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My Not-So-Me-Too Moment

Updated: Jul 29


People change, grow, and forgive



I will try to provide enough caveats for this story to avoid being misunderstood. I detest sexual exploitation and harrassment of any kind. I understand that the overwhelming perpetrators of these crimes are men, and that women and sexual and gender minorities are overwhelmingly the victims of these crimes. These are important issues that need to be dealt with by our society and criminal justice system. However, that’s not the central message of this post.


It was the summer of 1988 and I’d just finished my freshman year of college. I was working as a non-commissioned sales associate (i.e. minimum wage worker) in a clothing store at a local mall. My store manager, “Marla”, was in her early twenties, attractive, and pretty easy-going. Mall work isn’t often grueling, but it can be tedious, so she’d often joke with the associates or try to make the best of slow days. The workers from our store and others would occasionally socialize in groups, which sometimes included my girlfriend and some other friends from the mall.


However, at one point, and I’m not sure why, Marla began to make wisecracks at my expense, both in front of my co-workers and her friends from other mall stores who often popped in to chat. And, also when those friends stopped by, she got a kick out of assigning me tasks that required me to use a step-ladder so that my derriere was at eye-level. I didn’t see the pattern at first, but once I did, I realized that it was accompanied by shared snickers between Marla and her friends. One day I asked her about this and she told me that a couple of her friends had a crush on me and that she was doing it for their entertainment.


But I did find it uncomfortable, and somewhat hurtful since I’d considered Marla to be a better friend than that.

I felt more annoyed than violated by Marla’s silly games, and I know that it in no way compared to more serious cases of harassment in the workplace. It wasn’t like I was depending on this job for my career advancement or to feed a family. This was just a summer job that I was using to put gas in my car, earn some spending money, and save a little for school in the fall. If I’d complained, I really didn’t think I’d be fired, and I wouldn’t have cared that much if I was. But I did find it uncomfortable, and somewhat hurtful since I’d considered Marla to be a better friend than that. Our interactions at work became strained, taking the fun out of an otherwise boring job.


Fast forward almost three decades, to the late summer of 2017. I was making my morning rounds at a local elementary school, observing the good work that my students were doing as part of their field experience. As I exited one classroom, I received an urgent message that my father, who had been infirmed at a nursing home for the past month, had suffered a massive stroke.


Tears dripped from my chin as I thought about the parts of him which were gone, the ones that were still there, and the ones I would miss the most in the coming weeks and years.

A little less than ninety minutes later, I stood in a hospital conference room with the rest of my family to hear the bad news. My father had coded at the nursing home, and the paramedics had struggled for nearly twenty minutes to get his heart beating normally again. He was currently unresponsive and had almost definitely suffered severe brain damage from which he could never recover. More tests were needed, but the outlook was understandably grim.


I sat at my father’s bedside alone for a while, watching his face twitch uncontrollably. The doctor had informed us that this was a result of his brain damage, but that they would be giving him medication to help control it. It was unnerving, watching his eyelids open wide suddenly, almost violently, causing his head to rock slightly on the pillow, tubes and wires momentarily swaying from the tremor. Then for a second or two, my father’s eyes would dart around without focus, then close again. Tears dripped from my chin as I thought about the parts of him which were gone, the ones that were still there, and the ones I would miss the most in the coming weeks and years.


After several minutes, a nurse entered, checked the displays on the machines that were keeping my father alive, and administered some medication into his i.v.


“That was a long time ago,” she replied, her voice tinged more with regret than nostalgia. “I’m a completely different person now.”

“It’s got to be so hard to see him like this,” she said sympathetically. “This should help with the spasms.”


I nodded and looked up to see a face that I seemed to know but couldn’t place. The nurse’s head cocked to the side quizzically, as a glance at her name tag provided the clue that I needed.


“I think you used to be my boss,” I announced.


She nodded and her eyes smiled.


“That was a long time ago,” she replied, her voice tinged more with regret than nostalgia. “I’m a completely different person now.”


That’s all that was said about our prior relationship. During the hours that Marla treated my father, before he was moved into another room where he would die a few days later, the transformation she spoke of became very evident. Of course she was the same individual that I’d worked with half a lifetime before. But she was very caring as she attended to my father’s needs, thoughtfully checking on me and my family as well. I imagined her doing this for other patients and families in the years since we’d parted company, helping to heal many, and helping to absorb the heartache when nothing more could be done. In my mind, the work that Marla now did served as more than an ample penance for whatever slights she had caused me.


Again, I am in no way trying to excuse inappropriate behavior in the workplace, nor claim that I was victimized or traumatized by what happened to me. My point here is instead to demonstrate that judging someone by the mistakes of their youth can be unfair, and to illustrate the wonderful ways in which people can change and grow. Most often these changes happen as we leave adolescence and become adults, but it can really happen at any age if we are open to it. The same holds true for forgiveness.


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