“Silent Message,” Friend, Nov. 1996, 8
When I first met Will, I felt sorry for him. Still, I didn’t dare help him out, because I was worried about what the other guys would think.
Will came to school six weeks after it started. Everyone else already had their own bunch of friends, and nobody seemed to need Will. Besides, he was a little different. He came to school that first Monday morning wearing a pair of ragged jeans and a faded T-shirt.
Will was kind of quiet, too, seeming to hide underneath a beat-up baseball cap. He crept into our fifth-grade class that first morning and quietly took his seat in the back of the room. He answered “Here,” when Mrs. Collins called the roll, and when she asked him where he came from, he mumbled, “Blue Lakes, Kansas.” Nobody knew where Blue Lakes was, and nobody seemed to care.
That was all Will said that first morning. At noon he ate his sack lunch by himself, with his arms around his paper bag like he didn’t want anyone to see what he had—one sandwich and an apple.
“He’s weird all right,” I heard Ronny snicker down the table from me. Several others joined in the laughter as they stared at Will sitting alone two tables over. I ducked my head and picked at the pizza I had on my tray. I wished I could help Will, but I didn’t know how.
A few minutes later, though, I had forgotten about him. What was really on my mind was our lunchtime football game. Ronny, who had brought his football from home, and Larry were the two captains. Ronny chose me right off, and soon the sides were picked. And there was Will, all alone, standing between the two teams, looking from Ronny to Larry.
“You can’t play today,” Ronny growled, rolling the football in his hands. “The teams are even right now. We don’t need anybody else.”
Will wet his lips, looked down, kicked at the grass with his dirty shoe, turned around, and wandered off to the edge of the field with his hands stuffed in his pockets. All of a sudden I had this deep-down sick feeling, and I hurt for him. I wanted to call out that we’d played with uneven teams before, but I didn’t say anything.
I tried to keep my mind on football that afternoon, but it was tough. Every time I ran out for a pass or went to block someone, I saw Will out of the corner of my eye, just sitting there at the edge of the field, watching and wishing that he were part of the game.
“Did you have butter on your fingers today, Brett?” Ronny questioned me after the bell rang and we started for class. “You missed half my throws.”
I shook my head and shrugged. “I guess it’s just one of my bad days.”
As we headed for class, I could tell that we were going to walk right past Will. He was still sitting cross-legged on the ground and picking at blades of grass. I wanted to say something so he wouldn’t feel completely alone. I knew what being alone was like. I’d been new at school two years earlier. Just before I got to Will, he looked right at me, but I chickened out because I was walking with Ronny. I turned my eyes down and walked past him. I felt sick inside all over again.
That afternoon Mrs. Collins had us get into groups to work on a science project. Right then I thought about walking over and inviting Will to work with me, but Ronny grabbed my arm and said, “Come on, Brett, work with Danny and me, or Mrs. Collins is going to stick you with the new kid.” He made it sound like working with Will would be the worst thing that could happen to a guy. Will ended up being assigned to work with Nancy and Angela when no one picked him for their group.
By the time I got home from school, I’d stopped thinking about him. But something Dad said during family home evening brought him back to my mind. Dad was giving a lesson on the Holy Ghost. He explained how the Holy Ghost could warn us when we were in danger. He said that Wilford Woodruff’s life had been saved many times because he had listened to the Holy Ghost. One time Wilford Woodruff had camped for the night and tied his horses to a big tree. During the night the Holy Ghost warned him to move his horses. Right after he moved them, a big storm tore up the tree where the horses had been.
Dad told a story of when he himself was younger and had wanted to go on a trip with some friends. The Holy Ghost had warned his mother not to let him go. Dad stayed home, and the friends who went on the trip were in a serious accident.
“Have you ever felt the Holy Ghost in your life, Brett?” Dad asked me.
Even though I had been baptized and had received the gift of the Holy Ghost, I couldn’t remember a time when the Holy Ghost had told me anything. “I guess you have to be older for the Holy Ghost to talk to you,” I complained, feeling a bit cheated. “Maybe He doesn’t have anything to tell me. Or maybe I just don’t need His help.”
