch time, they seated us together by class. I opened my lunch bag to find that my mom had made the most terrible mistake imaginable.
She had filled my lunchbox with weird, smelly things. Specifically– 5 pickles.
Now, I know Mom didn’t do this so that I could learn the flavor of toilet water and the suffocating peace of being shoved inside a locker. She just meant to put a pickle in each of the five lunches she made everyday, and simply mixed them up. It was the first and only time she made an error in lunch box preparation, but it was the worst possible moment.
The girl next to me noticed before I could fix the situation. She started to snicker. The girl in front of me said, “Ew, pickles?”, and the boy at her side laughed.
I began to close up the box when a boy from the far end of the table walked over to me. He was the most popular boy. I waited for whatever cruelty was to come, and figured I would face it straight on. I looked him in the eye, and he winked at me.
Then loudly, to his classmates more than me, he said, “Oh man, dill pickles? I love those things. Can I have one? It’s so cool that you brought enough to share.”
And that was that. For the low price of 5 pickles, I was assured a place of popularity and, more importantly, narrowly avoided the fate of the bullied.
The boy never asked for anything in return. He never asked me out. He never borrowed homework. He never even asked me to vote for him when he ran for class president. We were in the same group of varsity and honor kids, but it was really very clear to me that his kindness had nothing to do with me specifically. It had everything to do with expressing the kindness in his heart.
As we grew up together, we were often paired for important events. I realized that he was dependably kind and insightful. Though I’m sure he forgot all about it, I relied on him often with complete faith that the pickle situation was his norm, not an anomaly.
Still, we went our separate ways when I moved again, since we were really never that close.
A year later, a friend bought me a pickle, and I winced because I hadn’t eaten one since that day. The horror of them in my lunchbox was still a fear I could taste.
I told the story and I thought of him then– not just the kindness or bravery, but the person behind the act. On a whim, I looked him up on Facebook, and typed out a several hundred word thank you.
I wanted him to know that little things like that make huge differences in the lives of the people around him. I wanted him to know that I still felt in debt to him for years of peace and happiness. I wanted him to know that I am constantly inspired when I look back at his life full of tiny, important moments of courage and bravery.
It was probably the strangest Facebook message anyone ever received, but he replied with a simple, “Thank you, Rara. That means a lot.”
I didn’t send a friend request, nor did he– we were never that close.
I didn’t offer to come and see him even though my Facebook research showed that he had moved near me and achieved his dream to play on an arena football team.
It was enough. The story of us, which began with 5 pickles ended happily with a Facebook message.
* * *
Not even one week later, he was married and went to Florida for his honeymoon. When he stepped off the plane, he had a heart attack and died.
I mourned, of course, because even though we were never that close– humanity had just lost one of the best people I had ever met.
Everyone kept saying how sad it was because he could have changed the world, but the truth is, he did change the world. Maybe he never did anything on a massive scale, but I personally witnessed a thousand tiny kindnesses.
He made the world a more compassionate place and I am incredibly grateful to the Universe for sending me a reminder in the form of a pickle which allowed me the opportunity to give thanks before it was too late.
In case you’re curious, I still have a very complex relationship with pickles today. Do you love pickles? Have you ever sent someone a random thank you note?