Many years ago, when I was in high school, there was a young man by the name of Carl who expressed quite a bit of interest in me. When my debate coach got wind of Carl’s interest, she quickly expressed her opinion. She warned me to stay away from him – telling me that I was too good for him.
My coach was well meaning but somewhat misguided. I know she was trying to be protective of me but she didn’t really understand the good heart this young man had.
I didn’t actually date Carl but I ended up having a few conversations with him. His was a life filled with difficulty and tragedy. His parents were divorced. His father had abandoned the family. His mother was alcoholic and not inclined to look after her son. The only positive thing he seemed to have in his life was a grandfather that loved and cared for him.
By all outward appearances, Carl was not the kind of guy someone would want their daughter hanging out with. At the tender age of 18 Carl had alcohol abuse issues of his own, got a girl pregnant, lived on his own and was well-known for racing (and wrecking) cars and trucks on country roads.
Would Carl have been a positive influence on me? The answer is probably no. However, there is more to this story that needs expressing. After my conversations with Carl, it was plain to me (even back then) that the greatest tragedy of his life was the ability of his life circumstances to convince him that he was of no worth.
Certainly, his parents had done little to convince Carl of his worth and potential. Apparently, the influence of friends and other family members was not able to get the job done either. At the age of 20, Carl committed suicide.
I was reminded of Carl’s tragic story as President Monson spoke of “Seeing others as they may become” at our most recent general conference.
It is not hard for me to believe that Carl could have been helped immensely by others seeing him as he had the potential to become – instead of judging him and determining that he was not “good enough”.
By the time Carl took his life, he had married, divorced and become the father of a little girl. In his own way, by taking his life, Carl had perpetuated his family’s tradition of father abandonment.
It was a somber day the day I heard of Carl’s death. I remembered only too well the last time I had seen Carl – most of all, I remembered that I had ignored him. I did not say hi or acknowledge him in any way. Needless to say, on that day long past, I had made no effort to see Carl as he might have become and I certainly did nothing to help him to feel better about himself. It was a haunting thought for me as I realized that just one kind word, one kind gesture or just one person’s ability to acknowledge Carl’s inherent worth might have literally saved his life and saved his small daughter from a life without her father. I might have been that person but instead, I had ignored him.
We can all think of a time when someone’s small gesture, warm smile or act of kindness has been huge in its impact on us. President Monson’s words have reminded me of my own need to make a difference in the lives of others. I am also reminded that my efforts do not have to be on a grand scale to be meaningful or to make a difference.
If others have made a difference in your life or if you have a story in which you or someone you know benefited by someone’s act of kindness and/or ability to look upon the heart instead of outward appearances and you would be willing to share, please send your story to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I look forward to hearing from you!
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