Dear Future Mark:

image courtesy of

I’ve thought of you often over the past 20 plus years. I’ve even tried to track you down a couple of times without success. I’d hoped to see you at one of the two high school reunions I’ve attended, but I don’t suppose you had much interest in seeing most of those people. I’ll let you in on a little secret–me neither.

Even though we attended the same high school, I’ll always remember you as Junior High Mark. The guy with the horn-rimmed glasses and the army green backpack. While the rest of us stuffed our backpack into our lockers, you carried that thing with you everywhere. I’ll admit it came in handy, like the time you hit me with it.

What I’ve wanted to tell you all of these years since junior high school is this:

You’re a big part of who I am today. I know you’re probably scoffing at that, based on the way I treated you. Of all the many regrets in my life, not being able to tell you “I’m sorry” and “thank you” still make the list.

We were both picked on. Me because I suppose some half-breed Asian girl isn’t supposed to have a big mouth and is expected to keep her head down and not have an opinion about anything.

You? You were called that most hurtful and horrible of names: Retard

I suppose we both would have been better off in the short term by doing what they all expected us to do: cower down and not fight back. I fought back because, as I mentioned before, I had a big mouth and an attitude. You fought back because they were just flat out wrong about you. You were not, as they so cruelly labeled you, a retard.

You were the smartest kid in school. I don’t know the reason for your speech impediment, but I knew you enough never to consider you mentally challenged. I also knew a thing or two about false labels and assumptions based upon personal experience.

But back to the apology:

I’m sorry I joined in with the others when I should have stood up to them, for looking down on you because you were different. That day in the cafeteria line when I pulled on your backpack? You did the right thing by smacking me with it.

That was the day you smacked some sense into me.

That was the day you gave me permission to be different and to stand up to those who are threatened by anything other than the status quo.

You may think I left you alone after that day because you stood up to me, but you always stood up to everyone. Probably still do.

No, the real reason I left you alone was, to be honest, I was sort of in awe of you. You taught me something crucial that day. Something life changing:

True strength and depth of character is found when we face adversity and refuse to lose a part of who we are in order to be part of the crowd, that if you walk to the beat of a different drummer, you should do so unapologetically, and most importantly that oftentimes the most memorable heroes in this life are the unlikely ones. Thanks for being my unlikely hero.

Gratefully yours,

Kathy Dishman-Richards

“What you really have to do, if you want to be creative, is to unlearn all the teasing and censoring that you’ve experienced throughout your life. If you are truly a creative person, you know that feeling insecure and lonely is par for the course. You can’t have it both ways: You can’t be creative and conform, too. You have to recognize that what makes you different also makes you creative.”

– Arno Penzias, 1978 Nobel Prize winner for physics


This post is part of the One Word at a Time Blog Carnival: Future hosted by my friend Peter Pollock. To check out more posts on this topic, please visit his website,

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26 Responses to “Dear Future Mark:”

  1. Doug Spurling March 7, 2011 at 8:57 pm #

    Wow! I’m so impressed with this – with you for writing it, thinking it, feeling it. Powerful. Movie making stuff. Loved it.

  2. Megan Willome March 7, 2011 at 8:59 pm #

    Such sharing! You are a bold woman!
    I still think the teasing I endured (some of it rather brutal) was the worst thing I ever went through compared to my more Oprah-worthy tragedies. But it did make me comfortable being unpopular. So I don’t have this tremendous need to be liked. I wasn’t, and really, so what. I have great friends now, who don’t mind all my insufficiencies.

  3. Maureen March 7, 2011 at 9:02 pm #

    Wonderful post, Kathy. Great quote, too.

    I forgot tomorrow was Blog Carnival. My inspiration took me somewhere else.

  4. Joanne Sher March 7, 2011 at 9:10 pm #

    Just wow, Kat. Fabulous quote – and reminder for every one of us. Brave woman.

  5. Kirsten March 7, 2011 at 9:17 pm #

    I sometimes wonder if my biggest handicap in those horrible Jr High/high school years was being so @#$#@(*& normal that I never had to fight to be the person I wanted to be. Which allowed the casual cruelty to others without any real acknowledgement of what I was doing to them. I am eternally grateful for the gift of adulthood, and the wisdom/growth that came with it.

