Participatory Journalism:
Hidden Treasure

by Lori Anne Brown

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    When we call someone a black sheep, we’re pulling the wool over our own eyes.

    It seems that every class has its black sheep, and my seminary class was no exception. One boy was a total loser in every sense of the word. At least it seemed that way.

    He was scrawny and combed his greasy black hair straight down so that it covered his eyes and hid him from the world. Mockingly, I compared him to an ostrich who buried his head in the sand so he couldn’t be seen by others. He always sat at the back of the room, never voluntarily participating in any discussion. Friends were out of the question. He was a loner. I feel ashamed to say it, but I figured he couldn’t do much of anything, and I know many of the other students felt the same way. I was extremely surprised when he won the championship scripture chase award. I smugly thought that he just had more time to study because he wasn’t involved in anything else. The night of our seminary closing social proved how wrong my opinion of him was.

    That evening remains indelibly engraved upon my mind. I arrived early at the church—a miracle in itself—and found him already there. Again I rationalized that his promptness resulted from a lack of having anything else to do. I greeted him with a perfunctory hello, then hurried to help the other “more friendly” kids set up chairs. Besides, I knew how he would react if I tried to start a conversation with him. First, his head would drop until his eyes became firmly attached to his switching feet. His shaking hands would nervously jiggle his car keys, showing how uncomfortable he felt. He always tensed up whenever I came near. Instinctively, I decided to avoid that awkward experience.

    Then the time came for the party to begin. I was trying to round up the deafening herd of kids when I saw my teacher peek into the chapel. A smile of pure delight appeared on his face, like the expression one would find on the countenance of a miner at the discovery of gold. Indeed, a hidden treasure had been found.

    Beautiful music floated out through the chapel doors—not just notes but feelings. The person playing the piano had been blessed with outstanding musical abilities. I looked in, expecting to see an adult practicing for a performance. Instead I was shocked to see that the piano player was the quiet boy who I had thought couldn’t do anything. One by one, the entire class crept into the chapel while he continued to play complete compositions—from memory—of Bach, Beethoven, and others. Painfully, my conscience reminded me of my critical judgment of him. I had pronounced him a nobody, simply because he was different from me. I felt superior to him. What a joke! Humbled, I realized he must have numerous other talents to which my abilities couldn’t even be compared. What a mistake it had been to think of him as a zero.

    Someone coughed. Immediately, he glanced down, catching us like a bunch of kids with our hands in his cookie jar. We were devouring his musical treats without permission. Instantaneously, he flushed crimson, not from anger as I expected, but from embarrassment. He closed the lid of his music box and slowly left the stand. Thick compliments coated the air as he walked down the aisle and out of the chapel. Still red, he mumbled a humble thanks, not wanting any more of that sticky attention.

    The seminary party went on to be a success with everyone laughing, joking, and acting crazy. (I should say acting normal.) That is everyone except me. Somehow that small incident changed me in a very big way.

    1 Samuel 16:7 [1 Sam. 16:7] states that God looks on the heart, not on the outward appearance of a man, and I believe that we should also. We need to search beneath a person’s outer shell to find his true worth. It has been said, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” I found out the hard way that this saying still rings true. So the next time you begin to think of someone as a jerk, a nobody, or a black sheep, remember to look within—for there may lie endless hidden treasure.

    Illustrated by Ronald Stucki