We’re hours away from college football, but the season has already produced a star.
Florida State Seminoles receiver Travis Rudolph is the young man in the now-viral photo of a middle school lunchroom in Tallahassee.
Rudolph, cartoonishly too big for those infernal tables-with-attached-bench that are so beloved of schools and prisons, is hunched over his lunch tray across from a student named Bo.
Usually, almost always, Bo eats alone. Maybe not by choice. His autism is off-putting for peers too young to understand.
On this day, the coolest guy in school, the coolest guy within miles of the school, has chosen to eat with Bo.
We’ll get to that, but first, here’s what Bo’s momma wrote when someone at the school snapped the picture and sent it to her:
“Sometimes I’m grateful for his autism. That may sound like a terrible thing to say, but in some ways I think, I hope, it shields him. He doesn’t seem to notice when people stare at him when he flaps his hands. He doesn’t seem to notice that he doesn’t get invited to birthday parties anymore. And he doesn’t seem to mind if he eats lunch alone. It’s one of my daily questions for him. Was there a time today you felt sad? Who did you eat lunch with today? Sometimes the answer is a classmate, but most days it’s nobody. Those are the days I feel sad for him, but he doesn’t seem to mind. He is a super sweet child, who always has a smile and hug for everyone he meets. A friend of mine sent this beautiful picture to me today and when I saw it with the caption “Travis Rudolph is eating lunch with your son” I replied “who is that?” He said “FSU football player”, then I had tears streaming down my face. Travis Rudolph, a wide receiver at Florida State, and several other FSU players visited my sons school today. I’m not sure what exactly made this incredibly kind man share a lunch table with my son, but I’m happy to say that it will not soon be forgotten. This is one day I didn’t have to worry if my sweet boy ate lunch alone, because he sat across from someone who is a hero in many eyes. Travis Rudolph thank you so much, you made this momma exceedingly happy, and have made us fans for life!”
Sometimes we try too hard, and miss doing the littlest things that just…help.
A man’s gotta eat. Choosing to eat with Bo made this more than just a lunch. For both of them.
My favorite part of this story is that Rudolph didn’t pose or seek a photo-op. He was surprised, then moved, when he found out how far this story had travelled.
Why did he do it?
He did it because someone loved him enough to teach him to love. He did it because we have ALL eaten lunch alone in our lives, and you can convert that experience to bitterness or turn it into empathy.
He did it because he believes in a little saying I favor: “Everyone counts or no one counts.”
He did it because, for kids, lunch isn’t just about the food. No one remembers what they ate when they were 11. But they remember who was with them, or wasn’t. They remember how they felt.
He did it because he’s more than just a student, a football player, or a ‘Nole.
He’s a gentleman, and it’s what a gentleman does.