When I was 5 years old, my best friend in the world was a boy named Paul who went to kindergarten with me, and who lived a mile and a quarter up the road from our house.

Paul was adopted, and his parents had been around 50 when they adopted him as an infant, so Paul always had the “old” parents. By contrast, my parents were 21 when I was born, so his parents were nearly 30 years older than mine.

His father was a tall man, who worked in a warehouse and had thick ropey muscles in his arms, and a silhouette of a naked lady putting on her panties on one forearm, and an anchor on the other – vestiges of his time in the Navy.  At the time, it was the coolest thing in the world. I remember asking him if the naked lady was Paul’s mom, and he just giggled.

He also had an old Ford Falcon that he had turned into a pickup truck with the help of a cutting torch and some plywood. If there was anything cooler than having a naked lady tattooed on your arm, it was making your own pickup truck. I thought Paul had the coolest parents in the world.

Anyway, it was Paul’s birthday, and I was invited. It was a beautiful spring day, and there were lots of kids there. Paul’s parents didn’t have a lot of money and they lived in a small single-wide trailer with one bathroom. And so, predictably, when there were suddenly 10 little boys in the house, a line formed outside the bathroom. And I suddenly had stomach cramps.

I was hurting bad. My stomach was churning and there was this long line to the bathroom and suddenly my intestines exploded and then there was warm diarrhea running down my legs inside my Sears ToughSkin jeans. I was mortified. But, as often happens when you get everything out of you, I felt so much better, other than having a pants load of poop, that is.

I went and found Paul’s mom, but I couldn’t tell her I had crapped my pants. So I told her I wasn’t feeling good, and asked if somebody could please take me home. Paul’s dad was pressed into service. I climbed into the cab of his homemade pickup truck, with a cloud of putrid funk following me. He gets in, looks at me, and rolls down the window. We head to my house.

At the stop sign, he said, “So, you are not feeling good?”

I replied that I was not.

He said, “You know, it smells like you messed your britches.”

I sat silent, mortified.

“If you did, it’s nothing to be ashamed of. Sometimes, I mess my britches. It happens.”

We rode the rest of the way in silence.

When we pulled up in the driveway, Dad was outside, working on the car. Mom came out when she saw us, and I ran to her and hugged her legs. Paul’s dad explained that I said I wasn’t feeling well, and he and Dad talked about whatever was wrong with our car while Mom took me inside, her nose telling her exactly what the problem was.

She asked what had happened, and I told her, and she told me it was OK, and asked how I felt. I told her I felt wonderful, now. She asked if I wanted to go back to the party. I assured her I did. She cleaned me up, we put on new clothes, and I ran outside and told Paul’s dad I felt much better now and asked if I could go back to Paul’s with him when he went.

On the way back, he looked at me, and said, “So you feel better?”

I assured him I did.

“I’m glad.”

And the rest of the way in silence, and everyone welcomed me back when we pulled up at Paul’s house, and it was as if nothing had ever happened.

There were so many ways that could have went differently. He could have made a big deal out of how much I stunk. He could have laid out plastic for me to sit on, or demanded I answer him when he asked if I had soiled myself. I was already embarrassed beyond belief – he could have made it so much worse.

But he didn’t. Instead, he tried to empathize with me, and normalize what I was feeling.

“If you did, it’s nothing to be ashamed of. Sometimes, I mess my britches. It happens.”

I think about that story sometimes, about just how… kind he was in that moment to a mortified kid with poop in his socks.

Kindness counts.