I remember a time when meeting someone who was just as damaged was a bit of a relief. Everyone walking…
In the mid-90s, my friends and I would make the 20 minute journey, two towns away, to go get coffee at this little place called Starbucks. At the time, there were only a handful spread throughout the Chicagoland area, and we were on that first wave of obnoxious kids who would descend upon the store ordering grande cups of sweet non-coffee. That particular Starbucks still stands in the heart of a gaudy upper-middle class suburb called Naperville. It was located conveniently steps away from what is known as “The Riverwalk”. A series of sidewalks and benches that align a river where all of the suburbs finest weirdos, jocks, bullies, and subculture freaks come to hang out and try to not fight each other. Oh, and a handful of neighboring families with dogs and babies in tow. It’s where you go to people watch when you believe the world is only what you can touch and you’re not cool enough to know anyone to get you drugs and you’re too scared to drive to the city.
As troubled and obnoxious kids, we would go down to the Riverwalk and cause all sorts of stupid mayhem. Everything from throwing newspaper machines into the river to pouring full bottles of dish soap into the fountains. You know, as a teen does. So one night, after the city went to sleep and many caffeinated and sugary non-coffees, we found a random BMX bike someone had left on the lawn of the library. We were hanging out with a mixed group of about 10 to 15 people, some we knew better than others but it was a group of kids who hung out together after the Starbucks closed and loitered around the Riverwalk area which included the nearby library. I immediately hopped on the bike and began crashing it into a wall as my friends egged me on. Most people laughed but there was one girl who was not impressed with my antics. She began yelling at me to put the bike back, yelling that it wasn’t mine to destroy. I don’t remember exactly what I said but it was something like, “Someone left it here they deserve to learn a lesson,” or some other brilliance of that nature.
“Hey,” I said. “Have you ever seen a ghost rider?”
She looked at me with an annoyed look, “No?”
And before I could answer, I pedaled as fast as I could toward the top of the steps of the library then jumped off at the last minute as the bike flew off the steps and crashed on the sidewalk below.
We all laughed and most everyone cheered me on but she lost it.
“What the fuck,” she screamed. “I expected better of you. Aren’t you straight edge?”
My friends and I looked at each other confused.
She turned around and stormed off into the night, yelling back at me, “You fucking hypocrite!”
On the drive home, we laughed and mocked her the entire way but what I never told anyone was that her words had a bit of a sting. I mean, sure she was off about the straight edge thing. I mean, the foundation of the straight edge philosophy is to abstain from drinking and drugs in order to keep as many roadblocks out of your path in order to become a better person – but I’m pretty sure there’s nothing in there that has anything to do with ghost riding a random bicycle.
What I came to realize was that I was more upset with her disappointment than anything. I mean, I while no one likes to be accused of being a hypocrite, I was also under no obligations to live up to her expectations. She had assumed that since I lived a life free of getting high and wasted that I must be some puritanical person with an obligation to save the world one lonely bicycle at a time. But truthfully, I knew what she meant. Her words were misinformed but her sentiment couldn’t have been more correct. She looked to me as an example and I disappointed her high expectations, but I didn’t know how to process those feelings. I was so offended that I never spoke to her again.
We all have expectations of others. Whether it is of your son or daughter, wife or husband, friend or boyfriend – there are certain obligations we expect of others. But what you need to know is that you are under no obligation to fulfill those – your only obligation is to try to become a better version of yourself for yourself. But more importantly, to try and be better for those around you because you want to be a better person, NOT simply based upon not wanting to disappoint someone.
We are all evolving and hopefully for the better. But we are all human and have desires and wants and needs and sometimes those ideas clash and we disappoint the expectations of others. That will never go away. We have all done things we are not proud of. We are all a collection of liars and cheaters and if the world saw what we did when no one was looking we would be ashamed of ourselves. No one is perfect, not me or you. And for anyone to look at us like we are is unfair to everyone.
But what we need to understand is that people are looking at us even when we think they’re not. It took decades for me to realize that the girl looked up to me. But how was I supposed to know? And how are any of us supposed to know. Our friends, our children, our co-workers – there are so many people in this world who are impressed with tiny aspects of our personalities and while we don’t owe it to them to live up to their standards and expectations, it would be a tragedy if we don’t at least try and see what it is that they see.
You owe me nothing. But you owe yourself to understand the reach of your influence on others and to do your best to be responsible with that power.