In 10th grade, I sat next to a guy in marching band named Chris. Chris watched a lot of “Doctor Who”, back when the only place to find it — in 1987 — was the odd hours on PBS. He was the only person I knew in school who openly admitted watching it; owning up to your nerdy nature meant ostracization was certain. Chris also listened to a lot of Depeche Mode and gleefully explained to me the deeper, disruptive meanings of the lyrics (this was pre-“Violator”). Chris was also working on writing a serial drama; every day, he’d tell me the gossip of what happened that day in this fictional world that he was creating (it was partially autobiographical). I tried to follow along, but couldn’t always do so because I was either a little bit bored, a little bit lost, or I was otherwise worried about the band director busting us for talking during practice. But it felt good being a trustworthy listener (several of my bandmates saw me as that someone they could just talk to). So yeah, Chris and I had a camaraderie because we were both outcasts, of a sort, in a world of misfit band nerds. The weirdos among the weird.
There was a lot going on under the hood, and my naiveté being what it was at the time, I didn’t see the struggles that Chris was going through. He was a well-established kid (had his own car in 10th grade) and was trying to make a name for himself by being a great student and a respectable guy. But some of our classmates had already sniffed him out. He wasn’t, shall we say, a straight guy. That put him into a certain class of outcasts. I, being a neophyte in the ways of society, didn’t detect that. But whatever.
Eventually, my Christian zeal of the time would grow and recast me in a different mold, and people came to know me as this kid who became a Fire For God. Eventually, people like Chris faded from my sphere. Some years later, when I had graduated high school and moved on to OBU, I had significantly loosened my straps and had learned to be more human in my faith. I learned, basically, how to stop being an asshole.
One nondescript Friday night during my second year, I rode with my roommate Stephen to Texarkana to rendezvous with his girlfriend at the rest stop, the midway point on her drive from Dallas to Arkadelphia to see him. Who, of all people, do I cross paths with while there? Chris, of course, who was there with some of his buddies. I was happy to see him again; delighted, in fact. An old friend! Unfortunately, he wore a shocked, wide-eyed stare and was incredibly uncomfortable as he shifted his eyes between me and his friends. Our conversation was stunted and I left without a smile. It was like I had missed some big social cue that things were afoot and didn’t pick up on what was happening until later.
This sort of encounter is not the first or only time this has happened, but apparently he saw me, based on his memory, as this holy light of God that came to expose him for his sins. That’s a hurtful feeling, but it really highlights the idea that people remember me for being this holy warrior in high school and that’s all they know about me. It short-sheets the idea that people can change. I later had other encounters with former classmates who either turned to God and wanted to tell me all about it as a new brother or who went on being themselves and thought I was there to cast judgment, neither knowing that I myself had walked out.
People change, and there’s nothing you can do in a five minute street encounter to convince otherwise.
So yeah, I was thinking about Chris earlier tonight for some reason. I remember liking the guy, as iconoclastic as he was. I hope he’s doing well in his adult life and has found his voice, his true voice. As I hope for us all.