To the Redheaded Kid In Front of Me In Line
Dear Kid In Front of Me in Line,
Before I start, let me just assure you I think you’re an amazing kid. I know you aren’t used to getting letters from strangers, but this is the only way I can think to express my admiration of the person you already are and the person you’re still yet to be.
When I pulled into the lunchtime line and saw I was fifth or sixth in line behind a bunch of young teens, yes including you, I immediately tensed up. You see, these are unsafe situations for me. I’m fat, I’m in a wheelchair, I’m a pretty big target for small hearts. But I noticed something right away. I saw that they were switching their gazes and their open hostility from you to me. Of course I saw your bright red hair. You already know that in a world browns and yellows, bright orange-red hair makes you really, really, really easy to see. Like me. I hope you don’t mind the comparison, and somehow I don’t think you will; I’m guessing there are times you just wish for a moment or two of anonymity.
So, they switched their comments from you to me. Do you know, kid, that I was in this situation once when I was your age, and I didn’t handle it like you did? For me, I was so weary, and this is neither excuse or reason what I did was wrong, of being treated differently that when I had the opportunity, when another walked into firing range, I joined in. I became what I hated. It was only for maybe two or three minutes, and I want you to know I’m more wounded by what I did in those two minutes than I was from all the years of being the one. The one that was easy to laugh at, to mock and to purposely hurt — I don’t like the word “bullying” because it doesn’t express what I experienced; I experienced violence, social violence. That means, of course, that what I did in those couple of minutes was violent — purposeful violence. I won’t minimize it by calling it bullying.
You, like me, saw them switch from you to me. I saw in your eyes, when you looked at me, a deep understanding. You stood there thinking, only for a second, and then you did one of the bravest, smartest, most compassionate things I think I’ve ever seen. You squared your shoulders and you pushed through the crowd of boys, the ones who had targeted you before me. They parted, just parted, in the face of your determination. You picked up a food tray. You stood for a couple of minutes, knowing they were watching you; then you turned and you said to me, “Would you like this?”
An act of kindness, in the midst of meanness and — yes, social violence. You did something kind. You exploded the atmosphere with what you did. I thanked you loudly. Ruby, standing beside me, thanked you too. In those seconds it was just you and us. The rest were irrelevant. They were made bystanders to a moment of connection. And connection trumps disconnection in the way love trumps hate, every single time.
After our thank yous, you turned back into place. And those that had been shamed, not by what you did but by knowing they didn’t do what you did, stood silently, not even looking at each other, as they waited their turn.
So, redheaded kid in the line in front of me, thanks.
I wish there was a bigger word than thanks, but for now that’s all I got.
And I give it to you with the deepest respect for who you are and who you will one day be.
This post originally appeared on Rolling Around in My Head.
For all of November, The Mighty is celebrating the people we don’t thank enough. If you’d like to participate, please submit a thank you note along with a photo and 1-2 sentence bio to firstname.lastname@example.org.