In the last lesson, fate kind of saw to it that Scott learned his lesson by turning the tables on him. Life has a way of doing that to us. But it doesn't always happen that way. Often, as a parent, we need a way to intervene to help our children learn a lesson as important as this. One way to do that is to share stories like Scott's. A very different way is to do what Kelly Hymas did for his son, Chad. Both terrifying and insightful at the same time, it became one of the unexpected moments of clarity Chad holds most dear over two decades later.
When Chad was a senior in high school, he was the captain of his basketball team. Well, the night before a big game, the entire team came to Chad's house for dinner. And while mom and dad were upstairs cooking, the boys were downstairs listening to music and talking about the upcoming game.
Well, at one point in the evening, the conversation turned to a girl at school. That might not seem unusual in a group of teenaged boys. But they weren't talking about just any girl. It was a very special girl we'll call Jenny. And the things they had to say about her were, to say the least, unkind. What's more, the instigator of those unkind words was the captain of the team, Chad Hymas.
Jenny was a very smart young lady. She had a lovely smile that she always wore and long dark hair. But she also had a number of very visible disabilities. Jenny was confined to a wheelchair and was blind in both eyes. She was missing one arm, and her other arm and hand had limited functionality. When she ate, she wore a pink bib to protect her clothes from spills. She also had difficulty with speech, so she carried a computer with her that could speak for her when she typed out words on an oversized and simplified keyboard. Any one of these challenges would probably get her teased at school. So you can imagine what kind of ridicule her collection of them brought out on that night.
A few minutes later, Chad's father knocked on the door and walked in without saying a word. He shut off the music and then dropped to his knees. That got the attention of all 12 varsity players. He then said, "I can't believe what I've heard for the last 20 minutes. But it's not your fault. I'm mostly disappointed in your captain." After considering that for a few seconds, he continued, "Actually, it's not even my son's fault. It's my fault. I raised him. I owe you all an apology." And with that, he left the room.
It was an awkward and uncomfortable moment for everyone. Understandably, all the boys left quickly. Nobody asked them to leave. But the combination of guilt and embarrassment had obviously spoiled the evening's fun. The next morning at school, nobody talked about it. They mostly wanted to pretend it never happened, which they were having some degree of success with until the lunch hour. That's when Chad's father unexpectedly walked into the school cafeteria.
He found the table his son was eating at, along with the rest of the team. He walked up and said, "It's good to see you today, son."
Chad sat in silence, too afraid to respond wheelchair and nervous about what his father could possibly have in mind. Then dad continued, "Son, where's the girl?"
Chad pleaded, "Dad, please don't embarrass me. I'm really sorry for what I said last night."
Undaunted, his father replied calmly, "I'm here to teach you how to stand up. And I need you and the team to follow me right now."
Tentatively, the whole table of boys stood up. Chad pointed to the lonely table in the middle of the room where Jenny was eating lunch, alone. As Chad describes what happened next, "Dad went over and gently touched her arm to announce their presence. Jenny started to shake. But it was clear she wasn't shaking out of fear, because at the same time she let out a very telling sound that's difficult to explain. It's a noise," he said, " I've since come to learn some people make that's an indication of joy and gratitude. She was actually nervous with excitement that someone, anyone, wanted to be next to her and to talk to her."
He went on, "Well by that time it seemed half the cafeteria was watching us. So we sat down at her table, and dad said to her, 'My name is Kelly. I need you to meet my oldest son and all of his friends that play on the basketball team.' Jenny continued to shake with nervousness and excitement. Then dad started asking her questions so that we could all get to know her better. It took probably 30 minutes to get through only 4 questions, since it took a while for her to type out her answers." But it was worth the time. Because the questions he asked, and the answers she gave, taught them more than they could have imagined four simple questions were capable of.
The first question Mr. Hymas asked was, 'Who's your best friend?"
Jenny responded, "My mother, Stacy." The time it took Jenny to respond to each question gave the boys a painfully long moment to reflect on the significance of her answers. So it probably wasn't lost on them how unusual it must be for a teenaged girl to count her mother as her best friend, and what that might suggest about her social life at school.
The second question was, "What does your dad do for a living?"
Jenny's chillingly simple response came back, "I don't know who my father is."
The third question he asked was, "How long have you been in a wheelchair?"
Jenny answered, "My whole life."
And For a group of boys who spend every day running and jumping up and down on a basketball court, this was a sobering answer. But even it paled in comparison to the fourth and final question and answer.
Mr. Hymas asked, "What is it you dream of and love to do the most?"
Jenny responded, "I like listening to the girls cheer at the boys’ basketball games."
Now consider that for a moment. What Jenny loves to do the most, is listen to the girls cheering for the very boys who the night before had spoken so poorly of her. If there were any of those 12 boys who hadn't felt some degree of shame yet, that comfort was now past.
Well, Over the next week, the talk in the school rightfully centered on Jenny: who she was as a person, and how everyone (not just the basketball team) treated her.
The following week, Jenny was elected captain of the cheerleading squad. She was outfitted with a skirt, joined the rest of the squad courtside, and learned to twirl circles in her wheelchair. And as the captain, it was Jenny's job to call each and every one of the cheers the girls performed. And that must have been quite a sight. Her story even made the local news. Soon people that usually didn't come to basketball games were showing up, not to watch the game, but to watch Jenny.
And For the rest of her high school career, Jenny still sat at the same table for lunch. But it was no longer empty. As Chad describes it, "They couldn't make a table big enough for everyone that wanted to sit with Jenny after that."
Looking back, Kelly Hymas could have responded to what he heard downstairs that night any number of ways. He could have just let it slide, thinking it's just how teenage boys are. Or he could have quietly confronted Chad when the evening was over, and the team was gone. The following day, I'm sure he had other things he needed to be doing in the middle of the workday. But in both cases, he took the time and the risk to make a point to his son in a way he will never forget.
Would you do the same?
Okay, that's a tough one to get through without getting emotional. But it's worth it. Please share this story with your child. And then ask yourselves these questions.
Are there any kids at your school in a wheelchair? What are their names? What else do you know about them? Who is their best friend? What are their dreams?
When Chad's father showed up at school, do you think Chad wished his dad had just stayed at work? What about now? Do you think he's changed his mind?
Is there anyone at your school who eats lunch alone every day? How do you think they'd feel if you joined them tomorrow?
Are there any good reasons to not be friends with someone? What might those reasons be?
Okay, in the next lesson, we'll turn our attention to a very specific type of kindness – charity.