A Surprise In Itself
Life is full of surprises: deaths, births, birthday parties, and the occasional blooper. We consider surprises to be accidents, unexpected happenstances. They occur in the blink of an eye. I, too, was one who defined surprises in this way, until I met a friend who changed my outlook. Sean showed me that surprises are more than just an instant event, they are a journey. Sean was the gateway to embarking on a personal journey of mine: a journey away from prejudice.
At the start of sophomore year, I joined the debate team with enthusiasm; my avidity was cut short by the knowledge that Sean joined as well. Sean was the class clown, full of endless wit. I was the run-of-the-mill teacher's pet. We were polar opposites and our clash of personalities caused many an argument between us. I could not believe that this boy, whom I considered the bane of my existence, was going to ruin the one activity that excited me the most. However, being part of a team means working with his or her teammates, even the ones one would rather see as his or her opponents. Sean and I worked together on researching, writing, and developing argumentation. We were required to respect each other's opinion, listen to each other's ideas, and provide feedback for one another. There were times at the beginning when Sean and I would bicker incessantly or just refuse to acknowledge one another. Yet we had to work together, so we did, grudgingly. Strangely enough, through all the "forced" collaboration, I learned not to despise Sean. He soon became not a symbol of my tribulations, but rather, a human being; and this human being, surprisingly enough, became my friend.
We talked to each other all the time, on any subject ranging from topics as basic as television programming to subjects as nebulous as ontology. Sean was a good conversation partner with interesting insight on any subject. While having a discussion about spirituality, Sean and I both disclosed our beliefs and perspectives on faith. I proudly stated my stance as a lifelong Christian. Sean, on the other hand, revealed himself to be a resolute atheist. This revelation disturbed me. Growing up in the heart of the Ozarks also meant growing up in the "Bible belt." I never had an atheist acquaintance before, let alone a friend. To me, there were two kinds of people: people who went to church and people who were too lazy to go to church. This was really all I ever knew. I was confounded, but Sean was patient and understanding enough to explain to me why he chose not to believe in a god and how he arrived at the decision. I led a life believing those who were godless to be people in the wrong, believing they lacked a proper foundation of morals. Sean was not a bad person, but rather the opposite. He was a hard worker, a loyal and honest friend, and even an opponent of substance abuse; he was a clean slate. There was no justification in condemning a person who attempted to lead such a good life.
I had to think, and I thought for quite some time. I thought about my friends and the uncertainty I had in knowing who they really were. I thought about the countless numbers of my peers whom I shunned by letting preconceived notions prevail. I thought about all the faces I passed in the hallway each day I stereotyped, but not defined. Through that thinking, I came to a realization: I had lived a life of ignorance. I believed the world was black and white, and I ignored all the many shades of gray. When I was younger, it was indoctrinated in me that those without God are those without hope. All this time, I had been in the wrong. My own flaw of prejudice allowed me to depict others as falsely flawed. I became ashamed of myself for using titles like "atheist" and "Christian" when it came to choosing my friends.
Sean showed me that the goodness in people could exist no matter their beliefs or lack thereof. Before I ever learned of Sean's atheism, I identified him as my friend, a person I trusted. Looking back, I realize that if he was introduced to me as "the atheist" instead of my classmate, I would have turned my nose up at him. I learned from my friend that looking at the label of a person will never show what is inside. It is not until a person opens up that one realizes whom he or she has as a friend. Through my friendship with Sean, I changed myself in learning to love others beyond the initial first impression, and embracing personalities and lifestyles different from my own.
I was able to encounter new faces with a new outlook on camaraderie, and also strengthen my relationships with those I turned away coldly. Allowing myself to be a more open-minded person has improved my life in more ways than one. It gave me the opportunity to create new friendships with people whom before, I refused to associate with. As I became more broad-minded, my world expanded as well. I met new people with lifestyles I had never known before. I was able to learn from them not only on how they lived life, but how to appreciate life as well. My experience with Sean opened the door to many new experiences with other individuals, changing my outlook on life forever.
Sean surprised me more than once. This boy who I once despised astonished me with his loyalty and thoughtfulness and became my friend. This atheist, who beforehand would have been considered immoral in my eyes, was now an incredibly wholesome person.. Although he will probably never know, Sean was a crucial factor in my flourishing journey away from ignorance. His friendship, to me, is a pleasant surprise, but it is no random occurrence.