His name was Mark.
When I was an intern (essentially, a freshman doctor) in Emergency Medicine, he was a more senior resident in Internal Medicine. We crossed paths numerous times during the year. I appreciated his calm demeanor and quick wit. One day, we both managed to escape to the cafeteria for a quick lunch. Our conversation, to the best of my recollection:
Mark: So, tell me about your family.
Me: I am married to Kathy, and we have a one year old, Kaitlin.
(I expound for a while)
Me: How about you?
Me: Do you have any kids?
Mark: I’m not allowed to have kids.
Me: You’re unfit to parent? Yeah, I suppose I can see that..
Mark: Some would say so.
Me: What the hell are you talking about?
Mark: Haven’t you heard _________ talking crap about me?
Me: No. Again, what the hell are you talking about?
Mark: I’m gay.
Me: I just figured you were unfit to parent…
Although I am sure that I met many gay people before that time, Mark was the first to tell me so. He probably knew of my conservative religious background and anticipated an unfavorable reaction. I don’t think I reacted much at all in the moment–clearly not enough to rein in my sarcastic sense of humor–but the conversation percolated through my consciousness for months and years to come.
We did not cross paths much more after that. I will never have a detailed understanding of his thoughts, but I recognized that he felt less than human in the eyes of society. Every time I recall our conversation, I renew the vow that I made that afternoon–I will never do that to another individual.
It took me decades to shake off the shackles of narrow-minded religion and longer still to adopt an attitude of broad tolerance toward the entire rainbow humanity. I do not claim to have finished either of these tasks, but the lunch with Mark remains one of the most potent memories of my journey.
If I can be so bold as to offer you any suggestion from my experience it would be this: pay attention. Any given moment may be one that changes your life.
More milestones to come. And more wilderness. We change, or/then we die. Let’s be good to each other.