Growing up and moving on are terrifying enough. They are scarier still when everyone else stays behind.
It happened last week. I posted a picture on Facebook of a watermelon beer, and a friend from high school commented, “[T]hink about how big this could be if they sold this in a 40 oz.”
For years of my life, this was the natural discourse. It is the thing that haunts me still. I am constantly afraid that my friends will embarrass me. I am constantly afraid that some –ism will spew forth onto my news feed and embarrass me, laying bare my “redneck past” for all to see. I am afraid that one of these friends may repeat a racist joke that I told in a weak moment long ago. I am afraid that my new colleagues, my partners in examining issues of race, class, and privilege, will judge my association with such small-minded sentiments. I am afraid that a flippant comment will inflict a deep wound to a dear friend, and that will be the result of one of my long-held associations.
So, I am a man torn. I am a man torn between a flawed home and a flawed past that I still deeply love, and a future I am striving to create, a self that I am striving to be. It is no longer an option to run. We are too connected. I am a man torn, sometimes feeling guilty because he fled for the greener, more progressive pastures of California, rather than fixing the mess that was happening in his own backyard.
The last Christmas my dad and I spend together, he told me a tasteless joke. It was a joke that combined Barack Obama, lynching, and a Christmas tree. I was a man torn—torn between expressing my disapproval and leaving his house altogether, and the deep love I’ve always felt for my dad. So I swallowed my rage. I told my dad that he was a terrible person, with just enough of a laugh to stifle any rage. I took another swallow of the scotch that he had been dying to share with me, and I enjoyed Christmas.
This is the life of a man torn, swallowing idealism for the sake of love, and trading cold truth for long-held relationships. The life a man torn is one of constantly weighing the costs, of constantly second-guessing, of wishing for take-backs and do-overs. It is a laugh of nervous laughs, uneasy feelings, and tough choices made in split seconds.
I only hope that there is grace. I hope that there is grace enough to atone for redneck pasts. I hope that there is grace enough to atone for racist jokes. I hope that there is grace enough to atone for homophobic slurs, and for ignorant assumptions. I hope that there is grace enough for all living life as men torn.
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