The Friend I Could Have Been

“The Friend I Could Have Been,” New Era, Aug. 1999, 9

The Friend I Could Have Been

Sam was not the only one hurt by the way I treated him. Now I know I injured myself, too.

I was a senior in high school the day I ran into Sam Stone,* a boy I hadn’t seen since junior high. I was going to run an errand as I started down the hall of my high school. With the sun coming through the double doors in front of me, I could only make out the silhouette of a boy coming towards me. As we got closer, he spoke, calling me by name, “I remember you. You kicked me in the stomach and were always mean to me.”

Sammy had moved into our small community sometime in the third or fourth grade. He was placed in a foster family and lived there until about the seventh or eighth grade, when he was sent to a new foster family. Sammy had been teased constantly, and I am embarrassed and ashamed to admit that I participated in his ridicule. I don’t remember ever kicking him, but I have a definite memory of being on the merry-go-round when he was trying to get on. We wouldn’t let him and began a cruel chant about him as we pumped the merry-go-round faster and faster. I still remember the look on his face.

Throughout the remainder of my senior year, I tried to be kind to Sam. I made it a point to speak to him whenever I saw him. Then graduation came, and we went our separate ways.

Now I am 33 years old, and I serve as the Primary president in my ward. The theme for sharing time one month was “Friends.” That Sunday we would be having stake visitors, and as I began to prepare for sharing time, I searched for something to involve the children and keep them interested so that we could maintain reverence.

My mind kept going to the memory of Sammy, how I was not a friend to him and how I could have made a difference in the way he was treated and didn’t. I thought about talking to the senior Primary on being a good friend and telling my story as a poor example. I prepared my talk but began to have second thoughts. I did not know if I could keep the interest of the children without a game or something to involve them and did not particularly want to try it for the first time when the stake visitors were there. Then there was the fact that I was ashamed and embarrassed of what I had done when I was the same age as these children and wondered if I should share this story with them.

By Thursday, I had decided not to tell the story and was looking through all my materials for another idea of something to present. By Friday, I had not found anything that felt right to me. I prayed for help and decided that when I went to dinner with my sister that evening, I would find out what she was doing for sharing time in her ward. My sister, who also served in a Primary presidency, is very creative, and I often get ideas from her. That night as we waited for our dinner to arrive, she excitedly told me her plans for sharing time in her ward. The idea was good, but it just didn’t feel right for me. Now I was really concerned. I slowly began to eat my dinner, my thoughts centered on what I could possibly do.

As I was eating, I thought I heard my name being called. It was very faint, and it was my maiden name. I looked around but didn’t see anyone, and no one at my table seemed to have heard it. I figured it was my imagination and went back to my meal and the conversation when I heard my name again, this time louder. This time my dinner companions heard it too. As I looked up, I saw a man step out from behind a divider. The man was Sammy Stone. “I wasn’t sure if that was you,” he said, “so I said your name softly first to make sure it was.”

I was dazed. Standing before me was Sam Stone. I had not seen him since high school some 15 years before, but the past week I had thought about him constantly. And now here he was. We chatted a minute as I introduced him to my husband and my other family members there with me. He invited me to meet his family in another part of the restaurant before we left. I felt strongly that Heavenly Father wanted me to tell this story in sharing time on Sunday.

At the conclusion of our meal, my husband and I went over to meet Sam’s family. Sam had overcome some great odds in his life. I was impressed with him and his family. Sadly for me, Sam introduced me to his family as someone he went to high school with. I would have been elated if he would have introduced me as “a friend from high school,” but at least he had spoken to me.

On Sunday I spoke about Sammy in Primary. The room was packed with the children, the stake visitors, and members of our bishopric. There was no problem with reverence. You could have heard a pin drop during any part of sharing time. I know that Heavenly Father loves each of His children, and I believe He wanted me to share this story to remind them to be kind to everyone. So, to those of you who are reading this story, I ask you the same question I asked that group of children, “What kind of friend will you be remembered as?”

Illustrated by Dilleen Marsh

The Savior taught in so many ways that how we treat others is important to Him. I wish I had lived that teaching when I was younger. (Painting by Harry Anderson.)