A Belated Thank-You

Yesterday, while running, I thought back to an old experience I had as a teenager.

Like many teenage boys, I suffered from Osgoode-Schlatter syndrome, which is basically a severe case of "growing pains." It's worse than it sounds. The overactive growth plates in my knees were producing so much bone tissue that they swelled up painfully, and I was unable to run for almost a year. My legs were constantly in pain. To this day, I still have lumps of bone on my knees as a result of my condition.

In Autumn of the worst year of my Osgoode-Schlatter syndrome, I had big plans to run on the high school cross-country team - or at least with the team - despite my being only in the eighth grade. The pain dashed my hopes, but my sister was still on the team, and so I still found myself attending all the cross-country meets and watching my friends run and have fun on the team. For a young man whose only connection to joy was running, it was difficult to watch.

One day, at a cross-country meet, it became a bit too much for me, so went back to my parents' car, sat down in the passenger's seat, and cried. I just wanted to be alone and cry. To my chagrin, the head cross-country coach - an incredibly gentle and kind-hearted man - saw me crying in the car and came to console me. He put a hand on my arm and did his best. I don't remember saying anything. I think I was trying so hard to hold back my tears and make it look like I wasn't crying, that I couldn't do much but make monosyllabic grunts to everything he said. He stayed with me a long time, then caringly said good bye with a few more words of encouragement and went back to the team.

This got me to thinking about another coach at my high school. He was a football coach, and I didn't play football, so I only knew him as my history teacher. He was a very witty guy, and always seemed happy. I enjoyed his history class a lot, and I figured he must like me okay, mainly because I laughed at all his jokes. But one day, at a parent-teacher conference, he very seriously and very meaningfully told my mother that if she ever wanted me out of the house, she should send me to his.

I don't know why my mother told me about that. I also don't really know why he said that, what he could have seen in me that would give him any indication that that was something that ought to be said. At the time, I found the whole situation confusing. But now, with 25 years of hindsight serving me, I'm overcome by that man's kindness.

The truth is that I was slipping further and further into depression when I was in high school, a depression that would stretch across the next decade of my life. When you're suffering from something like that, and especially when you're a teenager suffering from something like that, it's common to scapegoat your problems. Thus, at the time, I ascribed all of my "depression" (I didn't call it that back then) to the rather oppressive religious-conservative community and their relative inability to relate to a somewhat eccentric, differentiated person like me.

As I had it, "people hated me." A look back with better hindsight, though, proves otherwise. Here are two important members of the community who could see how much I was suffering, and who did reach out to make my life better. The truth is, my community could have been there for me, if I had only allowed them to be.

Of course, that would have required a more complete understanding of my situation. I was emotionally stunted and ill-equipped to have normal social relationships of any kind with any person whatsoever. I was a broken human being. I needed years of personal growth to achieve whatever semblance of normalcy and mental health I've managed to achieve. (I am certainly no longer depressed, and haven't been for a long, long time.) It's too much to ask of my teenage self to recognize what was being done for me, on a completely kind-hearted and unsolicited basis. I didn't have the emotional tools required to recognize it.

But I recognize it now. Furthermore, I recognize that these two examples I've provided aren't the only examples. Many people would have helped me, if I could have been helped. It's not their fault that I couldn't be helped at the time. All the same, 25 years later, I appreciate what they did for me. It stuck with me. I'm thankful for it. And I'm very sorry I couldn't see it then and avail myself of the support that was being offered.

I'm sorry that I wasn't the person then that I am now. But to those who ever extended a hand and tried to help a young man who needed it, but couldn't see it, I offer you a belated and very heart-felt thank you. Thank you.

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