    As such, I loved this post in its openness and spirit of honesty towards hurts offered and received. Wouldn’t it be good to know that he’d read it? Not that he has to forgive or comment, just that he’d read it?

  6. Mike Ellis March 7, 2011 at 10:44 pm #

    Wow. Wow. Wow. Wow. Did I say, Wow? Wow. Another reason you are my she-ro.

  7. jake March 8, 2011 at 12:27 am #

    I love that you’re willing to apologize and I love it more that this guy who was labeled a “retard” taught you something so great. We can only hope that young people today are gaining the same understanding!

  8. seekingpastor March 8, 2011 at 1:00 am #

    Great quote–heartfelt story. It is amazing how small things can make such a big difference.

  9. Hazel Moon March 8, 2011 at 1:57 am #

    Another student slapped me silly in first grade. I should say she slapped me smart. Sometimes a good smack wakes us up to realize who we are and who others really are. Kat, this was an amazing post! Thanks for sharing about Mark!

  10. Candy March 8, 2011 at 8:07 am #

    Aww shucks, busted again. Here I sit, praying for forgiveness. This is fabulous.

  11. Mari-Anna Stålnacke March 8, 2011 at 8:52 am #

    “True strength and depth of character is found when we face adversity and refuse to lose a part of who we are in order to be part of the crowd, that if you walk to the beat of a different drummer, you should do so unapologetically, and most importantly that oftentimes the most memorable heroes in this life are the unlikely ones.” LOVE IT! Thank you! May God bless you and all the unlikely heroes!

  12. Jeanne Damoff March 8, 2011 at 10:33 am #

    Splendid! Here’s to Mark and all the other non-conformists changing the world with their creativity. xo

  13. Sandra Heska King March 8, 2011 at 10:34 am #

    Oh wow. Oh. Wow!

  14. Krissy March 8, 2011 at 10:35 am #

    Amazing! I am in awe of you! This hits so close to home for my boys. They are different and kids don’t “get them”. I was a mean girl in highschool, and I have since come face to face with the reality that I hurt people. This post is encouraging to me the mean kid, and for my kids, who get picked on. I can’t wait to share this quote with them! Thank you SO much for sharing.

  15. Lisa notes... March 8, 2011 at 11:45 am #

    This is good. It makes me think back to the kids I saw picked on…

  16. Ryan Tate March 8, 2011 at 11:46 am #

    “the most memorable heroes in this life are the unlikely ones.”

    Great post, Kathy. This story is drenched in the Gospel. For the greatest unlikely of heroes is in the business of changing lives too.

  17. Alise March 8, 2011 at 12:15 pm #

    What a beautiful letter. I am thankful for the people that I met in life that stood up for themselves. I think they have helped me to stand up for others. Might be a good idea to thank them directly!

  18. Jason March 8, 2011 at 1:30 pm #

    I wish I could leave a great intelligent comment here but I’m just stunned by the power of these words.

    • katdish March 8, 2011 at 3:02 pm #

      Thanks, Jason. I was really hoping you would read this post, and I’m glad you liked it. Means a lot to me.

  19. Helen March 8, 2011 at 2:55 pm #

    Excellent post, Katdish.

  20. Cris Ferreira March 8, 2011 at 10:28 pm #

    Katdish, I think this is my favorite post from you. Wow! I had my own flashbacks while I was reading, it touched me deeply.
    And the last paragraph was just perfect. Great post!

  21. Glynn March 9, 2011 at 7:01 am #

    I remember Mark; I remember being Mark at times. Perhaps we should all write mark — and write to ourselves as well.

    Good post, Kathy.

  22. K.M. Weiland March 9, 2011 at 12:17 pm #

    Beautiful, heartfelt, moving post. They say apologizing is good for the soul. What if we all dug up an experience from the past, an event in which we acted hurtfully toward someone else, and publicly apologized for it? We’d all probably be the happier for it.

  23. David Rupert April 5, 2011 at 9:50 am #

    Holy smokes this is powerful. SOrry i missed it earlier!


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