“Although the Holy Ghost might speak to you in a voice,” Dad explained, “the Spirit isn’t necessarily something you hear.”
“Most of the time it’s not what you hear, but what you feel,” Mom joined in. “You might have a good feeling when you make a right choice. Or you have a sick or sorry feeling when you choose something wrong.”
Suddenly it was like a light went on inside my mind. I thought of Will. I remembered the feelings I’d had that day to say hello to him, to let him play football, and to ask him to be in my science group. I wondered if the Holy Ghost had tried to speak to me, and I hadn’t listened.
I was really quiet after that because I didn’t want my family to know about Will and me. I wanted the Holy Ghost to warn me and protect me as He had with Wilford Woodruff and Dad, but I wasn’t sure I wanted Him telling me to be nice to Will. That wouldn’t help me—it would make things hard for me! How could I be nice to Will when everybody else thought he was weird?
Dad asked me to say the closing prayer in home evening, and I asked Heavenly Father to help us listen to the Holy Ghost and do what He told us to do. As I prayed, I tried not to think of Will, because I was afraid of what the Spirit might tell me.
I had a hard time getting to sleep that night, but by morning I’d forgotten about Will again. I was anxious to get to school. As I rushed out my bedroom door, I spotted my new football just inside the closet. Ineed to take that to school today, I thought as I charged toward the kitchen. Two more times before I left the house, I thought of my football, but I still forgot to take it until I was half a block down the street. Remembering, I raced back to the house, grabbed the ball, and sprinted off to school.
No one was any friendlier to Will on Tuesday than they’d been on Monday, but I figured there wasn’t anything I could do about it. Then when we got ready to go out for morning recess, Ronny called to me, “Hey, Brett, bring your ball. I forgot mine. You can be one of the captains.”
At first I was excited to be a captain, but as everyone gathered so Ronny and I could choose up teams, I spotted Will. I remembered Dad’s lesson on the Holy Ghost, and I knew why I’d brought my football that morning. I fidgeted and felt a scary twisting in my stomach, because I knew that bringing the ball to school was the easy part. The hard part was still ahead of me, and it was like the Holy Ghost was telling me exactly what to do. I looked around. Everybody was waiting for Ronny and me to choose. I began to wish that I had left my ball shut up in the closet at home.
Ronny chose Larry first. I chose Rusty. Ronny chose Danny. I wasn’t hearing a voice, but the feeling inside told me what I was supposed to do. I wasn’t sure if I was brave enough to do it. Everyone expected me to choose Robby, but I knew that I wasn’t supposed to make the easy choice. I was supposed to make the right one. “I’ll take Will,” I rasped.
Everybody was quiet for a moment. Will looked surprised, and then he shuffled over to join my team, keeping his head down and not looking at anybody.
“Why’d you want him?” Ronny growled.
“I figure he’s pretty good,” I muttered, shrugging. I could feel my cheeks burn a glowing red, but my insides didn’t twist and turn like they had before.
We took the kickoff. I was playing quarterback, and as soon as the ball was hiked, I searched for a receiver. Everybody was covered—everybody but Will. The other team had forgotten him, hadn’t even worried about him. He was pretty far down the field, but I decided to give him a chance. I cocked my arm and let the ball fly. It was a little over his head, but he reached for it, pulled it down, cradled it against his chest, and was racing for the goal line before Ronny’s team knew what was happening. He made our first touchdown.
A few plays later Ronny threw the ball to Larry. He wasn’t even watching Will—I guess he figured that Will’s first catch was all luck. But before Larry realized that Will was anywhere near, Will stepped in front of him, snatched the ball from the air, and charged down the field for his second touchdown.
“Hey, where’d you learn to play ball, Will?” Ronny demanded as we walked to class after recess.
“Football and baseball were about all we ever played in Blue Lakes,” Will answered, smiling shyly and ducking his head.
“Well, you’re playing for me this afternoon. Brett had his turn this morning.”
Will looked over at me. I smiled and nodded, feeling a warm swelling inside me. I was glad that I had learned to listen with more than my ears.