I want to tell you a true story
About my mom.
When she was in high school, her family moved to a new area- a place that held new opportunities for new friends, new fun, and new experiences. But as she began to attend school and church, she was disappointed in her reception. There was one particular girl named Winnie Boyce (all names have been changed, of course) and she was the prettiest, most popular girl at school. She also went to the same Latter-day Saint ward (church congregation) as my mom. Everybody LOVED Winnie Boyce and everybody wanted to be her friend.
Unfortunately, Winnie didn’t want to be everyone’s friend. And when my mom moved into the neighborhood, Winnie decided that she most definitely didn’t want to be HER friend. So when my mom went to school, Winnie and her friends ignored her. Or worse, made fun of her. And when she went to church youth activities, Winnie would say to her friends in a loud voice, so everyone would overhear, “Good grief, why did SHE have to come.” My mom said that each time she left for church, she thought to herself, “I don’t know why I’m even going. Nobody wants me there.”
And on one particularly terrible day, my mom walked into a school function and sat by herself at the end of a row of bleachers, unaware that Winnie and her friends were sitting on the other end. Winnie noticed however, and very loudly proclaimed that she and her friends would not sit on the same row as “that girl” and they all got up and found somewhere else to sit, leaving my mom alone on the row surrounded by people who had witnessed her public humiliation.
They were difficult years with many more incidences than the ones I mentioned- experiences my mother still doesn’t like to talk about.
But thankfully high school doesn’t last forever and my mom graduated, went off to college, found nicer friends, got married, and moved halfway across the county, leaving all of the high school sadness behind her. But what she didn’t leave behind was the conviction in her soul that kindness matters.
So when I was a teenager – she didn’t give me a choice. When somebody new showed up at church, it was my job to introduce myself and invite them to sit with me. At school, I was expected to be kind to people and include them in my circle of friends. My mom engrained it in me that I had the power to either build someone up, or tear someone down, and that she expected me to be a builder. I was a typical teenager and often rolled my eyes when she, yet again, was asking me to reach outside of myself. But the lessons she taught me about inclusion eventually shaped the person I would become.
Fast forward a few years- I chose to attend a university in the same city where my grandparents still lived, although they had since moved across town to a different neighborhood. Initially, I lived close to the school, but I wanted to get out of the craziness of downtown, so I found an apartment about 20 minutes down the road in a more residential area. After I told my mom the address of my new place, she said, “That’s funny. That’s the neighborhood where I went to high school.” At the time, that information didn’t mean anything to me.
I started attending the local Latter-day Saint Singles Ward (a church congregation exclusively for young adults between 18-30 years old) and after about a year, I was asked to head up a committee that focused on compassionate service. In family congregations, a compassionate service committee made sure the sick and elderly and the families with newborn babies were well cared for. But in a singles ward, we faced different challenges. Our committee focused on friendship and inclusion – making sure that everyone who walked through the doors had a friend and felt welcomed at church. After I was given the assignment, the girl that suggested my name told me, “I just noticed how nice you were to people.”
So, one day a few months later, a girl walked into church that I had never seen before. She seemed quite young, fresh out of high school probably, and very shy. Looking overwhelmed and intimidated, she snuck into a seat way over in the corner, and she didn’t talk to anyone. After the meeting, I went over and introduced myself and tried to get to know her. She said her name was Daphne White, but after a few one word answers, I realized her shyness would prevail and I didnt get much out of her.
But I didn’t give up. Each week when I saw her, I went out of my way to say hello, to make sure she had people to sit with and that she was making friends and feeling comfortable at church. With time, she started to smile more. She looked people in the eye and said hello. She seemed happy and comfortable and started gaining confidence. The best moment of all was when she started befriending other people and welcoming them to church.
Then one day, we had a meeting with some of the women from other area congregations. A woman introduced herself and said, “My name is Winnie White. My daughter Daphne attends church with you.” We engaged in a brief conversation, and that was it. But her name stuck in my head. Winnie. I’d never met anybody with the name Winnie before. The only Winnie I’d ever heard of was… was the girl that used to be so mean to my mom… and I was living in the same neighborhood where she went to high school.
It couldn’t be.
It couldn’t possibly be the same person.
I thought about it all week. Then the next Sunday, Daphne approached me to say hi and ask me about something and just as she was about to walk away, I summoned the courage and said, “This is going to sound like such a funny question, but… what is your mom’s maiden name?” “Oh, it’s Boyce,” she said cheerfully. I smiled and said something like- “Silly of me to ask…” and then she walked away. After church that day, I went straight home and sat on my bed. Stunned. Winnie Boyce was Daphne White’s mother. Winnie Boyce was Daphne White’s mother! How could Winnie Boyce possibly be Daphne White’s mother?!!!
And then the last few months seemed to scroll across my mind. How many times had I said hello to Daphne and asked her how she was doing? How many times had I smiled at her and told her I was glad to see her? How many times had I told her how cute her shoes were, or how much I liked her hair? How many times had I tried to build her up?
And how many times had her mother bullied mine?
My protective instincts aroused and all of the typical reactionary emotions surged through me. Anger. Hatred. Disgust. A need to give her a piece of my mind and to find some way of humiliating her in return!
But as my emotions calmed, I realized that my mother had taught me better. I would never confront Winnie. And I would never treat Daphne any differently. I would forgive. Just like my mother had done before me.
Now, I don’t tell you any of this to pat myself on the back for being a particularly kind person. In fact, I have a lot of room for improvement. But if I am a kind person- 100% credit goes to the woman who could have turned bitter, but instead turned to God, and discovered the eternal nature of her worth. And then in turn, she trained her children in charity. And by so doing, turned something terrible into something beautiful, that in the end, blessed Winnie Boyce herself.
So, in honor of Mother’s Day, Mom, I want to say thank you. Thank you for being the beautiful, tender, caring person that you are. And most of all, thank you for teaching me how to be kind.