In today’s world it is easy to be connected with people all over the world. Our Skype visits and Face Time conversations with friends and business associates is almost like being physically present in spite of vast distances.

At the same time, technology has the potential to cause us to be impersonal and our relationships to lack authenticity. But distance between us and lack of the personal touch and the absence of care for each is not a recent phenomenon.

Almost 50 years ago Jean Mizer, an Idaho teacher and guidance counselor wrote about a tragic incident in her school. The story was first published in the NEA Journal in 1964. It won first prize in the first Reader’s Digest/NEA Journal writing competition. It has since been frequently reprinted and was made into a movie in 1973.

The story is about Cliff Evans, described as “a lonely, withdrawn boy ridiculed by schoolmates, invisible to teachers, and mistreated at home. Living in an environment devoid of love gradually reduces him to “a cipher”(meaning, literally, “zero”).”
One morning he gets on the school bus and then asks to be let off. When the bus stopped he stepped off the bus and collapsed and died in the snow.

The principal asked the boy’s math teacher to go tell his parents and write the obituary. The teacher, who admitted that he did not know the boy, asked why he was the one to break the horrible news. The principal replied that “last year you were listed as his favorite teacher.”

The teacher wrote of the dead student, “I could guess how many times he had been chosen last to play sides in a game, how many whispered child conversations had excluded him, how many times he hadn’t been asked. I could hear and see the faces that said over and over, ‘You’re nothing, Cliff Evans’.”

He went on to say that although the doctor might list “heart failure” as the cause of death, he was convinced it was because everyone told him he was a nobody and “a child is a believing creature. Cliff undoubtedly believed them.”

There was not even ten people who knew Cliff Evans well enough to want to attend his funeral. After recruiting a delegation to go, the teacher resolved never to let this happen to anyone else. He vowed that in the future he would not “have one of (his students) coming out of his class thinking himself a zero.”

I suspect that there are people in our spheres of influence who feel like they are a “nothing” and nobody cares about them. People who go unnoticed every day. People who are special creations of the Almighty. And we ignore them. We are too busy to see them. Just a little attention and affection, a little encouragement could prevent them from becoming “ciphers in the snow.”

Let us be sensitive to others around us and know that we can make a difference in their lives.

Jamie Jenkins

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