I Can't Make You Love Me: A Moment with Bill Reflection
A Story from the Past
I’ve told this story before so if you’ve heard it, please hang with me while I tell it again.
Growing up I lived in a wonderful neighborhood. It was a Saturday Evening Post kind of neighborhood, inhabited with great playmates and caring neighbors who looked out for each other, people who genuinely cared about each other and went out of their way to help one another.
And then there was Mr. Streitz!
Mr. Streitz was the meanest man I have ever known, and he lived right across the street from us. From the time I was five until I turned twenty-one, Mr. Streitz did everything he could to rain on my parade. If a baseball went into his yard he would come out, grab the ball, and toss it in his garbage can. He would stand on his lawn and yell at kids for being too loud. He would curse, he would rant and he had the ability to single-handedly ruin a fine, summer’s day.
For sixteen years I tiptoed around his corner of the universe, always careful that I did not upset him. My mother told me to be forgiving of him. My dad just told me to ignore him.
It remained that way until my father died the winter of my twentieth year.
A week after my father’s death I was out in the yard picking up dead branches. I was lost in my own grief and not really paying attention to the goings-on in the neighborhood that day. Suddenly I looked up and Mr. Streitz was standing five feet from me. I didn’t know what to do or say. I was literally dumbstruck and quite honestly pissed that this man, who had always been so hateful, would approach me when I was hurting so much.
“Bill, I know your dad and I didn’t get along,” he said. “But I just wanted you to know that he was a good man and I’m deeply sorry for your loss.” And with those words he reached out, shook my hand, and walked away.
He said nothing more. In fact, until the day he died four years later, Mr. Streitz never made an effort to have another conversation with me.
That kind of shit will stay with you a lifetime and make you re-assess your view of humanity.
There Have Been Many like Him over the Years
It turned out Mr. Streitz was not an anomaly. There are quite a few people like him in this world. I’ve managed to run into several over the years, people so bitter or so troubled as to seem beyond help.
And then there are the ones who seem like perfectly pleasant people who simply decide, at a moment’s notice, that they don’t like me. Something just doesn’t click between us. We don’t mesh for whatever reason.
And then there are the ones who don’t like me because of some label they have given me.
“Oh, he’s a Liberal. Well, I certainly don’t like him.”
“Oh, he’s a writer. What a lazy idiot.”
“Oh, he’s anti-abortion, pro-abortion, gay, bisexual, Republican, anti-gun, pro-environment, Catholic, Baptist, Holy Roller…..no way I would ever like that clown.”
I had someone tell me the other day that because I am a Liberal I am anti-American. I don’t even know what to say to that kind of thinking.
Sheez, now that I think about it, why bother trying, right? There are so many reasons for people not to like me, it seems like I’m doomed from the start. The simple truth is that I cannot make everyone love me no matter how hard I try, and I used to try very, very hard. It used to be extremely important to me that you liked me. I would try to please you. I would go out of my way to do things I thought you would like. I would go so far as to change who I was in order that you give me a pat on the back and a few words of approval.
Well those days are gone, my friends.
I can’t make you love me.
But the Thing Is……
But the thing is…..
If you would just try, you might find that I’m not a bad guy.
If you would just look past the window-dressing, you might find a quality product awaits you.
If you would just toss away your pre-conceived notions about my politics, my religion, my belief system, you just might find I’m a human being who breathes in and breathes out, just like you. You just might find a person who cries…who laughs….who has compassion and empathy….who values friendships and who believes love is the most important force in life.
If you would just make the tiniest effort, you just might find our commonalities far outweigh our differences. I have the same basic needs as you. I have suffered just as you have suffered. I have had triumphs just as you have. I have been beaten down and I rose, just as you have.
As my rather confused cousin once said, this ain’t rocket surgery. I’m a human being, just like you.
I can’t make you love me…..
But could you please just attempt to look beyond the b.s. and respect me as a member of the human species?
If you could do that….if I can do it…we just might accomplish marvelous things.
I’m willing to try.
I wonder what made Mr. Streitz such a hateful man? I wonder if he was abused as a child? I wonder if he changed during World War Two? I’ll never know those answers, but I do know that for one five-minute period of time, Mr. Streitz tossed away the expected and did the unexpected. For one five-minute period of time, Mr. Streitz ignored the superficial nonsense and shared a human moment with me.
And today I am a better man for it.
2015 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)