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.
“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, PeterPollock.com