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Monday, August 25, 2003

Teach your children well... 

This is amazing. It's a letter that was read aloud at Al Nichols' Memorial service this past Saturday. It was read by Heather Reader, a former student of Al's, and was written by her husband, Ryan.

I cried when she read it aloud at the service, and I'm crying now as I read it again.

Sometimes you don't realize the impact that you have had on someone else's life. What an amzing tribute this is to the lives of Al and Shea.

To say that I knew Al is to say that we could exchange a hello and take part in the other typical pleasantries of every day banter without being left with a feeling of discomfort. We were not close, and I can say with a high degree of confidence that if not for my wife, I would have had no contact with him at all. It is not a meaningful relationship or admiration that will keep Al with me for the remainder of my life, but a lesson…an experience.

I would say that as a teenager I fit within a pretty typical category for males of the age. I was full of hatred based upon a lack of knowledge and experiences. People and things that were “different” were wrong. I had no time or patience for anything that was not very similar to my interests and me. My parents always did there best to teach me that people are not to be judged by preferences or color, but by their merits. At the time, I had no evidence of this; I had nothing to support this hypothesis.

It was during these years that I was first truly introduced to Al. I was on a weekend visit to Madison to see my girlfriend (my now wife, Heather). This weekend happened to coincide with the moving of Al and Shea, and because of Heather’s devotion to them she agreed to help, and in turn, I was unknowingly volunteered for duty as well.

Due to my previously stated viewpoints; I was obviously reluctant and not very pleased with having to spend a Sunday afternoon with homosexuals. At the very minimum I saw it as being blasphemous. However, because I loved Heather I swallowed my pride and accompanied her with the intention of helping as much I could bring myself to.

When we arrived at Al and Shea’s apartment, we found that the moving was well underway and we joined in where we could. They told me what they would like me to move and where to move it to. There was no chitchat really, this was a group of people with the common goal of moving belongings and for the most part, that was the extent of it. Disco music wasn’t playing in the background, no Cabana boys were serving drinks, it was men moving furniture.

At the end of the afternoon, when all was unloaded into Al and Shea’s new apartment and Heather and I were to be on our way, they both approached me with a heartfelt grin and a firm hand shake thanking me for my help.

The moment that my hand came into contact with Al’s I had somewhat of an epiphany. I thought not of my deed of helping people I didn’t know, I thought of how I came into these two men’s home with a heart full of disgust for them. I thought of how it had to have been obvious how I was feeling for the two of them. I thought of how they disregarded any foulness that I was omitting, put in a full days work, and at the end of that day thanked me for all of it. At a minimum, I was disappointed in myself.

Neither Al nor Shea knowingly or actively made an attempt at instilling some tolerance in me, but that is the best part. They were themselves, and they were kind and decent to a stranger that didn’t care for them because they cared for each other. They were men, and good men at that. I was quite amazed by all of it, for the first time I saw that who you enjoy spending your life and time with does not reflect your worth as a human being.

All of my disagreeable feelings did not disappear this day because Al or Shea, but they began an unmovable object in motion. Thanks to my wife and the many friends I have obtained through her over the past years I can say that I now have no ill feeling towards someone because of their sexual preference. I can say, however, that it is my belief that if not for that Sunday afternoon, I may not be the man that I am today, my disagreeable feelings may not be gone. The events required, that allowed me to look at more than what I could see, might have only been able to occur that day. Al and Shea may have been the only two people that possessed the ability to do so. This could very well be an outrageous statement, but I will hold it as truth, and leave it as a tribute to them.

I can by no means give an answer to the question of what the meaning of life is. However, I believe the biggest aspect in judging the worth of ones life and how they lived it is how things are left when they are gone; what impact was made on our society because they existed. Some people cure diseases, some create works of art, others create history. Al shook my hand. Because of the lesson I learned and the experience I take, because of this handshake, there is no longer the potential for me to teach my children hatred. It is quite possible that thousands of souls and lives may be saved because two men did right by someone that once wished wrong upon them.

God bless.

Regretfully Absent,

Ryan Reader

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