"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.