If time stood still, if nothing ever changed — children never grew, people acted and looked the same and never died or became sick – everything stayed the same, I would never learn anything. In order for human beings to learn, one needs to be willing to step outside of the familiar now and then, to accept that things do indeed change, realize that this world does indeed change and needs to.
I am a small town guy at heart, even after living in the Chicago area for more than twenty five years, and there are times where I really have to resist the small town that still resides deep down in me. There is an aspect to the small town mentality that resists change, that holds on to tradition and the way the world must be, the way thing always have been. It’s a comfort. And it’s not necessarily a bad way to live. The world often looks at small town people as simple and narrow minded, a stereotype. I call it a common sense approach to life.
My wife and I have raised our family in a town that has a small town feel to it, with lots of open space, even cornfields. Warrenville has a population of over 13,000, large compared to the some 1000 people that lived in the central Illinois town of Rochester where I was raised, small compared to the rest of the suburbs and city close by. People here know each other, say hello, stop to talk. Our youth sports programs are small, enough that everyone knows everyone. I have coached a lot of those sports teams in the last ten years, whether it be girls softball or basketball, coed soccer, boys basketball and baseball. That means I know a lot of boys and girls, their parents, their grandparents.
A holiday like July 4th becomes special as I celebrate with my family and friends at the small festivities our city puts on in the city park, with bands, food, and fireworks. Everyone gathers there on the 4th early in the afternoon, coolers out, sitting in the shade as the children play and get reacquainted after not seeing each other for a month. It amazes me to see how much the boys and girls I have coached have changed since the last time I have seen them, some so much that I don’t recognize them right away as they approach. Mir and I laugh as a large herd of teenage boys pass by in a swarm, the group swelling around the most popular boy. Usually in the near vicinity are one or more swarms of like minded teenage girls.
“Hi Coach!” “Hello Mister Henry!”
The boys are always stoic, but genuinely glad to see me, and I love talking to them. The girls almost always greet me with a hug, one of the differences between coaching boys and girls. When a season was over, a team of boys always would come over to tell me thanks, some shaking my hand, some just mumbling a thank you. I know they mean it. Girls always gave me a thank you card, almost always with a personal message, and many thank you hugs.
There are favorites, kids who just plain were a joy to coach, the ones who clicked with me in a special way. In a lot of ways, those kids are like my own.. Years after serving as their coach, they always go out of their way to greet me when they see me, often leaving the comfort of the swarm to do so.
Brianna is a little spark plug with electric blue eyes that constantly light up with enthusiasm. When Alyssa decided to play basketball in middle school and played in the park district program to get ready for the school tryouts, Brianna was one of the girls on her team. I coached her for two years, a pure joy to watch as she dove for every loose ball, out rebounded girls much taller than her. It was never unusual for her to sit down and talk or challenge me to a game after practice. There are few kids I have coached that have clicked with me more than Brianna. I love seeing her and her mother when I am out shopping or at a school function. A few years later Brianna still greets me with the same enthusiasm as always. She is the reason I am writing this blog, the reason I am fighting off tears as I type this sentence.
My small town sensibilities are putting up a real struggle right now.
A few months ago, I saw Brianna with her mother at the grocery store. Brianna has always been a cute little brunette, her long hair bouncing all over the place as she careened around the basketball floor. But her hair was cut very short when I saw her in the store, enough of a contrast that I commented on the change. There was a bit of hesitation as Brianna’s mother looked at me, her smile fading for a moment as she lost eye contact.
“Yeah, well you know how kids change. She’ll be wanting her hair back before you know it. After all it’s just hair!”
Her smile returned as Brianna smile back at the both of us. The conversation changed to the walking boot I was wearing at the time, my questions turning the focus toward Brianna’s success in making the high school basketball team. I detected then that something was different. I know now why I had that sense.
The same enthusiasm bombarded me as Brianna hugged me from behind during the July 4 festivities a few days ago.
“Hey Coach!” Same smile too. But something was different. The short hair was parted to the side, like a boy’s. We talked for a moment as she asked about Alyssa, wanted to know how she was doing, wanted to know if was coaching any more. “Hey, I am going to be over there” she said as she pointed to a blanket spread out on the grass, close to where my own chairs were set up. Brianna gave me a hug as she bounced over to her friends, taking the hand of a red haired girl that was standing next to her. I guess I didn’t think much about it at the moment. Brianna is always demonstrative, seemingly without inhibition. Perhaps the short hair and clothing should have given me a clue.
Those who know me just shouted in unison “SINCE WHEN HAVE YOU EVER HAD A CLUE!”. OK, smarty pantses, you are right this time.
The evening passed on, a pleasant cool night with a little breeze. As Mir and I relaxed with our friends in the growing circle of folding lawn chairs, the crowd began to fill the grass outfield of the baseball field.
“Pssssssst. Hey Steve have you been watching that?” My friend Paul poked me in the arm and motioned in the direction where Brianna had settled on a blanket with her friends. She was still holding the red head’s hand, close together, cheek to cheek. Then she kissed the girl.. not a friendly kiss on the cheek, but a deep drawn out kiss with a caress on the cheek. She put her hand on the red haired girl’s hip and kissed her again, pulling her closer with a smile as they paused for a moment then immersed themselves in a full blown make out session.
I didn’t know what to think, so I didn’t. I turned around and wondered at what I just saw, hoping I would forget what I had just seen. Paul just shook his head at me, muttering “Can you believe that?”.
Remember, I am a small town guy who was raised in a small town and in an age when those who chose an alternative lifestyle moved to the city, away from town I lived in, away from the prying eyes and gossips who feasted on the juicy opportunity to talk about ‘those types of people’. Where I was raised it doesn’t matter if you went to church or not, ‘those types’ are freaks and going to hell.
And now you know why I am struggling. Here in front of my eyes participating in a lesbian makeout session, in full public view, in your face and I don’t care if you see it, was a girl who I..well.. like. This was as close to my daughter without it being my daughter.
What if it was my daughter? What would the struggle be like then? How would I react?
Not the same way. I wouldn’t be able to ignore it like I was able to do with Brianna. I would not be able to accept it either, at least not condone it. I can hear myself saying “Not in my house.” Or “You’re just confused. You’re not mature enough to know what you are doing.” And I might be right. And I might say that I don’t agree with your choice, but I love you any way, will treat you like my daughter no matter what.. and cry myself to sleep at night worrying about the inevitable struggle she would be facing as a result of that choice.
Please don’t debate with me about whether homosexual sex and the choices that go with it is right or wrong, a mistake or a liberating happiness. I won’t deny that I think it is not a wise choice, a choice that is likely not going to be the liberating happiness one thinks it might be. I won’t deny that I am offended when someone shoves it down my throat (hard pun intended), in the way those two young girls were demonstrating on that blanket July 4th. If my girl was making out with a boy in public like that, it would be just as offensive, just as in your face rude. And that is what I find the most offensive – that those who choose the homosexual lifestyle don’t care and choose to demonstrate that choice in public. It makes me sad. It makes me a bit angry.
And it changed the way I feel about one certain little girl, which she still is, a few days ago.. because it hurt to see her that way.
In order for human beings to learn, one needs to be willing to step outside of the familiar now and then, to accept that things do indeed change, realize that this world does indeed change and needs to.
Is that true?
(the photo I chose for this blog is not Brianna, but the girl sure reminds me of her)