In the wake of the events at Sandy Hook elementary so many people have asked many of the same questions. One that I have seen the most online has been of the “what can I do now” variety? Of course each situation is different but the larger issue (as it pertains to guns/violence/schools) is the children, their safety, their voices. I am a bit hesitant to use this as a platform of sorts because I sort of detest self promotion without effort but in this case it might just spark something in someone else. It seems about now we can all do a little more and so this is what I have done.
About 2 weeks ago, two close friends of mine, who happen to be openly gay and engaged and after having won The Amazing Race received this letter amongst thousands:
“I’m sure you guys are way too busy to read this, but I want you to know how inspirational you two are to my 12 year old son. He is gay and is dealing with bullying and harassment in middle school. It’s so hard to see him going through this, and sometimes the “It Gets Better” message is lost on a 12 year old who feels that middle school will never end…We cheered you on every Sunday night and agonized every time you had difficulties. My son was so incredibly thrilled when you two won last night (as was I!). Thank you for helping him see that not only DOES it get better, it gets AMAZING.”
In response my friends, aka The Fabulous Beekman boys, sent out a message to all Amazing Racers and asked for our help in making Colin feel better. The call to action was simple, take a picture of yourself (or with your Race partner) holding a sign that says “Colin, You’re Amazing” and those pictures would then be passed along to Colin’s mom and Colin. Nearly everyone participated and the response from Colin’s mom was as appreciative as you would imagine – even sharing with us that this was a life changing moment for Colin. And normally that would be the happy ending to a wonderful story.
But as luck would have it Colin and his mom were from San Diego. So I reached out because in the aftermath of Sandy Hook it seemed like there was more I could do than just send along a picture. So we set up a time to meet at a local shopping mall. I didn’t know what to expect. I had never met anyone under those circumstances and to be honest, I’m not sure who would want to meet me anyways. So Abbie and I made our way to the mall. Sure enough Colin and his mom approached us and no sooner than the words “hello” came out of our mouths, Colin was in full bear hug with Abbie and then with me. We hadn’t so much as introduced ourselves and you could feel the warmth and appreciation emanating from his small frame.
We spent the better part of 30 minutes talking about The Amazing Race (mom is a big fan), and school life for Colin. I won’t share the details of his school life, but suffice to say that junior high kids are the meanest people on the planet. And per Colin, the girls can be worse than the boys. When we wound down our chat Colin went in for a hug again and this time he held on a little tighter and a little longer. Of course mom was emotional, Abbie and I were emotional and Colin was still in full bear hug and no one wanted to let go.
When I arrived home later that night I got this note from Colin’s mom in my inbox:
“Thanks, Ryan and Abbie, for meeting up with us and for the picture. Colin told me on the way home that “I will remember this day my entire life up until my death bed.” LOL It really meant a lot to him.”
I’m confident Colin has a tremendous support system in place to help guide him through these difficult years while he is attacked, harassed and otherwise outcasted merely because of his coming out. This isn’t the place for me to soapbox about understanding and coming to terms and all of those things that we wish people that oppose a gay lifestyle would understand. Instead this is meant to serve as a reminder to myself and hopefully a spark of sorts to others that are like me and wonder what they can do to make a difference in a child’s life. The child need not be battling bullies because of their sexuality. Children are hurting every day for many reasons. Sometimes a hug and little bit of your time goes a lot longer than any of us think.