Biff America: It gets better
Almost all of my friends look much like I do, though many are younger and better looking.
The lion’s share of us are white, and — if you don’t count me — educated and financially comfortable. And our ages run in the neighborhood from middle age or older. That being the case, we have gotten to a place in life where growing pains and a search for self-definition is behind us.
I wanted to put my arm around the little kid with pale skin, and blue hair who is wearing a Goth tee shirt and hearing aids. His insecurity and discomfort were made even more evident because he looked to be the bug in his perfect family’s genetic punch bowl.
He appeared to be maintaining a 3-foot buffer from the rest of his clan in the security line at Denver International Airport. With their blond hair, perfect teeth, and erect posture, his mum, dad, and sister could be actors in a toothpaste commercial.
Periodically his mum or sister would try to engage him in some manner, and the awkward child would barely make eye contact. Due to the long line and the several switchbacks, we passed that family a handful of times.
A good place to witness a collage of humanity is those serpentine security lines at the airport. Now granted since everyone there can at least afford to fly it could be argued that those lines might represent a more upscale cross-section than say would a bus or train station.
My mate and I flew back to Boston last week to check in on an ailing relative and reacquaint ourselves with mold. It is always a bit of a shock when I venture out of my homogenized mountain world. This is particularly true in the cold winter when, by necessity, we cover ourselves from wrists to ankles like a goose-down-wearing Amish tribe. I had not seen that much skin and cleavage since last summer, and that was just the dudes.
But it also is a wake-up to see that some folks wear their challenges on the outside. Any large gathering is a reminder that life and genetics are not always fair. As the security line snaked around, the gamut of genetic and socio-economic opportunities was on display.
Along with travelers who seem relaxed and confident and dressed for comfort and an easy pass through security, others were attired as if they were going to an orgy or cattle drive.
My attention kept being drawn back to the young boy that was so juxtaposed with the rest of his tribe. The family seemed nice, so I would not suggest they were embarrassed by their youngest child but rather he wanted to keep his distance from them.
My only experience of the lives of young people is watching my friends’ children grow up on Facebook and blessedly not having to be in the same room with them. Now I believe that children are more open-minded than many of their parents’ generation. Perhaps the blue-haired kid would have it easier than I imagined. But remembering back to my upbringing when sensitivity and acceptance were as rare as a left-handed short shop, I imagined a difficult few years ahead.
“It gets better.”
After a rash of teen suicides in 2010 a gay advice columnist and his partner uploaded a video on YouTube with the simple yet profound message, “It gets better.” The video has been viewed many millions of times, and that effort has birthed a nonprofit that produces empowering and therapeutic stories still today. The simple message is that for those struggling in the teen world, life will improve with time.
The focus has been mostly directed at teens who are having difficulties due to sexual or gender issues but in truth, the message would resonate with all teens.
My high school diploma was carved on stone. At first blush, one would think I had few challenges. I was healthy, not unattractive, and an athlete. But looking back, due to a not fully developed brain and raging hormones, I was often on the precipice of doing something stupid and perhaps life-changing. A time or two I went over that cliff.
I think my generation had it easy compared to the pressures felt by young people today. But I also think parents, educators and staff are more skilled and sensitive to those teenage pressures.
I took one last look at the blue-hair kid as our lines diverged. I watched as he passed by a burly stone-faced security guy. I was surprised to see him being approached. The big dude’s face brightened, gave the kid a fist bump, and said, “Nice hair!” He then took off his hat, and his hair was also blue.
Not all heroes wear capes.
Jeffrey Bergeron’s column “Biff America” publishes Mondays in the Summit Daily News. Bergeron has worked in TV and radio for more than 30 years, and his column can be read in several newspapers and magazines. He is the author of “Mind, Body, Soul.” Bergeron arrived in Breckenridge when there was plenty of parking and no stoplights. Contact him at email@example.com.
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