Doin' Great
Off The Wall, February 26, 2010

When I met Tommy Cuttwheat at the YMCA camp during my public school years, he was the type of fellow who kept to himself. I got the feeling upon seeing him that his parents sent him to Camp Kon-o-Quee to learn to integrate with others his age. For some lads, that may be easy, but not with all.

Since I had been in his shoes, so to speak, in my grade school years, I kind of knew in a sense how he felt. Making friends isn’t the easiest thing in the world if, one, you’ve had any classmates you could honestly say you were close to, and second, you don’t have the foggiest idea just how to go about getting close to another individual.

Sensing what was going on, I immediately went over to him and introduced myself and asked his name. Finding he accepted my approach, he realized, I believe, I wanted to create a bond that would lead to some sort of friendship. And so we became instant acquaintances.

There were a number of instances whereby I accompany my new buddy to an activity. One was to the swimming pool. I recall him telling me he had never been to a public pool before. When he edged his way into the waters, he hesitated several times and then looked at me with fear written all over his face. I yelled in his direction. “C’mon Tommy, you’re doin’ great! Keep trying. I know you can do it.”

Another time, we went over to the shooting range where campers were introduced to 22-caliber guns. We were shown targets in front of us. Our aim (no pun intended) was to hit the target in the middle of the paper. Tommy had never seen a gun before, much handled one. For him this was a new experience. He grasped it in his hands gingerly, looking over the butt and the trigger mechanism with interest. After slowly showing him the ins and outs of the weapon, a counselor came over and the two of us set the novice up for a new experience. After about ten minutes, he zeroed in on the black distant circle and squeezed the trigger. A big smile came over his face. I didn’t have to tell him he was doin’ great, I think he got the feeling that things were working out better than expected.

When you think of it, there are a lot of Tommys in this world. I’ve heard some of them the reasons they felt isolated or put down and don’t really want to become a part of activities. If society aids and abets these youth, isn’t considered common sense that they are going to grow up feeling a certain way.

One teen told me down in Legion Keener Park that his mother told him he is worth “dirt.” That’s not the word she used, but you, I think, get the idea.

Other youth whose mental age may not be the same as their chronological age may find themselves not worthy according to society’s norms and feel shunned. They, too, will show signs of rebelling, maybe withdrawing into their own world.

But, I think all of us have a responsibility to boost the spirits of everyone we encounter, teen, man or woman of all ages. Just like the commercial for a product used to say, “Just a little dab will do it!” That is part of our mission in life – to lift up another, make him feel worthy and want to become a part of rather than becoming a loner, an outsider, or someone who feels unwanted.

Put yourself in the shoes of the lad whose mother blatantly made remark to her son. I’m sorry, but for a parent to say anything to that affect must be devastating to a child, even though he is in his mid-teens.

I don’t know if you ever thought of it, but we can all do something to help another feel good about himself. Maybe it only starts with a smile on our part with an added expression – “Hey, what’s up,” or “Hey, how’s it goin’?” I used to say, “How ya doing?”, but I always got responses as “What’s up?” or “Hey…” Somehow that didn’t answer my question, so I reverted to others are saying. At least we are grunting to each other, but that has to show that we are trying to verbally connect. Maybe the next time I see a particular person, I can push it one step further and exclaim, “Hey, hey, what’s up?” Or, “Hey man. Good to see you. How’s it goin’?” Just maybe, the individual may notice that I’m trying to be a friend of sorts. In my mind, I’m doin’ great. Wonder what he’s thinkin’?

- Paul J. Volkmann
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