Friends of the Heart

Friends of the Heart

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Be The Best You Can Be

Friends of the Heart

Kind words and good deeds are eternal. You never know where their influence will end.

~H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

Ariana caught another whiff and tried to hold her breath. She moved away slightly, but Ashley only moved closer and continued talking.

Ariana thought to herself, Why does she always have to sit next to me? She inched away some more until she touched elbows with the girl next to her. Ashley didn’t seem to notice that Ariana was trying to move away, and she leaned in closer. Ariana felt trapped. She wanted badly to tell Ashley that she didn’t smell very good. But how could she without hurting her feelings? Instead, she gathered the remains of her lunch to throw in the trash, thankful for the excuse to get some fresh air.

She looked back to see Ashley eating quietly. Ashley’s hair was stringy and tangled, like it needed a good washing, and her clothes were wrinkled and stained. All the other kids talked and laughed with each other. No one talked and laughed with Ashley.

Ariana forced herself to go back to the table and take her seat. She was stuck with Ashley today, but vowed that she would not get stuck with her tomorrow.

When Ariana got home from school, she complained to her mother. “There’s this girl named Ashley who likes to sit next to me in school, but she smells bad.”

“She’s probably having a tough day,” said her mother.

“No, it’s not just one day. She smells bad a lot,” Ariana explained. “Nobody else likes to sit next to her, either.”

“Well, try to be nice to her,” said her mother. “Maybe she’s having a hard time at home. You never know what a person’s home life is like.”

For the rest of the week, Ariana tried to be a good friend to Ashley. There were times when they had fun talking and playing together, especially on the days that Ashley bathed. But the days when she smelled bad, which was most of the time, Ariana still found it very hard to be her friend.

One morning, while getting her hair combed for school, Ariana brought the subject up again with her mother.

“I don’t want to be friends with Ashley anymore,” she told her.

“Why? Is she mean to you?” asked her mother, twisting Ariana’s hair into a ponytail.

“No. She stinks!” Ariana scrunched up her nose. “And her clothes are dirty. She wore the same shirt two days in a row. That’s disgusting.”

Her mother’s hands froze in midair. Ariana turned to see what the matter was. Her mother looked upset. Ariana wondered what she had said to make her mother react this way.

“I don’t think you understand Ashley’s situation, so let me ask you this….” Her mother’s tone was serious. “Who makes sure that your hair is combed every morning so you’ll look nice when you go to school?”

“You do,” answered Ariana.

“Who makes sure you’re bathed and cleaned every day? And your clothes are washed and neatly ironed?”

“You and Daddy,” Ariana said again.

“Do you live in a nice home? Do you have enough to eat?”

Ariana nodded, beginning to feel guilty. She was starting to understand now. Ashley couldn’t help her situation because she was only seven years old — the same age as Ariana. Grown-ups are supposed to take care of kids.

“Why doesn’t her family take better care of her?” Ariana asked.

“Not all children live in the best situation,” her mother said. “The best thing you can do for Ashley is to treat her with kindness and compassion.”

Ariana bit her bottom lip. Sadness for Ashley filled her heart. She vowed that from now on she would be the best friend that she could be to Ashley.

At school, Ariana kept her vow. She let Ashley sit next to her. Other times, she voluntarily sat next to Ashley. She partnered with Ashley to help with her schoolwork. On the days that Ashley smelled bad, she moved away a little or politely asked Ashley for a little room. She was always careful not to hurt Ashley’s feelings.

As the months passed, Ariana discovered that she enjoyed talking and hanging out with Ashley. She no longer saw her as the girl who smelled bad, but as a friend with a kind and warm heart.

At the end of the school year, the second grade prepared to go on a field trip to the zoo. The day before the field trip, the teacher announced that the class needed to bring in a lunch from home. Ashley was absent, and Ariana worried that her friend would not have a lunch because Ashley always ate the school lunches.

Ariana couldn’t call Ashley because she didn’t know her telephone number. So, the next day, Ariana asked her mom to make an extra lunch and some snacks for Ashley — just in case.

“You have a good spirit, Ariana,” said her mother. “I’m very proud of you!”

When Ariana got to school, she discovered that she had been right. Ashley had not brought a lunch for the field trip.

When Ariana gave the lunch to Ashley, she saw tears well up in Ashley’s eyes. Ariana was surprised at Ashley’s reaction because after all, she was only doing what true friends do for each other. Ashley was her friend — and they were friends of the heart.

~Ariana Morgan Bridges as told to Robin Smith Bridges

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