Very few of us were lucky enough to go through school without running into a bully or two or without being teased by other children for our differences. Children can sometimes be cruel without meaning to, but it hurts just the same.
Not that eight-year-old Peter Fanning meant to be cruel, not really; he just enjoyed teasing quiet, shy David Harris. David was fun to pick on; he always turned the brightest shade of red.
Peter’s next opportunity for mayhem came when their teacher, Mrs. Tate, set them a fun assignment. They had to draw a picture of the superhero they wanted to be and explain why. Peter drew an amazing picture of Spiderman.
Then he wondered…What had David drawn? Who was nerdy David’s hero? When David walked past Peter’s desk to hand in his drawing, he grabbed his chance and tripped him up.
David went sprawling and dropped his assignment right at Peter’s feet. Peter’s mouth hung open when he saw what David had drawn. Instead of Superman, or Spiderman, or Thor, David had drawn a character labeled SuperJanitor.
Peter burst out laughing. “You are such a nerd, David!” David blushed and grabbed his drawing, but Peter held it out of reach. It was easy; David was the thinnest and shortest kid in class.
This isn’t a superhero! It’s a stupid janitor! My dad says people who clean up after others are too stupid to get good jobs — and that’s a janitor! You want to be a janitor?”
Poor David was in tears. “Give it back,” he shouted, “Give it back!”
But Peter was having too much fun. He was dancing on the spot and chanting: “Stupid SuperJanitor, stupid janitor, stupid..stupid..”
It was then that Mrs. Tate stepped in. She took David’s drawing from Peter’s hand and snapped: “Sit down immediately, Peter. I’ll see you in detention this afternoon.”
Mrs. Tate thanked David for his drawing and ordered the class to settle down and finish their assignments. Peter was furious. Ok, he had been a little out of line, but he didn’t deserve detention
Now he was going to miss soccer practice. Peter fumed for the rest of the day. He felt that Miss Tate had been very unfair, and he was determined to tell her so that afternoon at detention.
After his last period, Peter dragged himself to Miss Tate’s classroom for the two-hour ordeal of detention. He passed all his friends in their soccer uniforms and saw David walking down the hall in the opposite direction.
“What a dweeb!” Peter thought to himself, “No wonder he thinks janitors are cool; he doesn’t even play soccer.” He was looking very miserable and sorry for himself when he walked into the classroom.
Miss Tate told him to sit quietly and think about what he had done. “But Miss Tate,” cried Peter indignantly, “I didn’t do anything that bad! I was just teasing…”
Miss Tate shook her head sadly. “You know, Peter, you are a good boy, but sometimes you cross the line. What is ‘just teasing’ to you can be very painful to someone else.”
“But Miss Tate…” interrupted Peter, “That WAS a stupid superhero!”
“Was it, Peter?” Miss Tate smiled sadly, “Let me tell you a story
About three years ago, David’s father left him and his mother. He was in love with another woman, and he walked out. He never called or contacted David or his mother again.
He didn’t send any money or help to support his son. When she’d married David’s father, Mrs. Harris had been a well-known model and an actress, but her jealous husband insisted she give it all up.
Now that Mr. Harris had walked out, Mrs. Harris was in a terrible situation. She was too old to model, and she’d been out of the acting business for too long. She didn’t have any skills and no money to go to college.
Her savings ran out quickly, and food was getting short. Every cent had to go to paying the rent, or David and his mom would be homeless. Mrs. Harris was fetching David from school one day when she saw a notice pinned up on the school notice board ‘Janitorial Staff Needed.’
“I can clean,” she thought. Immediately she walked into the administrative offices and asked about applying for the job. The headmaster interviewed her. He was hesitant about hiring the beautiful, fragile-looking Mrs. Harris.
“I can work hard, Sir,” she told him, “And I really need the job…” The headmaster was moved by her pleas and hired her. For the last two years, Mrs. Harris has been our school janitor, and a good one too.
She works very hard from early in the morning until late into the night. It’s a hard job, but it pays the rent and puts food on the table for her son. No matter how tired she is, Mrs. Harris battles on because it’s all for David.
About six months ago, David started helping his mom with her work after school. He does it so she can go home a little earlier and rest. You see, Peter, to David, Mrs. Harris is a superhero, a real one.
Superheroes aren’t the people who fly around in capes, using their superstrength and spider senses to defeat bad guys. Superheroes are people who do what has to be done, even when they are too tired to stand.
Peter had tears running down his cheeks. “I didn’t know, Mrs. Tate; I didn’t know!”
Mrs. Tate smiled. “I know you didn’t, Peter, but now you do. I hope you will now understand David a little better.”
But Miss Tate, I told him his mother was stupid!” and Peter sobbed as if his heart was breaking.
Miss Tate gave Peter a consoling hug. “You didn’t mean it like that, and I’m sure that if you apologize, David will understand.”
Peter went home that afternoon with a heavy heart. At dinner, he asked his father: “Dad, if you lost your job and couldn’t find anything, what would you do?”
Peter’s father was surprised. “You don’t have to worry, buddy! I’m not going to lose my job.”
“But if you did and couldn’t find another one…”
“I’d find one, Peter, no matter what.”
Even if…Even if it was as a janitor?”
Peter’s father stared at him. “Of course. Putting food on the table is what matters.”
“Well,” said Peter, “The other day, you said those jobs were for stupid people…”
Peter’s dad blushed and looked embarrassed. “You know, Peter, I guess that was a stupid thing to say. Work is work, buddy, especially when you have a family to feed.”
The next day after school, Miss Tate was walking to her car when she saw an extraordinary sight. Mrs. Harris was busy sweeping the empty schoolyard, and right behind, gathering up the dry leaves, were Peter and David.
The two boys laughed and jostled each other, competing to see who could gather up the most leaves the fastest. Miss Tate smiled. She had never seen David laughing like that before, and Peter looked just as happy.
As for Mrs. Harris, she was smiling at the boys, overjoyed to see that her shy son now had a friend. From that day on, Peter and David were best friends. Peter helps out when there’s no soccer practice, and he’s convinced David to join the team.
Peter learned the most important lesson of all, to recognize true heroes, not because of their superpowers, but because of their courage and dedication. As a result, he became a kinder boy and would one day be a better man