I am writing to inform you about the passing of one of the young men who attended your institute of learning a few years back. I sent a note to whoever runs your Facebook page, asking them to share his obituary with his classmates who might have remembered him. I received a genial, “Thank you!” But several hours later, no one has shared the news of his passing.
It’s been an interesting few days and if I seem angry, I assure you, it is related to the treatment my friend received from your institution and the products of your institution. If a Proctor or a Scott or Weece had passed away, Meredith Williams would have been all over it, but for some reason, my friend’s passing mattered not.
I posted something on my own Facebook wall about my friend’s death on Tuesday, I wanted people that went to school with him, people who knew him and loved him to know that he was gone. Several people offered condolences and wishes for peace for his family. Very few of those who responded were actually Ozark alumni. I’ll tell you right now, I was surprised on Tuesday by the lack of empathy.
This morning, I posted a blog about his passing, referring to him as Charles. I probably did not need to change his name, but I thought that if his parents somehow found out about my blog, it might hurt them. You see, my friend was gay. But you probably know that, that’s probably the reason why his death means nothing to you.
After I posted this blog, an attempt to tribute this friend who became my friend only in the past few years, only via Facebook, that I really saw the alumni at Ozark, the people I once counted among my best friends, as the people they really are, the people you taught them to be. With few exceptions, and YES, there were a few exceptions, the several people that responded, that offered condolence or prayers of peace were people who never knew him at all. They were friends of mine from high school or New York or Los Angeles. I was moved that these people, many not Christians at all, did not need to know the guy to respond compassionately. Only a handful of Ozark alumni seemed to care.
And then I went to my friend’s Facebook page, it was flowered with hundreds of messages of love that my friend will never see. People telling him how funny he was, people thanking him for always being there for them, people who loved him. Only one comment was from an Ozark alumni, it read, “Does anyone know what caused ________’s death yesterday?” In my opinion, a genuine “I’ll miss you” would have been better. Someone else from my school private messaged me asking about Charles’ real identity. I felt like saying you don’t need to know his identity to pray for him and his family. God is expansive enough to figure it out.
If it seems that all of this has unhinged me a little, you are correct. As much as this is about my friend, it’s also about me. I know now that when I go, you people will not care. Oh, some, hopefully many, people will care, but the Ozark Christian College community, as a whole, will not. And that’s okay. I finally figured it out. Now I know why after 15 years of trying to get the Alumni News sent to me, the administrator keeps telling me my address is, and I quote, undeliverable. I know.
In the 24 years since I graduated, in the 21 years since I came out of the closet, I always had a certain pride about going to Ozark Christian College. I have many fond memories and I always thought that I learned a lot there. I was on a camp team, for pete’s sake! What I did not realize until today is that the moment I sat in Gary Zustiak’s office, a couple years after graduation and told him I was gay, I ceased to exist to you. I was too much of an embarrassment.
I will not forget this, I will not forget my friend. I will not forget the scores of other men and women, homosexuals, that you would like to pretend were never a part of your institution. We exist. We will not go away. And if anyone ever asks me again about my college education, instead of smiling and saying, “it’s a funny story…” I’ll say, I went to Ozark Christian College were they tried to beat the compassion out of me. They failed.