I understand the idea of putting “bad people” on a pedestal. And wanting to keep them there. Decades before our current debate whether to remove from public property all monuments dedicated to some citizens who ended up on the wrong side of history, I engaged in a similar verbal jousting.
On more than one occasion, I defended someone most of my childhood community considered a bad seed. In particular, my mother was the most ardent opponent of my friendship with one of the local bad boys. On the other hand, he was the most dependable, loyal, trustworthy friend I had. While I was advised to keep my distance from him, he would have been my first choice to be memorialized on my personal Mount Rushmore of friends. In the eyes of many, he could do no right. To me, he did no wrong.
The more my mother disapproved of him, the more I appreciated him. She argued that his bad habits, which were monumental in the early 1970’s, were going to negatively influence my behavior. He didn’t go to school every day. He smoked marijuana. Profanity was his first language. If you were in your early to mid-teens during that time, those were possibly the three deadliest sins one could commit.
My friend did not conceal his character. Nor did he ever ask me to skip school with him. He never offered me a toke of his stash and outside my mother’s hearing range, I could hold my own in conversation with my friend. Not one in my circle of buddies was a saint. My friend was just the least saintly of us all.
As our teen years continued, his friendship never wavered. When my car functioned, sometimes unsafely, he rode with me and shared the risks and the cost of gas. When it didn’t work, we walked together. When I was compelled to attend church, he went with me. The times he did not, never did he suggest I violate any of the Ten Commandments, especially the fourth one.\
Unfortunately, the warnings to sever ties with him never ceased. It was not until we were faced with making young adulthood decisions that we ventured our separate ways. He headed to the east coast. I went west. To the delight of my mother, of course.
Looking back, it was probably not the ideal association at the time. But, I got to see and know the best of him. While others only got to see the rest of him. If my mother was alive today, she would still think he was undeserving of my defense of his character. Any pedestal I would have put him upon, she would have disagreed. I would have respected my mother’s perception while defending my friend’s honor. He was never violent, criminal or disrespectful to his elders. He was just a little more outgoing than society’s expectation for a teenager. He took some liberties the majority of us did not.
To this day, he has left one of the most indelible impressions on my life. I would never want anyone to try and remove that from my history.
As it pertains to the current cultural cleansing we are now undertaking, I understand and respect the heroes and honorees that some people choose. It is not my place to assign a value of appreciation for them. Nor do I have the right to erase any impression they choose to hold dear.
Ironically, if any young person I knew held dear a friendship with someone with similar attributes as my childhood friend, I would probably offer the same advice my mother tried to give me. Be careful of who you hang around with. However, I would not attempt to tear it apart.
Nope. It’s not my history. As long as my neck can turn 180 degrees, I don’t have to see anything I don’t want to see. I won’t be offended by anything or anyone without giving it permission.