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During most of my bus-riding years, my family lived outside of Charlottesville, Va. Unfortunately for me, my middle school sat 15 miles from town in the opposite direction.
Even more tragically, I was usually the last to board and there were only a couple seats left by the time the bus reached my driveway. Quickly finding a seat amid the cruel jokes and teasing was brutal – like some twisted game of "Where’s Waldo?"
Over time, the bus became a laboratory of bullying and mockery and one morning I decided I’d had enough. So, with a burst of brilliant ingenuity, I scanned the trees that lined both sides of our gravel driveway and picked one 20 yards from the edge of the road.
Then, I hid.
A few minutes later, the bus barreled down the road and slowed just enough for the driver to think I was a no-show. He punched the gas and continued on without me.
I slunk out from behind the tree and said to myself, “Jason, you’re a genius!”
I glided back up to the house and explained to my mother that — silly me — I'd missed it and would need a ride to school. Soon I was strolling smugly down the hall to class and feeling like a winner.
Right until I passed a kid from my bus. “Hey, Jason, what happened?”
“I missed the bus. Stinks, right?”
“No, I mean why were you hiding behind a tree?”
“Wait, what?” I mumbled. “You saw me?”
“Not just me — we all saw you.”
“Huh? That’s weird. You thought I was hiding?” The words tumbled out of my mouth. “That’s crazy.”
The rest of the day was a blue blur. All I could imagine was the misery that awaited me the next morning. Mercifully, I had practice after school and wouldn’t have to ride the bus home.
The next morning I ate what I assumed would be my final meal and took the long walk down death row to the bus stop.
When it finally came, I climbed on and stared down that narrow aisle that separated the rows of cracked green vinyl seats and prayed for a miracle.
His name was Roy.
This popular, friendly older kid could sit anywhere he wanted. He probably could’ve driven the bus if he’d asked.
To my surprise, Roy slapped the empty seat next to him and smiled. I slid in and wondered what was next. An insult? A prank?
Instead, Roy asked me what kind of music I liked. I answered and he asked me another question. We talked about everything except the incident just 24 hours earlier.
He hadn’t given me a seat — he’d given me a lifeline.
The next morning, I stepped onto the bus convinced it had been a one-time act of charity, some sort of strange nerd-outreach program.
I was wrong.
Roy again slapped the seat and gave me a nod. We talked the entire ride into school and I’d ever sat so tall. Before long, the entire culture on our bus was different.
Summer soon came, and, sadly, I never saw Roy again. But if he added me on Facebook or passed me on the street, I’d know him instantly.
Now, as a father of four and frequent speaker in schools around the country, I think about Roy often and how his simple act of leading by example changed my life.
No teachers. No lengthy conferences. No anti-bullying interventions.
It was just a simple act of kindness.
When I think back to that boy in the woods, I wonder if there isn’t a little bit of him in all of us. Everyone has those difficult days when we either feel invisible or wish we could be.
But isn’t there a little bit of Roy in all of us, too? It’s that willingness to say, “Hey, I’ve got room for you. Sit here.”
Trust me – there is someone in your world and mine who needs us to see them today. They need us to be a Roy, to slide over and to slap that empty seat.
Come on. Let’s go get on that bus.