There was a boy I went to school with in seventh grade. Let's call him Robert Brown. He apparently "liked" me. (I put "liked" in quotes because it's the same adolescent emotion that leads to the "going out" where you don't actually go anywhere.) I did not like Robert. He was weird. I was a big dork, so only weird boys liked me, and dorky as I was, I was still glad there were a few kids lower on the coolness-ladder than me.
On Valentine's Day 1994, when some club sold carnations to be delivered to people during class, I was mortified when an even weirder boy that rode my bus sent me one and it was delivered to me in the middle of sixth period social studies. I was so embarrassed, shunning the carnation, that Robert offered to eat the flower for me. And he did.
Weeks later, a rumor started that Robert and I were "going out." Again, I was mortified. I may have had frizzy permed hair, acne, and no sense of style--but I had standards! How could anyone think I would go out with him?! The crazy flower-eater with huge lips?! It sounds silly, but if you know any middle schoolers, or have any recollection of being one yourself--you know how earth-shattering such a social situation can be when you are that self-conscious and have no idea who you are.
Like any seventh-grade girl in that situation, I thought my life was over. I hid in a deserted hallway during lunch while my best friend consoled me and hypothesized that maybe Robert himself had started the rumor, since everyone knew he liked me.
Robert peeked down the hallway and asked if I was okay. I gave him a dirty look and went back to my pity party. My friend left me alone for a while, and when she came back, she told me that Robert was going around to our classmates, personally informing them that the rumor wasn't true. "Isn't that sweet?" she said. "Hrmph," I replied, still angry and embarrassed, and only slightly relieved that my horrific ordeal was over.
Fast forward seven years or so, to a summer in college. While home, I visited a college worship service at a large church, and who did I see playing bass in the praise band... but Robert Brown.
I suppose the story should go that he had turned out really hot and I had really missed out. Not quite, though we had both become slightly less awkward-looking over time. More importantly, we'd both gained a better sense of self. He didn't go around eating flowers (as far as I could tell) and I didn't go around thinking my life was over whenever there was boy-drama (oh wait, yes I did) and time had brought us both to a place where we sought our worth and meaning in God.
At the end of worship, I walked up to the stage, where he was taking apart microphones and things. I introduced myself and reminded him that we went to middle school together.
"Oh yeah! Hey! How's it going?" he said with a big smile.
"You probably don't remember," I said. "but you once did something really nice for me, and I just want to say thanks."
He smiled, looking a little confused but really touched. He didn't ask me what the thing was, and he didn't seem to remember. He just bobbed his head and said "well, thanks. That really makes my day."
Sometimes I feel like I haven't made much progress since those middle school days. I still feel unbearably awkward half the time, uncharitably comforting myself with the thought that at least a few people out there are weirder than I am. But I am thankful for that summer Sunday morning when there was gratitude and reconciliation between two weirdos--one of whom looked beyond himself for the sake of someone else, and one who still struggles to do the same.