The summer after sixth grade was filled with surprises. One was getting new temporary neighbors next door. The family of five was moving boxes into their short-term rental property when I introduced myself and asked if I could help. Brian and his little brother ran over to chat.
Brian shared how they were building a new house three blocks away, while my next-door neighbor was on a one-year sabbatical in California. It was the perfect temporary living accommodations for their family. And, it gave me a chance to make new friends.
After helping move a few of the boxes, we knocked around playing football in the side yard. Unfortunately, I was called home to dinner, but expected we’d have many more games in the weeks to come. While the fun factor may have played a role in our new friendship, I sometimes wonder if the grade schoolers just liked hanging out with a kid who was entering Jr. High in the fall.
Brian wasn’t the typical grade schooler. He was quite mature for his young age. Because of his maturity, his father signed him up for a newspaper route in lieu of an allowance. He figured his son would be able to make as much money as his entrepreneurial heart would allow. Brian’s brother agreed to work with him, cutting down the time and workload in order to increase the amount their playtime. That gave Brian an idea.
Brian rang my doorbell within seconds of receiving his pay stub booklet for his paper route. He convinced me that if I helped, we could buy all kinds of neat things together like a new baseball for playing catch. Since money was tight in my house, except for around Christmas time, I agreed to help.
The pay stub booklet didn’t come with any instructions or training, so Brian looked to me for the answers. The only thing I knew about the stubs was that the paperboys tore out a stub for every dollar a subscriber paid. Brian was fascinated by my intellect and immediately asked how we should go about working his route.
A sense of importance flooded my soul. I was somebody in Brian’s eyes and I decided to step up to the leadership position he gave me. I had not yet encountered enough of life to understand the simple truth that pride comes before a man, or in this case a boy, falls.
Scanning the ratty booklet, I first suggested he start with fresh looking pages by tearing out all the uneven stubs. This would help give him a more professional look to his new customers. He readily agreed and tore all the jagged stubs out and threw it in the garbage. Then we walked the route.
Boredom filled our souls after walking our first mile together. I was secretly happy that it was Brian’s route and not my own, thinking that this would be my last day helping on the route. It was clear that I had no understanding of the value of money, what a work ethic looked like or true friendship.
A man answered the door at a dark brown ranch when we rang the doorbell to introduce Brian as the new paperboy. After handing him the paper, he asked Brian how much he owed. Brian looked at me with a confused face.
The man stated that he owed money for the last few weeks and suggested that Brian look in his stub book and charge him for any of the uneven stubs that were outstanding. Brian told him that we started fresh with the book, but the man insisted he pay for the weeks he owed and gave us four dollars.
I felt extremely foolish about us tearing off the jagged stubs that represented payments owed. I had no idea that he could immediately collect money where the last paperboy had left off. After all, what paperboy wouldn’t have collected all the money owed before quitting?
I recoiled from that experience and quietly backed out of helping, not feeling worthy of returning to Brian’s side. But that didn’t change Brian’s understanding of friendship. He invited me to the sports store later in the week where we purchased a couple baseballs, some trading cards and bubble gum with his four dollars.
We had a great time playing baseball and football together. Brian had proven his loyalty and his maturity in being a great friend. And I not only marveled as the recipient of his friendship, but I also learned a hard lesson about leadership.
A person isn’t a leader just because he looks or acts like one before others. It’s not until the leader considers those he serves and admits his weaknesses that he will be capable of leading. And with leadership, comes the difficult responsibility of acknowledging when he is wrong and personally apologizing to those he hurt.
As for restitution, I collected up a few dollars and a handful of trading cards to repay Brian for the stubs he pitched. While he was the one that tore the tabs from the booklet, I felt a certain level of responsibility for having directed him to do so. However, Brian’s in his gracious manner, turned down the money and accepted the cool trading cards.
That’s when I learned something even more important. When I admitted my fault and attempted to restore the relationship in a practical way, I let go of the negative emotions that drove me to withdraw from future encounters with my friend. I was freed from that emotional bondage and able to head next door whenever I desired.
Our friendship eventually changed when I started spending more time with Brian’s older sister. Their move down the street caused more changes and so did school starting up that fall. The final blow to our relationship came when their father’s company moved the family out west.
While their time in my neighborhood was short, I’ll never forget our time together, their kindness and generosity, and their ability to make friends. It’s my hope that I’ll always treasure the lessons I learned from Brian and be the leader he always saw me to be.
Copyright © 2014 by CJ Powers