I met William at our son’s first high school cross-country meet on one of those perfectly warm, sunny Indian summer afternoon with leaves just beginning to turn. As I observed Zach interacting with William, I saw two kindred spirits—both friendly and kind, but socially awkward and idiosyncratic. I silently repeated one of my favorite clichés—“birds of a feather flock together”—and thanked God for providing Zach with a new friend.
WARNING: FEROCIOUS EGO-BEAST ABOUT TO BE RELEASED!
My first conversation with William immediately sprouted numerous adjectives in my mind: lanky, friendly, smart, and—nerdy. He reminded me of the engineering weirdoes walking around my college campus in the late 70’s with slide rulers housed in plastic shirt pocket protectors along with several ink pens and mechanical pencils–never my type, being the artistic sort that I am. They were smart but seeminly oblivious to social norms with no idea how to dress themselves, comb their hair, or even clean and straighten their wire-framed glasses. And they always seemed more enthralled with the idea of solving some advanced mathematical problem on Friday nights than going to the downtown disco where my cute sorority sisters and I line-danced to Bee Gees music while the silver, mirrored disco ball twirled overhead making us all look like little starlets. Little did I know that the spirit of nerds would come back to haunt me for my haughtiness one day by making me the parent of a child who would cause me to interact with those I would have otherwise ignored or, even worse, ridiculed.
SLAY THAT EGO-BEAST NOW!
Following the cross-country meet, we hosted a bonfire at our farm. William was the first to arrive. Though quite talkative, he never made eye contact and focused more on unimportant details of subjects than on main ideas. Though a bit peculiar in his demeanor, I found something sincere and appealing about William. I liked him.
Once all the kids had arrived, the sun had set and the sky had darkened. Marshmallows were roasting over the fire while random stories were told in typical adolescent parlance. It was there that William came up to me and, for the first time, made eye contact. His words gripped me.
“Thank you so much for inviting me to this party, Mrs. Johnson. I never get invited to parties. I’m an outcast. This is more fun than I’ve ever had.”
An outcast? That one word leveled my pride like an ax to a tree. Do some people really consider themselves outcasts—rejects—misfits—unworthy of human attention and affection? I felt ashamed of my prideful, preconceived notions of William and others like him.
In response to William’s thanks, I looked him straight in the eyes and said, “Thank you William. I’m so glad you came and I’m so glad you and Zach are friends. You are not an outcast in our eyes. You are always welcome here.”
Shortly after William’s and my brief exchange, I witnessed something remarkable. As people were talking about movies, Richard mentioned that he loved Monty Python’s In Search of the Holy Grail. Others around the campfire loved the movie also so Richard started acting out all the parts from numerous scenes. He had the dialog completely memorized and had distinct body gestures and voices for each character. Being a former forensics coach who judged Humorous Interpretation at tournaments, I was amazed at his brilliant acting ability. He captured everyone’s attention with his performance, though that was never his intent. Loud laughter and enthusiastic clapping spurred him on as he went through scene after scene in his one-man show. Once finished, I complimented him on his acting talent and thanked him for entertaining us. He responded by thanking me, once again, for having him at the party. I was humbled by his humbleness. I felt sad that he never received party invitations because it was he who made our party so enjoyable that evening.
Perhaps, I thought, God was giving me, and others like me, a special invitation that night—an invitation to seek those who are not sought—an invitation to grow beyond preconceived notions of people—an invitation to be blessed by those the world considers forgettable.
William the outcast. He will never be an outcast in our home. He is my son’s friend. Had Zach not been somewhat of an outcast himself, I would probably never have met William and I would never have been so blessed on that beautiful September evening by a soul God created as purposefully and as lovingly as God created my own. So, thank you God for creating the Williams of this world. Help us to notice and include them because your gifts are most often found in places we least suspect—not with the “in crowd” but with the “outcasts.”
“I will restore you to health and heal your wounds because you are called an outcast,” declares the LORD.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
Dedicated to Lori, one of my spiritual mentors. Thank you!