at my brother’s wake and among the visitors was a former coach from my teenage years. I was dressed in my clericals, as I always am for such things.
The conversation began simply enough, general things and then he asked me a question. “I can’t remember, was Paul the older one or were you?” “I was,” I said, “Paul was a little over a year younger than me.” His response caught me off guard “Then why were you so immature?”.
In a second a hundred or so responses went through my head. All I could get out in my shock was “It was high school.” The rest of the conversation ended with a blur of courtesies.
Later in the car more responses came. A letter followed that I never sent. Angry questions. How come he didn’t know about the grinding forces of adolescence? What life was like at home? The feeling of not belonging? The lunch hours spent in the band room playing music because I was afraid of being rejected if i sat next to someone? In a world where maturity was measured by compliance to the perception of the established order I was not mature. Bored at classes where they told me things I already knew. Never one to act, dress, or pretend to be in the herd. How couldn’t he know? All he saw was a shell, and thirty years later I was still that shell, that two dimensional object projected on his screen.
And then, as I mulled this over the weeks it occurred to me. He was just a person, nothing more nothing less. A struggler like the rest of us, making our way through an infinite universe with finite perception. He had no idea who I was and I placed way too much importance on what he thought.
Its the gift of years, of coming to realize that titles, and image, and the trappings of power, mean nothing in the larger scope of things. A person can be wrapped in them and even throw them around for whatever they want but they are still just that, a person, a human, a fellow traveler no more no less. Yes, they can inflict harm, but its only the harm of mortals and wise people understand this.
In that moment I was set free, not all at once, for sure, but I had the hammer and chisel that I needed to break free of those chains, that high school, those years, and the spell of people’s opinions. The bell rang, and class was dismissed.