by Julius Charles Heftler
Imagine Hillary Clinton and Michelle Bachman on the same presidential ticket. Most people probably can’t. Yet my composition as a person sees that kind of team as good for the sake of the world. I have a strong urge to bridge differences and bring opposites together. For example, I ran for senior class president with my friend Eric, a true opposite. If I’m Obama, he’s Rick Perry. We won.
I trace my interests and skills in uniting people with differences to my parent’s divorce when I was six years old. Their separation inevitably opened my life to three father figures. One is an intellectual. Another is a rugby-playing South African. Then, there is my stepfather who is one of the kindest men I have ever met. The process of bonding with these very different men compelled the versatility of my personality and my ability to bridge differences.
Not too long after meeting Steve, my mom’s ex-fiancé, I was out in Central Park playing my first game of rugby. I remember Steve’s explanation of the scrum. “Each team lines up, much like in football, but then fights for a loose ball.” I immediately showed my friends at school. Before I knew it, we were playing rugby during recess at Dalton. I can still remember Steve tossing me a rugby ball, showing me that if he is selfish and doesn’t pass, the team never gets an opportunity to keep the ball moving. After five years, Steve and my mom broke up in the middle of eighth grade. Yet, his influence lives on. Just last year, I was in my most challenging wrestling meet of the season against Rye Country Day. We were down by a pin with two more matches to go, mine being one of them. Coach came up to me and said, “Heftler, we need a pin here. If you pin, we win.” The match started and I’m taken down after my sloppy and overly confident attempt at a head chancery, which is a challenging move that almost guarantees a pin. The next thing I know, Steve’s words on the makeshift rugby field came back to me. I am not wrestling for my own personal record but for all my teammates. I quickly scrambled out of my opponents hold and put him on his back, pinning him and winning the match.
The wrestling match fell in the middle of a grueling week of tests and papers. My friends planned an escape from it all on Friday night: a trip to the movies to see 127 Hours. I didn’t go. My parent’s divorce prescribes limited time with my father, so I chose dinner with pops. He’s the intellectual who I can’t imagine on a rugby field, but I always leave our dinners with a larger sense of the world.
Over my pop’s home-cooked veal cutlets, our conversation wandered over to the justification of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, something discussed in my World History class. He shared his own insight as his father, my grandfather, once shared with him. Grandpa Heshy fought for the US in the Pacific at the time. Why was it OK to use the bomb in Japan and not in Europe? I combed through readings over the subject that weekend. On Monday in history, I sensed the awe of my teacher and classmates over my comments in the class debate over the bomb.
Finally there’s Keith, who came into my life when I was a freshman in high school. At first, it was hard for me to accept him. I simply felt I didn’t need a new father figure in my life. However, his persistent kindness cracked through my shell. Last year, Keith won tickets to the Super Bowl in Dallas and it had always been his dream to go to the big game. Yet he gave up his seat so I could invite Jack, one of my best friends, to the game. Afterwards Keith insisted on driving us an hour away from our hotel at 2 AM into Dallas to try a famous mesquite smoked steak that I talked about before the trip. Our close relationship now demonstrates how kindness bridges divides.
You wouldn’t use the word kind to describe my friend and classmate, Eric. At times he’s crude, demanding, harsh and extremely organized. I am known as friendly, outgoing, and rarely insulting. We‘re so different yet Eric and I became a team with a campaign that won the election as co-presidents of the senior class at Dalton. Getting along with Eric, let alone campaigning with him, would be difficult for some people. Yet for me, teaming with Eric was like tossing another rugby ball.
Julius Charles Heftler is a freshman at Lehigh University and a 2012 graduate of The Dalton School.