Lessons learned from Todd

Brad Jennings
Posted 12/27/21

Remember when you were a teenager and could sleep for 12 hours?

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Lessons learned from Todd


Remember when you were a teenager and could sleep for 12 hours?

Man, I sure do. I delivered pizza until 1 a.m. or so in high school, and by the time we got everything cleaned up and the shop closed, I would get home on the weekends at nearly 2 a.m. That meant I would get up the next day at 2 p.m. – or as late as 4 p.m.

I’ll bet I could sleep around the clock.

These days? Not so much. Maybe it is a getting older thing, but I rarely have a night where I sleep all the way through. Seriously, we are talking a few times a year.

So, I was staring at the ceiling last week in the wee hours of the morning, and I started thinking about my friend Todd from elementary school. I wish I could tell you his last name and the exact year, but I can’t. It was probably 1971 or 1972. It was a long time ago.

I think about Todd from time to time. He was a nice kid. And by that, I mean a kid that everyone liked. He was happy and friendly and never, ever said a bad word about anyone. My memories of him include a lot of smiling. He was always smiling.

Is that just the way I remember him and it’s not true? Honestly, I’m not sure. But when I think about Todd, I think about a blond kid with freckles splashed across his nose who was always happy.

One day at school I had a particularly bad day, which was not unusual for me. I am glad I didn’t have to raise me, I’ll tell you that. I was not mean or aggressive, but I was not a fan of school. In fact, I ran away from school a few times when I was in elementary school. Just booked it home in the middle of the day.

That, obviously, did not make my parents happy. My dad, in fact, was the principal at another school in the same district. I’ll bet his work friends gave him an earful about me. Sorry dad.

Anyway, I was on the bus after school and not in a good mood. Todd plopped down next to me, with that smile on his face. Of course, I don’t remember our exact conversation, but it was basically Todd trying to cheer me up, and me not giving an inch.

I can seriously still see us sitting there, him to my left, as the bus rumbled around the neighborhood dropping kids off. I was not mean to Todd – it was impossible to be short with such a nice guy. But my dark mood stayed in place.

The next morning, when I got to school, I learned that nice, sweet, friendly Todd had been hit by a car and killed after he got home from school. We talked about him in class that day, our teacher guiding us as we went through what happened and we spoke of our thoughts about the event and about Todd. As you can imagine, this was a very traumatic event in our young lives.

I said very little. I was crushed. I was worried that his last memory was a sour kid named Brad he sat next to on the bus. I cried a lot that day, for Todd and because I felt I had let him down.

Now, that event didn’t necessarily change me. I was a kid and kids can be emotional and moody. But over the years I have kept my memories of Todd close, and the lessons I learned from him are with me always.

* Try to be kind to people, even if you don’t want to be. It can be hard sometimes, but kindness is worth it. Always.

* A smile is a much better look on your face than a frown or a scowl. The world is full or grumpy people these days who complain about everything. Don’t be one of those people.

* Look for things we have in common and focus on those, not our differences. We seem to be so dug in right now, that our country is an “us vs. them.” It is not. We are all in this together and we need to be thoughtful of that.

* Thank people for the nice things they do. Hug those you love. And always, always, let those you love know that you love them.

I stared at the ceiling and wondered what kind of life Todd would have had. What kind of person he would have been. Where he would be right now. It made me sad.

But it also reminded me of something very simple: Life is short. Don’t waste it being divisive and negative. As much as you can, make it good for you and for those around you.

Brad Jennings is the editor of the Ogle County Life.