Week 8: Gentleness

Two days late, I know.  I was trying to focus on studying until I finished my last exam, which I did about ninety minutes ago.  Last exam until…two days after break…anyhow.  But until then, I’m free!  (Minus all the studying that will might should occur between now and then).

This is only obtusely related to gentleness, but I ran across this article about a student at my university who was killed last summer by a drunk driver while running.  I think her story resonates with me because we both ran cross country and track, and in a lot of ways, I see similarities between us, even though I never had the opportunity to meet her.

This entire article written by Abbott Koloff for The Record last autumn is worth reading, but I’d especially like to highlight the last section, which describes letters people wrote about her after her death:

The author of one of those letters, Austin Vanbastelaer, 21, said in a telephone interview that he was withdrawn and having trouble making friends when he got to college, and had buried the pain of anti-gay bullying he endured at his Indiana high school. He said he had been threatened with physical harm by a group of boys on one occasion, and on another someone spray-painted anti-gay slurs on his lawn. Two years ago, he said, Gabrielle was the first person he told in detail about the bullying. He said she responded by crying with him and encouraging him to be true to himself.

“I never had that response,” he said.

In his letter to the Reuvenis, Vanbastelaer said Gabrielle taught him to be open about his sexual orientation. Once private and shy, he wrote, he began to date openly, is now in a relationship and has become a gay-rights activist, often quoted in the school newspaper.

“I had always been uncomfortable with myself, but then I finally found someone who cared enough about me to encourage me to live life the way I need to,” he wrote. “It was an absolutely life-changing realization. … With her help and support, I can truly say I am the happiest that I have ever been in my life.”

William Freeman Jr., former principal at West Brook Middle School in Paramus, described Gabrielle as having a “special blend of compassion and kindness” in an email, copied to the Reuvenis, to Pennsylvania authorities encouraging them to file charges in the case. Gabrielle and other students wrote a skit about girls bullying other girls that they presented at schools around the state, he wrote. He recalled being loudly challenged during a meeting with parents after he proposed barring students from saving lunchroom seats for their friends — a practice that he said kept some children from sitting where they pleased.

“Look at you,” Gabrielle, then in the seventh grade, said to the parent, according to Freeman. “You are bullying our principal.”

A Washington University schoolmate wrote that Gabrielle’s positive and caring nature helped her through depression and the death of a cousin. The letter was written to Gabrielle: “You had a way of fixing things that were broken. … You fixed me, Gab, you really did. … Please know that you made me a better person, just by knowing you, just by receiving some of your love.”

Another young man wrote that he was “miserable” as he struggled with “who I was, what I wanted” as a freshman and was considering leaving Washington University. He wrote that he confided in Gabrielle, who smiled, listened and told him everything would be all right, convincing him to stay at the school.

“She impacted my life in such a positive manner,” he wrote.

A young woman, Hadley Burns, wrote that she was lonely during her freshman year at college until she opened up to Gabrielle about something she had been keeping to herself at her new school: the death, years before, of her brother.

“I can see her face now; it was like she was sharing my pain,” Burns wrote. “She didn’t even say anything. She didn’t have to. She just held me. … She had the purest soul.”

When I was little, I think I thought that being gentle meant being meek and not speaking up for yourself and generally not having fun.  These examples speak differently.  Gabby was bold and kind, outspoken and listening, strong and gentle,