Friday, August 05, 2011

LXXXIX and counting

"I was being such a r#tard,' he said with great animation. His voice carried through the vestibule of the mall near me. I gritted my teeth, dug for a 'words hit' hard and begin my way over. I only got a few feet in his direction and then something absolutely remarkable happened. The young man, maybe 17, stood up from where he was sitting with his friend and said loudly, 'For anyone who heard me just now, I'm sorry, I'm trying to stop using that word. If I offended you, I'm sorry. If I didn't offend you, you've got work to do too.' Then he sat back down. His friend was crimson with embarrassment. I swerved away and heard him say to his friend, 'No, man, really, you should have been embarrassed when I used a word like that, not when I apologized.'

I fought the urge to intrude into this guys life. I wanted to know the story. But I was afraid that I'd do something wrong, say something wrong and turn the kid off. Sometimes it's best to just let things be, this was one of those times I'm guessing. All I knew was that inside I was dancing. Happy. Happy. Happy. To me adulthood is when you finally get to the point when you realize that you can be wrong, that you can make mistakes, that it's OK to own up and take responsibilities for mistakes. I remember the exact day when I knew I was an adult. That's a story for another blog, but it was the day when I remembered something and saw, for the first time from the vantage point of adulthood that I had been a jerk and deserved the treatment that I had received. Yikes. Adulthood changes not only the future but the past. It makes the path ahead clearer, it makes decisions easier to make. It also makes the path behind look like it was walked by a drunken teen trying to pick up a quarter. Yikes twice.

This kid, at 17, is on a terrific path. He clearly has both conscience and conviction. He clearly has voice and power. He clearly isn't afraid of making a fool out of himself to erase the hurt when he makes an ass of himself. Wow. I kept shaking my head thinking - we've come so far, we've come so far, we've come so far.

I wrote this today only because sometimes it's good to reflect on change. It's easy to notice change implemented. When a law is changed, when a curb is cut, when an employer's door open - that is easy to see. But the powerful changes are when things happen but when they don't. I have not heard the 'R' word used in conversation or in slurs or even in the movies for 89 days and counting. I know I used to hear it all the time. I used to hear it everywhere. I don't anymore. It's not ubiquitous.

We need to notice both the presence of change and the 'absences' that represents real change. This kid used the word and then immediately erased it. I'm still counting this as a day in which the word wasn't used. That may not seem fair to you, but you count what you want to count and I'll count what I want to count. So tomorrow, maybe 90 ... maybe not, but ... and I can't believe I'm saying this because I never believed I'd ever say it ... I'm betting tomorrow I won't hear it either.

To the kid in the mall - you made an old guy very happy.

14 comments:

Sunshine and Shadows said...

I used your "People who are the R word" in my class this year. When my students made posters for my incoming students, many of them made posters that said, "Don't use the R word." I think they got it.

Colleen said...

Dear Dave:

It does indeed give one hope!

Colleen

coffeetalk said...

I needed this today. Last night in the drive thru at our fav coffee place (where they give dog treats and have taught my dog to get very excited in the back of the car) my hubby....MY HUBBY!....told the dog to stop being such a r*t*rd. I politely asked him not to use that word. He got irritated and reminded me that "I wasn't at work" and "it's an old habit and he's trying to break it". I was very discouraged that this happened in my own car and he, being significantly older than 17, still doesn't get how demeaning the word is. True, lasting, societal change usually starts with the younger generations, and I pray that this young gentleman is a leader among his peers. I'm extremely impressed and would have loved to bear witness to the event. You've done the second-best thing by bringing the event to us. Thank you.

wendy said...

Wow. Maybe you need to start carrying gold stars with you too! What a great story.

Tamara said...

I really would have loved to have seen that. I know for many people it's a habit - and habits are tough to break, but all I ask is that they try. Hard. :-)

Nan said...

Dave!!! I need a set of those words hit flyers!!!!! REally! We've practiced a lot with my daughter (who is 21) about what to say/how to address people who use that word ... in a way that might make them listen. We rehearse, but the rehearsals never quite match up to the reality of the situation. I would love a set of these for her to have on hand, and for me to have on hand!!! Where can I get them?

Nan said...

Also ... I want to link to that original post on my blog. Is that okay?

Jess and Glacier said...

That is amazing. I've been on my friends for years to remove that word from their vocabulary and they just make excuses..."it's a habit," but that kid is fantastic. I hope he knows it.

Princeton Posse said...

Great story Dave, it gives me hope that change is happening! I agree with Wendy, maybe we should consider gold stars!

Noisyworld said...

I would have wanted to go high five that kid (but his friend would have been even more embarrassed!)
Definitely a non R-word day, I'd say, as he taught a load of people a lesson that should be obvious, but isn't :(

Susan said...

Maybe it was my nephew! I hope so. I've been working on him. :)

Susan said...

P.S. What the heck does "ubiquitous" mean?

www.dictionary.com I know, I know. I'll look it up myself.

u·biq·ui·tous   [yoo-bik-wi-tuhs]
adjective
-existing or being everywhere, especially at the same time; -omnipresent: ubiquitous fog; ubiquitous little ants.

Really? It's not ubiquitous anymore? It's not! How cool.

Zoe said...

Thank you so much for writing this out. I was so grateful to hear it.

I asked my friends to stop using the r-word, and so far they've been really great about it. I feel really respected by their commitment not to use language that insults me and other disabled people.

Maybe this guy has a disabled friend who has been teaching him some lessons!

Molly said...

Loooooooove this. Love it. Good for him!