I’ll keep this short. That way, you can get back to making coffee, trimming your eyebrows, or scrubbing oil stains off your driveway with a wire brush. So here it is:
Don’t be mean.
This three-word phrase doesn’t come from me. A six-year-old named Lacy offers it to you.
I met Lacy this weekend. When I saw her, she was bald, pale, and she wore pink cowboy boots.
Her father told me that Lacy is in remission. Doctors expect her to make a full recovery, but it’s not smooth sailing yet.
“We’re different people ever since it happened,” her father adds. “We’re treating every day as a gift, you know?”
I lowered myself to Lacy’s eye-level. At the time, she was eating a butterscotch lollipop and reading a magazine upside down. I was hoping to get a few words of wisdom—on the record.
“Lacy,” I said. “Do you have anything you’d like to tell my friends?”
She removed the candy from her mouth and said, “FRIENDS? WHAT FRIENDS? I DON’T SEE THEM!”
“Well, they’re not here.”
“ARE THEY HATCHIBABIES? I LOVE HATCHIMALS!”
“No,” her brother explained. “He’s speaking figuratively.”
“COOL, THEN I’LL SPEAK SPANISH! WATCH!” Lacy began talking in Pig Latin and picking her nose with both thumbs.
“I didn’t know you spoke Spanish,” her brother said.
“Sucker!” said Lacy, then she laughed until she was nearly unconscious.
We got off track a little, but I was eventually able to get a few remarks from Lacy once she stopped digging for gold.
“Lacy,” I said. “Let me put it like this: if you could tell people one important thing, after all you’ve gone through, something super important, what would you tell them?”
She thought long and hard.
“Well,” said the wise girl. “I would say I got a SUPER big booger on my finger, do you wanna see it?”
This pleased her.
“SUCKER!” she shouted and she almost laughed herself into incontinence.
She went on. “I’m only joking, I would tell people, ‘Don’t be mean.’ Miss Julia taught me that.”
Julia was Lacy’s nurse when she was in the hospital. She was Lacy’s favorite non-mean person. Julia stayed late hours with Lacy, gave gifts, and played games. She was a Godsend.
But then, Lacy has been around a lot of non-mean people lately. In fact, she’s been around angels, saints, and cheerleaders.
I should’ve left it at that, but I pressed for more information. I asked if Lacy currently knows any “mean” people.
She pointed to her older brother.
“He’s mean, he hid my Hatchimals and I thought they were lost, but I forgive him, ‘cause I found them.”
Her brother pleads the Fifth, and requests not to be included in this article.
As it happens, I understand his side of the story. He’s twelve. A brother is supposed to add a little espionage-like adventure to his sister’s life.
I accompanied them to their vehicle before bidding them goodbye. Lacy is very slight, sometimes she still wears a surgical masks. She has had two chest infections this year. She needs to gain weight, and she still takes a lot of meds.
Her brother lifted her into his arms and held her like she was the most precious thing he had ever handled. He buckled his sister in with care.
Her father said to me, “You just don’t know what a great girl she is, man.” His eyes turned pink. “You shoulda seen all the nurses, they were like, ‘She’s just the sweetest baby.’”
Ever since then, I have been thinking about all the sweet, non-mean people I have known. People who altered the course of my life.
Davey—who gave me music lessons every Monday and Wednesday until he died. He did this for free because he knew how badly I wanted to learn music.
Martin—who gave me a job laying tile and paid me more than he paid other employees because he knew I needed money.
Math Professor Reynolds—who even though she shouldn’t have, she made sure this adult genius understood everything he needed to pass his finals and didn’t injure himself with protractor.
You—who helped this kid become a writer by reading his words. You didn’t have to do that, but you did. Because you are a non-mean person.
Life is so short. With every few minutes, I get a few minutes poorer than I was before. There’s too little time to be ugly. So in the words of a survivor who is as strong as iron, but frail as lace:
Don’t be mean.
I know I promised this would be quick.