I wasn’t very popular in 3rd grade, so when a group of boys allowed me to be part of their group, I was very excited. I realize that it was likely because I wasn’t the best marble player and they knew they could win against me, but I was happy to have any acceptance at all.
That was why the day they were picking on Tia was so hard for me. Tia had just moved to our school and, though she was very nice, she was also extremely shy. Her clothes were neat and clean, but they were worn and out of style, indicating that her family had little money. I was just heading out to recess when I ran into my friends in the hall. Tia was there. The boys were teasing her, her books were scattered on the floor, and she had tears in her eyes.
“Wow, aren’t you a clumsy one?” one boy said to her.
“What would you expect from a book worm?” another said.
I stood there, frozen for a moment, my young mind whirling. If I helped her I knew they would tease me, and they might not want me in their group anymore. But as I continued to watch, I finally could stand it no longer, for I had endured the same thing too many times. I stepped between her and the boys and faced my friends. “Leave her alone,” I said
My voice quivered slightly, though I tried to act brave. Not only was this likely to destroy what little social standing I had, but some of the boys were as much as three years older than I was.
The boys seemed surprised, but then one of the biggest ones laughed. “Hey guys,” he said, “it looks like Buzz Cut has a girl friend.”
Hearing one of my former, hated nicknames, I took a deep breath. But, still, I held my ground. They teased me and laughed some more, then one said, “Come on guys. Let’s go play and leave Buzz Cut with his sweetheart.”
One of the bigger boys punched me really hard in my shoulder as they turned to leave. “Have fun,” he said, “and don’t come playing with us. We don’t want no sissies.”
Once they were gone, I turned to Tia. “Are you all right?” I asked. She just nodded. I helped her pick up her books and then she quickly left, not saying a word.
I stood there, feeling very much alone, when the janitor, Mr. Bandon, stepped out of the shadows. I hadn’t realized that he had watched the whole thing. “That was a very brave thing to do,” he said.
“It wasn’t brave,” I replied. “I was scared to death.”
He stopped right in front of me and spoke kindly. “Bravery is not a lack of fear, but the courage to do what is right in spite of that fear.”
“But they were all my friends,” I said. “My teacher, Mrs. Moeller, said that bravery is the courage to stand up to your enemies.”
He smiled kindly. “That may be true, and it is definitely part of it, but it is not all.” He put his hand on my shoulder. “Perhaps you need to come with me.” He lead me down to his office, if that’s what it could be called. It was full of brooms, mops, and cleaning supplies, but it did have a desk. On one wall were some pictures. It was in front of these that we stopped.
He motioned to one with a large group of men dressed in military uniforms. “You might not know that I served in World War II,” he said. He then pointed to one man. “I admire this man more than any of the others, and do you know why?” I shook my head, so he continued. “The courage to stand up to the enemy was pretty much forced upon us, and he was as strong in that way as anyone. But what set him apart was that he would stand up for the right, even against those who were supposed to be his friend.”
“You see,” he said, turning to look at me, “sometimes it takes more courage to stand up to one’s friends than it does to stand up to one’s enemies.”