Have you ever felt like everyone was in on a joke except you?

I’m not sure if I should feel angry or sad, but deep in my heart, I’m feeling a strange combination of dark emotions that are all jumbled together and desperately striving to find the light.

And it’s all the result of a third-grade birthday party.

My son goes to school with a little girl whose momma is in prison. Through a course of odd events that I often seem to find myself in, I’ve become pretty close with this little girl. She is a bubbly, blond-haired wisp of a child, slight in stature but bold in personality. I thank God she’s so consistently upbeat and outspoken, because I think those are the traits that just might save her from being eaten up by this world.

When I found out my young friend was turning 9, I did what I do with all little girls whose mommas are in prison. I threw her a pizza party to celebrate her special day.

Birthday girl and I went to Walmart, where we found Monster High plates, cups and party favors. Then we came back to my house and sat at the kitchen table, where we carefully penned 10 Monster High invitations, one for every girl in her class. We filled zebra-print goody bags (24 of them so there would be enough if little brothers and sisters showed up). Her grandma ordered a huge Monster High cake, and we anxiously awaited Birthday Party Day.

The day of the party finally arrived. We ate pizza, played games, blew out birthday candles and opened presents. The hour and a half came and went before I realized something everyone else probably already knew: None of the kids were coming.

I thought it was odd that only one classmate returned an RSVP, but I brushed it off.

I couldn’t brush off the fact that only the third-grade teacher and Birthday Girl’s one best friend came to the party.

People are busy. I get that. But ALL of them? Every girl in the class, except one? I have a little trouble believing that.

I asked the teacher what I was missing. Clearly there was something going on that I didn’t know about.

As my heart started breaking, the teacher gently explained that perhaps the girls never even showed their parents the invite because they didn’t want to come to this particular party. She trailed off sadly with, “You know how it is …”

Oh God. Yes. I do know how it is.

I went home, took a warm bath and cried. I cried for so many reasons, but mainly I cried because I saw so much of myself in that outcast little girl.

And then, as my husband sat snuggling me in a fuzzy blanket, I remembered something else the teacher said to me.

She said, “You don’t need a lot of friends in this world. Just one.”

That’s right. That’s when kindness truly shines its brightest. When the world seems dark and then you have that one true friend who shows up to your birthday party, and all of sudden, you couldn’t care less if anyone else in the world even existed.

I pray that we can all teach our kids to be kind to the outcasts, but until that day comes, I pray that we each have one special person in our lives who shows us great kindness when we need it most.

Please continue to share your stories of kindness with me at info@nicolejphillips.com. Or send a letter to Kindness is Contagious c/o Nicole J. Phillips, The Forum, 101 5th St. N., Box 2020, Fargo, ND 58107.

Nicole J. Phillips is a former television anchor for Fox News in Fargo. She is a writer, speaker and mother of three kids. Nicole is married to Ohio University’s Men’s Head Basketball Coach Saul Phillips. Her columns run every Saturday. You can also get a Daily Dose of Inspiration from Nicole at www.nicolejphillips.com.