We all have been asked those same questions, the ones you could answer in your sleep, under the influence of multiple medications. Who are you? Where are you from? What do you do? We've answered them a dozen times, these quick questions that not only let others get to know some of the details of our dossier, but also begin our classification, our labeling.
Evan Nowell and I know a lot about labels. It turns out we also struggle with getting rid of them as identifiers both for ourselves and others. Who are they good for? Are they even good for us? These are questions he raises as we talk. He is introspective and quick witted, another person searching through this world for whatever their way or path may be. Like so many of us, Evan thinks about what he wants, what is important to him and what he gives his limited bandwidth and heart space too.
He tells me about a vacation to Savannah with his partner, which he is just coming off of. How they put away the devices and disconnected, mostly. They approached each day as a new one, deciding what they wanted to do then and moving forward, together for a series of moments. When we are all so endlessly connected, so easily visible 24 hours a day, this is the perfect vacation.
Evan worked in New York for years, in PR (a field that has always fascinated me honestly) before relocating to Charleston and pursuing his own business now. The path was not the most pleasant one. Mistakes were made, he was often unhappy in the positions he had and, ultimately, he's still not certain he is where he wants to be. Charleston seems to be the port where so many of us come with similar stories, but wildly divergent paths, a place where we return. Evan is originally from a small town in the upstate.
We talk about the joy we all feel in being right, that addiction to righteousness, and how it is instilled in us from our very earliest years. We talk about tribes, those groups into which we are cast once a label is applied to us, once we cease to be our unique and human selves, once we become slightly more than a demographic. Assumptions are so easily made about who we are, and what we think, based on where we are from on a map, what we do, who we love and how we spend our free time. This is why we both seek to get rid of these in our lives, but we're not sure how. It's so ingrained in us as people. Those are the questions you ask to get to know someone, you identify their collection of labels, their demographics.
To some, I would be patriotic because I am a veteran. The assumption would be that I joined the military out of love for country, but I did it for college money. To a sixteen year-old Matt, Evan would have been weak because he is a gay man. You read that right. I was not a super enlightened person. I grew up with bad examples and stereotypes like all of us at some point in time. It was during a nervous breakdown in college, when a gay man and his partner were the only ones who stuck around to take care of me that I saw how wrong my view was and began working to correct it. I suppose it's not flattering to admit you were wrong about that, that you labeled and stereotyped a group of people, but I was. Until I was able to own that, how the hell could I learn and change?
Maybe some labels are harmless in the eyes of some people, but they rob you of vision. Today I met Evan Nowell. He's a smart young man with some incredible stories and the courage to open the curtain a bit and share some of those precious moments of life with a stranger. He is calm and inquisitive, there is a cat-like quality to him. Not so much mischievous, but rather the eyes of someone who sees the world a bit differently yet doesn't fully realize it because that is how it has always appeared. He's the only person who has asked me my opinion on kneeling protests during the National Anthem. (For the record, they are an expression of the freedom that I swore to defend and I support them. I, nor my service, are insulted by them at all. If you disagree with me, I support that too.) When our time was done, I asked if he shook hands or hugged.
Then we hugged.
Try something. Next time you meet someone, forget the basic questions. Take a moment and understand they are a brilliant being full of stories and sensations you have never experienced, They smile, they cry, they love and they dream just like you but in their own way.
Walk over, say hello and part the curtain.
Favorite Dinosaur: Stegosaurus
Why: Because they are massive but seem so gentle.
(He also wanted to know my favorite. Not yet...)