Befriending the Friendless
by Jordan Moses
Sitting with my friends at a crowded table in the middle of the high school cafeteria, I feel the blanket of acceptance shroud over me, bringing with it a certain latitude of safety. We take turns making witty comments, indulging in the gossip of our lives, and debating current school affairs. Every once in a while I’ll pop in to give my perspective. It assures them that I’m listening instead of staring vacantly at the nearest wall. We are at ease with the conversation knowing every comment made, regardless of content, will be met with smiles and laughter. From the corner of my eye, I catch sight of a lonely-looking kid bearing a colossal bag on his back. He looks down at the ground as he carries his tray, afraid to catch anyone’s eye. As my friends notice my distraction, they too turn to stare in his direction. All around the cafeteria, students’ heads perk up upon his approach, their uniform staring only furthering his isolation. The ostracized youth knows there are no openings. Silently, he sits alone at an empty table. My friends turn once more, comfortable to carry on their previous conversation, but I do not join. I begin to contemplate the fear of losing acceptance versus human kindness. The longer I think on the issue, the more convinced I become. Students should strive to accept others instead of trying so hard to be accepted. Boldly, I stand and carry my tray to join the solitary boy.
Various reasons exist as to why certain students are not accepted. Usually, those reasons boil down to clothing, physical attributes, or financial status. Name brands shine out as beacons, quickly lighting the way to those students who will be accepted. If a student is found lacking, chances at finding high school popularity quickly turn dismal. Comments such as, “Oh look, there goes a Sears’ special…” or “Wow, how many generations has that shirt been through?” plague the halls of every high school quickly shutting down any spurts of individualism. It is through a wall of closed mindedness that students must break if they are to stand out on their own and follow their own fashion taste. For those who are more provincial, like myself, it would simply be having no fashion sense at all and considering the concept of matching overrated. Physical attributes characterize popularity as well. Having neon-colored hair or being unevenly proportioned automatically kicks a student out into a category of their own causing those in the “in-crowd” to take the avoidance tactic. Sadly, not having the right body type can be the cause of isolation. Students also find themselves facing resistance from their peers if their family is financially struggling. Being poor is associated with low hygienic standards, no intelligence, and lack of means to acquire the “right” clothing in the minds of students. Because of stereotypes and false standards, kids who are too poor, fat, skinny, tall, or short are spurned.
Students often turn others into outcasts because they are simply afraid of becoming unpopular themselves. When they reach out to someone who is lonely, and see the group they are a part of does not approve, they routinely go back to ignoring the outsider. I knew a girl once whose sole purpose in life was to gain the approval of the high school cheerleading squad. When she tried to befriend a new exchange student, however, the girls quickly began to ignore her. The girl was so unnerved by their abrupt change in behavior that she completely stopped talking to the exchange student. Instantaneously, she won back her “friends.” Like horses with blinders, students have a narrow line of sight and do not realize until much later in life, if at all, that if everyone practiced acceptance despite differences, then no one would be rejected.
I noticed the lonely boy’s expression as he saw me approaching. Surprise, embarrassment, and joy passed over his face in a matter of seconds. As soon as the emotions broke through, the boy carefully composed his face into the empty mask he was so used to wearing. I sat across from him and introduced myself. As I tried to converse, I noticed our conversation was strained. It was obvious that he was not used to interacting with others. I paused to glance back and see what my friends were thinking and saw them staring back at me with mixed expressions. Some were angry, others were thoughtful, but mostly they were shocked. Thankfully, the bell rang, bringing our conversation to an end.
Little by little, over the next few weeks I was able to know the boy better. Underneath his shyness and tattered clothing, he was quite intriguing and would save me in many math classes to come. In the back of Biology classes, we would doodle on the edges of paper discussing anything from bands to Darwin’s much debated theory. He would teach me in the years to come how to snowboard, play chess, and properly wield a calligraphy pen while slowly, but surely, I introduced him to my friends and showed him how to meet other people. Senior year, I leaned against the brick wall of our high school watching him interacting with the friends that had stood by me for four years. His face was aglow and he held himself with a newfound confidence. Gone was his embarrassment and look of forlornness. In mid-conversation, he caught my eye and a fluid smile lit his face. His look of complete happiness, of a boy caught up in a pique moment, spread warmth in my heart. Slinging his arm around my shoulders, he quickly brought me back into the conversation, always wanting me to be a part of the group, never alone. Daily he repaid my favor of reaching out to him by making sure I was included. He was my buckler, my shield from high school drama. It was only after high school, as we were kicking our feet in the cold water of a park lake, that he told me how much he appreciated my kindness. With a clouded face he told me I had saved him, that he had been a broken person until I had helped him pick up the pieces. He continued to attribute his paradoxical outgoing personality and group of friends to that first day. As I listened, I was astonished. Here I was talking to what I knew was a lifelong friend all because of a choice to speak to one lonely boy. It was then that I realized how much we as students, and as people, impact one other with our actions and words.
I learned an essential lesson in life when I chose to think beyond being accepted. Every person is unique, and it is not just for people to judge others based on small discrepancies in behavior. Making a stand and choosing to be different led to acquiring the closest friend I have today. If all students banded together and decided to be open-minded instead of immediately discarding a person because of their clothing, then students’ lives would be less complicated and high schools would be much more pleasant places.