Wednesday, September 12, 2012

A Candle, A Memory

In June, I lost a friend.

I say friend, though he might have called me a "colleague." In fact, many nights I'd come home and ask my husband, "How do you think I can get C to hang out with us outside work?" I sort of mildly stalked him online a bit via LinkedIn and Google to learn more about his work and ideas. And, invariably, I would end up saying to J, "You will love him. He's a genius!"

C had this way of making everyone who ever worked with him want to be his friend. I knew this from the first day I met him, but it was irrefutable once he died. Everyone had a story about the way C could make people feel special, cared about, and heard, even though he somehow also managed to keep us all at a little bit of a distance. I am not sure any of us "colleagues" who revered C got to be the kind of friends who he'd hang out with outside of work.

I do know that we were crushed when he killed himself. Person after person spoke the day we gathered to remember him and used the word "light" to describe C. When I called my husband, who had never met C, he'd heard enough about him that he immediately gasped and said, "Not C! Why?"

Let me be 100 percent clear: I do not know why C chose to die. I do, though, I fear that I suspect it.

I fear it when my son is teased for his autistic traits. I fear it when my daughter worries about her appearance. I fear it when kids I teach roll their eyes at a classmate for anything that makes them different.

C didn't have autism. He had such an incredibly handsome face that, when he smiled, as he almost always did, I found myself thinking that he was the first man I'd describe as "radiant." And, smart? Don't get me started. C didn't seem, in any overt way, "different." What terrifies me is that I think he felt different. On the inside. I am scared that every time our mutual work involved learning about oppression, discrimination, and genocide, he felt a deep resonance and fear of his own differences.

I feel guilty telling C's story, or my take on it, even now that he is gone, because one instinct tells me it is none of my business. Yet another tells me it should have been, and should still be, my business to use the powerful tool of storytelling to reach out to C, to you, to anyone and everyone, and say: We are ALL different, and we are ALL the same. We are unique, and we are people. We should not live with a fear of differences, only of fear.

I do not know if C suffered any abuse in his life; it's hard to imagine it because I knew him as a big, strong, successful, sought-out, professional, but whether his personal life or background told a very different story, or whether he perceived himself or his life very differently, I am not privy to know.

I do not know why C is gone. It makes me sad and angry. And sad. Did I mention angry? There is not much I can do with my sadness or my anger except blog, and so that is why I am telling you.

When we tease, when we ridicule, when we roll our eyes, and when we denigrate, we risk hurting the human victims of our abuse, and sending a message to every onlooker that they could be next. When we tease, ridicule, denigrate, we risk destroying the genius that our world needs, and we risk extinguishing radiant light. We risk leaving ourselves very dark and very sad.

I want better for all our children. 

1 comment:

Melissa said...

Oh, how heartbreaking ... I'm so sorry. C. sounds like a wonderful person.

And you're right... all of our children deserve better.