He had enough. He was at the end of his rope and didn't know any other way to pull his friend from the escalating situation. So he exploded in a fury of words because he knew they were sometimes stronger than fists. He let loose with an expletive that shocked even himself.
Those around him were so stunned by what they heard from this usually quiet kid, that it ended the bullying for the moment. No punches were thrown. Yet now the terrified middle schooler knew he was in trouble because of what he said to the bully.
When he explained how the bully continually harassed his friend, even taking his book bag and things, his parents listened with open minds and hearts. The boy, now speaking more as a man, relayed that teachers at the school continually tell students how important it is to "not stand on the sidelines and do nothing" when they see someone being hurt or bullied.
And so with one word, the kid did just that. Maybe it wasn't the right word but it got the attention of the bully and adults. I can only applaud the brave kid who took a stand and ended a moment of hurt and pain for another child.
It takes a bigger person to face a bully who stands taller and probably physically stronger than yourself. And if it takes a four-letter word to stop the torment, well, that's better than violence.
This past week our country saw yet another school shooting. It was not at a college or even a high school. This time it was at a middle school in Nevada. A boy who had not yet reached his teen years shot and killed a math teacher, wounded two 12-year-old schoolmates and then turned the gun on himself, ending the chaos.
The entire shooting took minutes but changed the lives of many for years to come. Two families lost loved ones - a husband, stepfather and beloved teacher who served in the military only to be cut down in what should have been a secure school setting. The second victim - the shooter, an obviously angry middle school kid who, for some unknown reason, believed violence was his only choice. Someone speculated that the boy had been bullied in the past.
Perhaps his words were not heard. We will never know what sent him over the edge.
We do know that humiliation in any form, at any age, hurts and it stays with us all our lives. I wish that kid in Nevada had been in my family when I was growing up. He would have had seven brothers to handle the bully without weapons or curse words. Someone has to step up when others are threatened.
I had a friend once tell me how frazzled she was taking her boys to two different after-school sports practices and games, making sure they got their homework and science projects done, and getting to bed at a decent hour. There was no time to just sit and talk. Often we get too busy just going through the motions with our kids that we forget about their emotions.
It's time to listen to the bullies and to their intended targets. Both could probably use a hug.
Heather Ziegler can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.