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  • The Boy Under the Tree

    1 posts, 1 voices, 313 views, started Feb 18, 2009

    Posted on Wednesday, February 18, 2009 by Denise Richardson


    • Diamond

      The Boy Under the Tree

      In the summer recess between freshman and sophomore
      years in college, I was invited to be an instructor at a high
      school leadership camp hosted by a college in Michigan. I
      was already highly involved in most campus activities, and I
      jumped at the opportunity.

      About an hour into the first day of camp, amid the frenzy
      of icebreakers and forced interactions, I first noticed the
      boy under the tree. He was small and skinny, and his
      obvious discomfort and shyness made him appear frail and
      fragile. Only 50 feet away, 200 eager campers were
      bumping bodies, playing, joking and meeting each other,
      but the boy under the tree seemed to want to be
      anywhere other than where he was. The desperate
      loneliness he radiated almost stopped me from approaching
      him, but I remembered the instructions from the senior
      staff to stay alert for campers who might feel left out.

      As I walked toward him I said, “Hi, my name is Kevin and
      I’m one of the counselors. It’s nice to meet you. How are
      you?” In a shaky, sheepish voice he reluctantly answered,
      “Okay, I guess.” I calmly asked him if he wanted to join the
      activities and meet some new people. He quietly replied,
      “No, this is not really my thing.”

      I could sense that he was in a new world, that this whole
      experience was foreign to him. But I somehow knew it
      wouldn’t be right to push him, either. He didn’t need a
      pep talk, he needed a friend. After several silent moments,
      my first interaction with the boy under the tree was over.

      At lunch the next day, I found myself leading camp songs
      at the top of my lungs for 200 of my new friends. The
      campers were eagerly participated. My gaze wandered over
      the mass of noise and movement and was caught by the
      image of the boy from under the tree, sitting alone, staring
      out the window. I nearly forgot the words to the song I
      was supposed to be leading. At my first opportunity, I tried
      again, with the same questions as before: “How are you
      doing? Are you okay?” To which he again replied, “Yeah,
      I’m alright. I just don’t really get into this stuff“. As I left
      the cafeteria, I too realized this was going to take more time
      and effort than I had thought - if it was even possible to
      get through to him at all.

      That evening at our nightly staff meeting, I made my
      concerns about him known. I explained to my fellow staff
      members my impression of him and asked them to pay
      special attention and spend time with him when they could.

      The days I spend at camp each year fly by faster than any
      others I have known. Thus, before I knew it, mid-week had
      dissolved into the final night of camp and I was
      chaperoning the “last dance“. The students were doing all
      they could to savor every last moment with their new
      “best friends” - friends they would probably never see

      As I watched the campers share their parting moments, I
      suddenly saw what would be one of the most vivid
      memories of my life. The boy from under the tree, who
      stared blankly out the kitchen window, was now a shirtless
      dancing wonder. He owned the dance floor as he and two
      girls proceeded to cut up a rug. I watched as he shared
      meaningful, intimate time with people at whom he couldn’t
      even look just days earlier. I couldn’t believe it was him.

      In October of my sophomore year, a late-night phone call
      pulled me away from my chemistry book. A soft-spoken,
      unfamiliar voice asked politely, “Is Kevin there?”

      “You‘re talking to him. Who’s this?”

      “This is Tom Johnson’s mom. Do you remember Tommy
      from leadership camp?

      The boy under the tree. How could I not remember?

      “Yes, I do“, I said. “He’s a very nice young man. How is

      An abnormally long pause followed, then Mrs. Johnson
      said, “My Tommy was walking home from school this week
      when he was hit by a car and killed.” Shocked, I offered my

      “I just wanted to call you“, she said, “because Tommy
      mentioned you so many times. I wanted you to know that
      he went back to school this fall with confidence. He made
      new friends. His grades went up. And he even went out on
      a few dates. I just wanted to thank you for making a
      difference for Tom. The last few months were the best few
      months of his life.”

      In that instant, I realized how easy it is to give a bit of
      yourself every day. You may never know how much each
      gesture may mean to someone else. I tell this story as
      often as I can, and when I do, I urge others to look out for
      their own “boy under the tree.”

      David Coleman and Kevin Randall


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