Derek was 16 years old and having a difficult time fitting in at his new high school. The jocks would bully him, the “popular” kids would giggle and talk about him as he passed by and even the geeks thought he was not smart enough to hang around.
To say that the past two years were difficult is an understatement. Everyday he would walk to and from school by himself, eat lunch by himself and study by himself. He wished it were better but his family moved there two years ago for work reasons and he just never adjusted well.
One Saturday morning he decided to spend his day under a small bridge that stretched over a river that came from the mountains. Since Derek has been in this small town, he’s been fascinated with that river. He always felt a connection with it,
“If only I can gush away like this river, from these HUGE problems that overshadow me.”
This Saturday morning he wasn’t alone though. Some people from his school saw him going under the bridge with his lunch pail and they followed him. They surrounded him and began a barrage of laughing, teasing and pushing that was too much for Derek to handle. He balled up on the ground and screamed his loudest and cried,
“LEAVE ME ALONE!”
Just then an image emerged from the darkness under the bridge and chased the bullies away. It was homeless Jimmy.
Everyone knew homeless Jimmy. Or they knew of him. Jimmy reached folklore status and parents used “Jimmy stories” to scare kids into better behavior. They would say things like ‘You better behave or I’ll take you to where homeless Jimmy stays’, and that would be enough to get at least a couple of hours of good silence. Kids only saw Jimmy now and again while driving through the town and he always looked downright mean.
Now Derek is facing the scariest man around…and by himself.
Jimmy picked Derek up by his shoulders…Derek squirmed and winced about to brace for the end of his life.
All he felt was someone brushing off his back…and then silence.
Derek opened his eyes very s-l-o-w-l-y.
“Why do you walk around with your head down?” Homeless Jimmy quizzically asked, “I was watching you while in the shadows and you walked down here looking weighted down.”
Derek’s eyes were so wide open, he probably felt the breeze from the river reaching his actual brain. Stuttering he replied “I-I was, I th-th-thought you are a kill-kill-killer?”
Homeless Jimmy now laughing “Was that a question?” “If so then the answer is no. I’m a regular person just like you. I haven’t killed you yet have I? I can’t tell…being a thoughtless ruffian and all.”
“Th-thank you b-by the way…for h-h-helping me.”
“No problem. But you haven’t answered my question, I think that’s rather impolite seeing that I’ve answered yours.” Jimmy said playfully.
“‘Why do you walk with your head down?”
Putting his head back down, kicking a pebble into the river, Derek replies “Because I’m a nobody.”
“Says who? Those bullies that were just down here?”
“Yeah, I guess.” Derek answered noticeably trembling now.
“Relax. I’m not going to do any of the things you’ve heard about me. I’m not that person they paint me as. I think you can relate to that.” “What’s your name anyway?”
“My name is Derek Peters.” “And y-you’re h-homeless Jimmy right?”
“Yup! But you can call me Jimmy for short.”
They both chuckled.
“How old are you Derek?”
With a tilt to his head and thoughtfully looking at the sky, “That’s about the same time when I ran away and began living on the streets.”
More comfortable and already caught up in what might be a great story, Derek asked, “What do you mean?”
Since Jimmy has been living there, no person has ever asked him about his story, so now he’s excited to share and he says,
“When I was going through high school I got bullied too and made fun of because my family was poor. I was told I was worthless, I wouldn’t amount to anything and the one that stuck was ‘you’ll just be a homeless bum’. I don’t know why but the homeless thing was something I always had nightmares about and when I first heard that, it scared me to death. I guess because I felt like that was confirmation. So I ran away from home so that I wouldn’t hear that again but here I am 30 years later still a homeless bum.” “I was 18 when I ran away.”
This was alot for 16 year old Derek to grasp. He had no words to say. So Jimmy continued,
“I’ve learned alot being out here. I’ve learned many things about humanity. But I’ve learned one thing above all and I’m going to share that with you. Is that ok?”
“Sure” Derek replied.
“Because I believed what was spoken over me, it became my life sentence. I identified with it and it became my jail cell. I never learned what I could’ve been great at. I still don’t. I guess I’ve given up. Listen here Derek. You cannot grasp the creativity of your heart while you’re ashamed of its existence. Shame oppresses and depresses any of your ability to grow or develop yourself. And I should know…I’ve lived that truth and am living it right now.”
“Derek, don’t let people write your life sentence, write your own. Know your heart and follow it strongly.”
That conversation stuck with Derek as he left beneath that bridge to go home. From that day forward Derek made sure he walked with his head up high and he never allowed the words spoken to shift the life sentence he made for himself.
Derek became the youngest mayor that town has ever had, at the age of 22, and he hired homeless Jimmy as a top advisor…giving him a new life sentence. What was the Life Sentence that changed Derek’s Life?
Don’t know…He never told anyone. Just make sure you create your own! #PushForward