Picture an elementary school playground. Kids running, swinging, bouncing balls, climbing.
There is a group of kids that always seems to be doing the more exciting and daring things. Climbing higher on the play sets than the others, jumping off of their swings, hanging by their feet.
One eight-year-old girl decides she’d like to join them in their dares. Usually she plays on her own, feeling unwelcome in most of the groups at recess. But she’s sure she has what it takes to prove that she can climb just as high, or jump as far as the others, and thinks that if she can prove herself, they will welcome her.
When she approaches the daring group, it turns out they have a “club”, and since she’s not a member, she can’t play with them. She asks how she can become a member. All but one of them turn away. He offers her information of a test she must pass. Run from here to there and back in a certain amount of time or less, and she can be in the club.
So she runs. And she makes the time, and he welcomes her to the club.
And then everyone else quits. The fact of the matter, apparently, is that girls are not allowed.
So there’s no more club. The rest of them move on to find something else to do, avoiding her. The boy that tried to help her looks a little sad, and apologizes for them.
The girl continues to play mostly on her own after that. The boys that turned her away tease her. All the way through elementary school. Even into middle and high school.
But that one boy, he is always kind to her. He talks to her, and listens to her. He makes her feel human every time they interact. For most of her remaining school career, she feels that she is quite unaccepted, and has been labeled an outsider by the general population. But all the way through, there is never a moment when he turns away from her, or makes her feel different or unacceptable.
Last night I received news that my friend has passed away. This is one of my most fond memories of him. When the catty cliques of school held sway over our lives, he never paid them any attention – and he always made me feel welcome.
His decency survived through his adult life. He was an amazingly kind man. His passing is more than a shock to all of those that knew him. It has been unbearably hard to process. His absence will be felt by many.
It is with a heavy heart that I wish him a safe and peaceful passing into whatever lies beyond. He will forever be missed.