Not a popular kid at school for a couple of reasons. One, I was fat. Two, I was the kind of boy who covered his face with his baseball glove and ran when the ball made it to his corner of the field - I had no desire to catch it, I simply wanted to escape injury. I guess that there was a third reason too. I knew of my difference early, I knew I like boys. I knew no one could know. Containing a secret that big makes everything awkward. I was awkward.
I don't think of those times often. Although as I get older, as they get further away, it seems as if I'm remembering things more often rather than less often. The memories are changing though. I used to remember the hell of it. The time a couple of the boys, in gym class, made me stand on a bench so they could get 'a good look at my tits' (verbatim from a memory that's never dimmed) and then having them grab, one each, and squeeze so hard that their hand prints reminded me every day for over a week what a freak I was. I used to remember those things. I can still, obviously, conjure those memories at will.
But, I have to conjure them.
What I remember now, what comes to me freely, when I'm not even thinking about the past, are the moments of deep human kindness that I experienced. Those moments, more than a few, less than many, probably saved my life. Although that's a dark corner where I choose not to go. But, when those memories come, they aren't thought of moments of light in darkness. They come flooded by light. They come carrying the power of miracle. They come as a means to remind me that kindness has the unique power to have one meaning in the past, quite another in the future.
I had one of those powerful memories, of a moment of sheer kindness, yesterday. It came, as they do, unbidden. It came, almost as a gift, and that's how I accepted it. I sat, quietly and remembered. Others had been cruel, one had not. One reached out to ensure that I wasn't left out. This is a moment from my past that influences me as a person, and as a professional, even now.
Then, when I was looking up something on the Internet, I swear without typing a name into the browser, I saw a picture, taken recently of the one who did this kind thing. Surrounded by family, wearing a face I would no longer recognize - like mine - old. But I saw in the smile and in the eyes, the same capacity for kindness that I had received.
I was glad that it was a happy picture.
Kindness, I realize, is how we can all reach into the future.
Several months ago a young woman thanked me for an act of kindness that I had done a couple years before. I did not remember doing what she said I did, but I did not doubt her. I let her tell me what that kindness had come to mean. How it had come to matter. Something I did in the past, touched her future.
Kindness is how we can all reach into the future.
And make change.