In our lives, there are certain moments that really impact who we are as people. Many of those moments in my life have included the presence of words, be it written or spoken. Words I’ve heard, words I’ve shared in conversation and words that may resonate with other people.
This first installment of this little series is about one conversation I had with a high school friend that is one of the best and deepest conversations in my life and one of those moments where I could have chosen to not listen and keep being immature or really pay attention and show that I’m interested in becoming a better person.
In high school, making fun of people happens way too often and way too commonly. Lately some people think there is a boom in bullying. I think that the reality runs more on the lines that we have become aware of the spiteful things most of us say and do. High school is a brutal time where cruelty can border on the sadistic and although I never got to that point, in the interest of fitting in and being part of the funny guys, I once said some things that were hollow, stupid and mean.
Being different at any point in your life can be a pretty difficult experience. It could be a physical attribute, it could be an impediment, it could be a learning disability or your family could be having a rough time economically... or you could be gay.
It was 1996, I was 16 and on one of those school retreats, comments were exchanged about a classmate and I joined in on the fun. I said my parts, was probably a brilliant comedian to that group of people and myself and I went to sleep satisfied that I was part of the collective, something actually quite atypical for me, which is why this classmate later confronted me and asked if we could talk.
He asked why I said the things I’d said, did I know how much that what I had said had hurt, and that my participation was a surprise and a disappointment. Please realize that both descriptions of the things I said and the summary of this conversation are nutshell versions. The making fun lasted about an hour and this conversation the next day lasted two hours. Choking back tears, I made a decision then and there that I had been wrong and that even once yielding to groupthink had been an insult to what I represent. I was better than that, I apologized and the only other times I contributed to conversations when people were making fun of other people in this likeness was to please ask people to cut it out.
Seventeen years have passed and I’ve put into practice what I learned from that one conversation. And it’s not only about gay people, it’s about people in general, it’s taking into consideration the feelings of those who surround me in the hopes of connecting, of healing, of being there if someone needs to talk, regardless of what they have to talk about. It’s dispensing with the daily excuses and being there for someone.
From that one conversation, I was able to make some important decisions and it wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t made a mistake, if someone hadn’t been brave enough to speak up, if I hadn’t listened and if I hadn’t put what was said into practice.
Quite recently this classmate got married and I was so utterly happy for him and his husband that it made me that much more thankful for the words he shared with me.
So here’s me sharing part of those words in the hopes that they reach someone who needs to read them.
Peace, love and maki rolls.