They looked at us with expectant eyes. How can you refuse expectant eyes? Well, I have managed that for several years now. But, this time something was different. Ruby and Sadie have a Christmas Pageant coming up and, like every year before, we were invited to come. They had described, with great excitement and anticipation, what each of their classes were to perform, it was easy to see they were trying to pull us into the joy of it all and have us, both, accept.
Joe has been before.
I have never been.
I need to stop now and talk a little bit about the fact that words have impact. I need to remind you that purposeful and intentional hurt leaves bruises that never fade and wounds that will always, occasionally, weep. I am 63 years old, I will be 64 on the day of the pageant. And yet, in some ways, I am still a young boy who travelled through his childhood and youth as a soft, fat, non-masculine boy. I am still that boy who who woke nearly every morning with fear and anxiety about what the day would bring. Easily targeted, easily taunted, easily taken apart, bullies found myriad ways of making my life hell.
To this day.
To this very day.
If I hear someone laughing around me, my first gut reaction, is that they are laughing at me. Even though all these years later I know that this is seldom actually true, my gut reacts the way it reacts and it does so for a reason. I have lost the trust that I will ever be safe in this world.
And God, I love these kids.
They have been a gift to us and to our lives in ways that I cannot tell you.
I never want them hurt. I have explained to them that I haven't gone to school events because I fear that their love for me, their relationship with Joe and I, will bring them harm. I fear that the bullies in their school will use me, or us, to target them, to taunt them, to tease them. I fear that I will bring them pain.
And I can't have that.
I can't do that to them.
They know. I've told them. I don't go because I love them.
But every year, they ask.
And every year, they hope.
And this year, they asked again.
Sadie told me she would tell her teacher to make sure that I am safe and that people not tease me. I told her that I loved that she would do that but I wasn't worried that they would tease me. I was worried that they would tease her.
Ruby told me that there was nothing anyone could ever do that would make her feel ashamed of me or of her relationship with Joe and I. Nothing. She said it twice. Twice.
So they asked again.
And now I realize something. I have stayed away to keep them from hurt and now, its becoming clear that my staying away, my act of protection, has the ability to hurt them in a new and different way. Caring can look like not caring. Loving can look like not loving.
And I had a decision to make.
I've thought about it long and hard. Joe and I have talked about it. Last night I even prayed for advice.
I don't know if my prayer was answered but I rose knowing that I was going to go. That our presence there, together, with the rest of their family, mattered.
What happens after matters too.
But I cannot risk that my caution leads to a day that I fear, a day I hadn't thought about until I saw those expectant eyes.
The day they stop asking.