GENOA – The stories Jonathan Friesen tells show how easily lives can be changed with small acts of kindness.
On Monday at Genoa-Kingston High School, the Minnesota author told students about a quiet boy who left his backpack on a school bus at the end of the school year. Another student noticed he left his backpack behind and she brought it to his home.
Years later, the same student told her he had planned to kill himself before she showed up at his door.
Friesen said that student is now a 55-year-old man with children and grandchildren.
“It doesn’t take much to literally change a course of a life,” he said.
Friesen’s own life changed when he took up writing fiction after 16 years of teaching in Minnesota elementary schools. He has gone on to write a book about firefighters called “Rush,” and his latest book is a science fiction novel called “Aquifer.”
His first book “Jerk, California,” is novel that draws parallels with his own struggles with Tourette’s syndrome, loneliness and alienation.
Friesen was invited to G-K to speak about those issues and stress the importance of reaching out to others who appear alone or ostracized. Tara Wilkins, Genoa-Kingston School District 424 librarian and media specialist, said she was contacted by Friesen’s publicist about him speaking at the school. She said his message of kindness and acceptance was important for students to hear.
“I wanted to bring that message to the school,” Wilkins said.
Friesen told students that he has suffered from Tourette’s syndrome since he was 6. Although it wasn’t much of a problem in elementary school, it became one when he entered middle school and was bullied. After he suffered a grand mal seizure, he felt as if no one would ever want to spend time with him.
He stayed locked in his room for two years; his first attempts at writing were angry and self-loathing scrawling on his walls. It wasn’t until another person reached out to him and took away the hate he had for himself that he started to get better. Friesen returned to school and earned a master’s degree in teaching English as a second language.
During his two years of isolation, two questions lurked in his mind: Did anyone see him, and if they did, did anyone like what they saw? Friesen posed those questions for the students in the audience. For him, it is important people who seem lonely or depressed are made to feel visible and appreciated.
“You know in here – your community is small enough – who really needs to be seen,” Friesen said to the crowd.
Sophomore student Andrew Caldwell said he learned from Friesen that people who aren’t noticed on a daily basis deserved to be noticed just as much as anyone. Another student, sophomore Noah Engles, said he found Friesen’s speech breathtaking and moving.
“The things he said can connect to your everyday life,” Engles said.
Visit Jonathan Friesen's website at www.jonathanfriesen.com.