We were sixteen and snobby. At our high school, life was centered around the newest Coach purse, sushi dates and our driver’s licenses. We were young and selfish, comfortable in our social groups. The constant fear of rejection prevented us from ever really knowing our 400 classmates. We had gone to school together since kindergarten, and we were lucky if we knew the last name of our lab partner in Chemistry.
I, on the other hand, committed voluntary social suicide my sophomore year. The demise of my status began on my way to the jungle of a lunchroom after Biology class. Instead of proceeding to my “normal” table (between the track stars and the choir clique), something propelled me forward to the small circular table by the picture window. This was not my territory. This was the “loser” table.
Feeling somewhat delirious, I slowly approached. Megan’s head jolted toward me as a piece of lettuce hung precariously from her lips. Like a pack of apprehensive antelope, their heads snapped up and surveyed my progress in utter disbelief. I, being the lion and the hunter, tried to assure them of my innocent motives and cautiously set down my Vera Bradley lunch bag.
We didn’t talk about anything significant. Our conversation didn’t encompass world hunger or philosophy of education. We didn’t even discuss the upcoming dance. In fact, we just talked about the horrible cafeteria food was and our weekend plans. However, in the course of sixteen minutes, I realized that something inside my heart melted. Why did I wait this long to get to know them? They were some of the most compassionate and nonjudgmental individuals I had met. I had never even given them a chance, because of a stupid label placed on them by society.
I spent the remainder of my high school years floating from table to table until I could have a conversation with each and every person in my grade. In the process of getting to know others, I dug into the core of my being and discovered my worth, identity and beliefs. I was able to be vulnerable and exposed, and discover a faith in simple love of those around me. This faith was unwavering and had awakened the passions in the depths of my spirit. I had found what made me come alive.
I believe in loving on each person you come into contact with, with every ounce of your being. In smiling at a stranger. In pushing past the shallow questions to connect at a deep and meaningful level. In seeing the best in others, and encouraging them to see it in themselves as well. I believe in living my life in a way that lights a spark inside of everyone I meet, so they feel empowered to love others too. I believe in a revolution of acceptance and tolerance that will forever break the boundaries of social hierarchy. And I believe in taking the time to learn last names.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.