First Person:
Just Cross the Street

by Vivian Harmer

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    A Letter to My Little Brother

    Dear Joey:

    Tomorrow is the first day of ninth grade at your new junior high school. I wanted to write this letter, not because I’m any wiser than you, but because I’ve been through junior high and I know what you will face tomorrow. Sometimes it is going to be very hard to do what you know is right. It will seem like you’re the only one who believes in the Church. You’ll want to go along with the crowd because you’ll think they’ll reject you for being different. You might think that you will be laughed at and ridiculed for standing up for what is right. I know that sometimes you will feel very much alone.

    I am writing this letter to share with you something I have learned about challenges and the importance of always standing up for what I know to be right, regardless of what others may think.

    Last summer when I was going to school in Manchester, England, I had to ride the bus into town every day. Then I had to walk several blocks through the worst part of the city to get to my college. I remember that the most corrupt street of all was right next to my bus stop. The walls of the street shops were covered with obscenities, pornographic posters, graffiti, and vulgar swear words. There were several bars, where open doors sent out loud, suggestive music. People inside called out crude things to me as I walked. The first time I went into town for classes, I got off the bus and walked right down this street. About halfway down, I was so sick, offended, and afraid, that I didn’t think I could make it the rest of the way. I did, with my eyes shut as much as possible, but I decided at that moment that I would never walk down that street again.

    Being far away from our home and family, I had plenty of things to worry about and more temptations than I could ever list. I certainly didn’t need to add this street to my worries. So, everyday when I got off the bus to go to school, I would walk an entire block out of my way to avoid that street. Sometimes on rainy mornings when I was late to an eight o’clock class I would want to forget what I had resolved and take the shorter route. But I knew I would feel sick inside if I let myself be exposed to unclean things.

    Crossing that street to take the long way around every morning just became a habit. After a while, I didn’t even think of why I was doing it. Then one afternoon a friend of mine, Bob, offered to show me a new music store close to my bus stop. As we left the college together, I automatically crossed the street.

    “What are you doing?” Bob asked.

    Without thinking, I answered, “I can’t walk on that street.”

    “Why not?” he laughed.

    Suddenly I heard myself blurting out the whole story. I was far from home and didn’t want to return to my family with a lot of junk in my mind that didn’t belong there. I was uncomfortable on that street.

    Bob was several years older than I and much more worldly-wise. I fully expected him to laugh again, and I felt foolish for even telling him about my feelings.

    Waiting for his laughter, I looked up to find a very subdued expression on his face. After a few minutes of silence (very uncomfortable ones for me), he told me he wished he’d had a commitment like mine when he first came to school. “I wish I had crossed a few streets, Viv,” he said. “I’m ashamed to go home and see my family. I can’t look Mom in the face after some of the things I’ve seen and done.” We stood in silence for a few more minutes, but it was a comfortable one now. Then he took my arm, and we crossed the street together. We found our music store in no time at all, and had a chance for a wonderful conversation because of our roundabout route. He is now a friend I will always treasure.

    I didn’t have to preach a sermon on moral and mental cleanliness. All I did was cross a street when there was something I wasn’t supposed to be exposed to on the other side. He didn’t sneer or criticize or think I was weird. By doing what I knew to be right, I actually earned his respect and friendship.

    Joey, I know it will be hard in school. But I also know that you will never lose the respect of anyone whose respect is worth having by standing up for what you know to be right and good. Besides, the real issue is not what your peers and schoolmates think of you, but what you think of yourself. Do you care enough about yourself as a child of God to cross the street when you ought to? Will you leave the room when a friend tells a bad joke or dirty story? Will you stand up for something you believe in? If you will, I know you’ll find that many whose admiration is really worth having will cross the streets with you.

    Illustrated by Rob Colvin