Back in 2007, the New York Times hired me as a freelance writer to cover the resignation of staunch Republican Idaho senator Larry Craig, who had been arrested in a Minnesota men’s room after the undercover cop in the next stall accused Craig of soliciting sex.
It was a whirlwind week in Boise as people speculated, “did he or didn’t he?” My assignment was to cover his press conferences and work with NYT photographer emeritus Paul Hosefros to conduct man-on-the-street interviews to get citizen reaction to the news.
Who cares if you’re gay? Come on out! Come on out of the closet and just be who ya’ are!
It was an amazing and humbling moment when I received the phone call from the NYT asking if I would be willing to cover a press conference for them. Would I be willing? Heck yeah! It was the Times. For a writer, getting a call from them is sort of like unexpected manna from heaven.
But, this is not about getting the assignment. Rather, it’s about a simple little message from an unlikely source that has stuck with me ever since that day and continues to pop up everywhere, like little words of wisdom from the universe.
What was the message?
So, there we were, a throng of reporters, camera people, freelancers – hundreds of us huddled together in an outdoor plaza, listening, taking notes, and snapping photos of Idaho’s senior senator as he stood at a podium next to his wife and emphasized, “I am not gay. I have never been gay.”
His troubles started in the Minneapolis airport when he went into the men’s restroom and allegedly spread his feet under the stall, tapped his toes, reached under and tried to make propositional contacts with an undercover police officer in the next stall. After his arrest he objected and said he did no such thing, that his stance simply was wide.
On this afternoon he took his place in the Boise plaza and explained his side of the story. We stood in the hot sun, listening and taking notes. I remember the media being very respectful, allowing the senator to make his points. There were no questions called out, no rumbling of complaints, no side talking. All was quiet, except for the whir and clicking of cameras and shuffling of feet on the hot concrete as the senator spoke.
Then it happened. Suddenly, as Larry Craig concluded his speech, a scruffy guy with dreadlocks, dirty jeans and a beard came walking in front of the long assembly of media. He slowly ambled past us, seemingly comfy as could be taking an afternoon stroll through this plaza where an Idaho senator was making the speech of his life.
When you adopt the standards and the values of someone else or a community or a pressure group, you surrender your own integrity. ~ Eleanor Roosevelt
Be who ya’ are!
Without missing a step, the dreadlock guy spoke. Well, he actually hollered something as he moseyed past us.
“Hey Larry,” he yelled in sort of a down-home drawl as he looked straight at the senator. “Who cares if you’re gay? Come on out! Just come out of the closet and be who ya’ are!”
And with that, the dreadlocked scruffy guy walked away through the media crowd and disappeared.
It was one of those moments you just can’t get out of your head.
I don’t know for sure if Craig is gay, and I suppose that it is neither here nor there now that he is no longer in office. I also don’t believe the scruffy guy meant to belittle him. On the contrary, I believe he was just passing through and decided to share one of the simplest of messages that is sometimes the hardest for us to embrace.
What does it all mean?
I’ve told this story many times and it is always good for a chuckle. Because, really, what an unexpected thing to happen during a tense national press event, covering a humbled congressman. But, after hearing the story, friends and colleagues have told me they’ve caught themselves blurting out to family and co-workers, “Hey, just be who ya’ are,” in response to various situations and challenges.
For me, this little reminder keeps coming to me in all sorts of ways. The other day I got my weekly email from brainpickings and what should be the day’s focus? A quote from Eleanor Roosevelt, who said:
It’s your life – but only if you make it so. The standards by which you live must be your own standards, your own values, your own convictions in regard to what is right and wrong, what is true and false, what is important and what is trivial. When you adopt the standards and the values of someone else or a community or a pressure group, you surrender your own integrity. You become, to the extent of your surrender, less of a human being.
Then today, I received in my email the daily Gusto postcard, which said:
“Be who you are and let others be who they are. Accept responsibility for what’s yours.”
I also recently lost a good friend who died suddenly and unexpectedly. In many respects she had lived her life according to other people’s expectations. It reminded me of that saying, “Life is not a dress rehearsal.”
Remember the scruffy guy
So, I have one chance. You have your chance. The neighbors, and the religious leaders and the politicians all have their one chance too. No one has the right to tell anyone else who they need to be in order to fit in to someone else’s expectations. No one should define whether our lives are equal or worthy, because, yes they are! They wouldn’t have been created if they weren’t.
So the next time you feel like you have to do or say or live a certain way to be accepted or liked, remember the scruffy guy.
Let’s just all be who we are.