I grew up in a large family. 5 brothers and 3 sisters. I was the 3rd youngest of this baseball team we called our family. We nicked name our house "The Clark Ark." I have a very close circle of friends. Now I have a lot of friends but I hold only a very few close to my heart. I have a saying that Family isn't who you are born with, it's who you let in to your life. I say that because I'm not to close to most of my blood family but I hold my best friend at the same level as I would a true brother. As time goes on I'll introduce you to who the people in my life are and how they played a role in me becoming me.
In the spring of 2006 I was depressed. I found myself totally alone again in my apartment in Wallingford, CT. I was alone by choice but at that point in my life I didn't realize that. The TV was on and it was showing a news broadcast. I'm still not sure if it was CNN, FOX... but it was one of those 24 hour news stations. I was half paying attention to it, feeling sorry for myself and not knowing why. Then suddenly a woman's voice caught my ear. Her name was Alice Hoglan and she was being interviewed. I heard her say she didn't want people to forget who her son was and what he did. It was like someone whispered in my ear and told me to pay attention. Her son was Mark Bingham. He was one of the 4 men on United flight 93 that stopped the hijackers from flying their plane into the Capitol on September 11, 2001.
For some reason that I can't explain I went to my computer. For these moments I forgot I was depressed and I typed the name Mark Bingham into search on Google. I already kind of knew who Mark Bingham was. I knew he was a hero and was on flight 93 but that was about it. When the search was complete there was a website listed. It was run by Mark's friend's and family. It was full of pictures and stories about who Mark was to them. I started reading and I was taken back by the love these people showed for him. There was even strangers who posted and thanked him. Then I came across something that would surprise me and change my life for ever. Mark Bingham was a 6'4, 220 pound rugby player, caring friend, devoted son and brother, business man and hero..who happened to be gay.
It was like something clicked in my brain. I read about him for hours that night. I saw so much of me in him. His belief in people and seeing the good side of them. Protecting the ones you love at any risk and when he was younger a fear I shared with him to this day...the fear of people finding out I was gay. The more I read, the more I felt my soul telling me it's time to tell your friends and family who you really are. I was afraid. I admit that dearly. I was afraid of the reaction, the backlash. I then came across a eulogy written by Mark's best friend Todd that was posted on the sight. It was the end of it that sunk deep into my soul and gave me strength. He wrote of fear. This is the end of that eulogy:
Fear can ruin a friendship. Fear can ruin a marriage. Fear can, at the very least, render a life completely and utterly mediocre.
We admire Mark because he had all of these wonderful qualities that I and everyone else here have talked about tonight. What I hope you realize that you love these qualities not just because Mark had them, which he did, but because you do, too. You just may let fear get in the way of how those qualities show up in your life.
Here's my challenge to you, the challenge I am giving myself. I challenge you to not necessarily be fearless, but to recognize your fear and to act anyway. To take action and make the most out of every single day. To not let fear of failure keep you from trying at all. To not let fear of rejection keep you from showing up every day of your life. I love you, Mark. I always, always will. I will make my life great, I swear I'll make you proud.
I actually started to cry when I read this. It was a line that spoke to me. The line that read "To not let the fear of rejection keep you from showing up every day of your life." I knew I could tell people now. I knew I needed to tell people who I am. I lived in that fear and I knew if a man could be like Mark, that could be so loved, so fun, so dedicated and so brave and be gay, that it had to be a good thing. Mark lived as Mark and I wanted to start living as Rick. I just didn't know how to start the ball rolling. That's when I emailed Mark's mother Alice.
I explained to Alice how I came across Mark's site and how I wanted to tell people about myself and was afraid. Thank God she emailed me back and that she was a caring, loving lady. She told me how Mark told her. He promised himself that he would tell his mom that he was gay before the sun went down one day. He did just that. Her email gave me strength and I decided to tell my best friend
Joe first. I called him and ask if I could speak to him face to face because I had something I needed to tell him. My heart was pounding just saying that over the phone to him. After I hung up I was almost panicked. I didn't know how I was going to do this. I read the line on fear that Mark's friend wrote and it somehow gave me strength so I printed it up. No sooner did I get to my living room that the phone rang. It was Joe and he said I'll be over in 5 minutes. I didn't expect him to come over seeing it was kind of late and a Sunday night. Now I was panicked. I knew I had to do it though. After he got here he sat down. I looked up out my window and saw the sun fading away. It was just peaking out on the horizon. I was totally lost in what I was going to say. My hands were shaking. I then took the paper I printed from Mark's site and read to myself what Todd wrote about fear. Without a word I looked up at my best friend and handed him the paper. I hardly got out "read this" before my voice cracked. He did and then looked at me kind of confused. I just blurted out "I'm gay."
The few seconds I waited for his reaction seemed like hours. I swear I felt Mark supporting me. I didn't feel alone anymore. Joe's reaction couldn't have been better. He showed me total support and I knew it came from his heart. His positive reaction helped me pave the way in telling my friends, coworkers and family who I was. It also made me realize that some of these people, especially Joe and his wife Cynthia knew me for years but never really knew me. As I told more and more people who I cared about it became easier. I did take out the words of Mark's friend Todd over and over before I did tell people. To this day I carry those words in my wallet. They are strength for me along with the heart of Mark Bingham and who he was and how he changed me forever. I never thought nearly 5 years ago watching the story of United flight 93 on the news that one of those heroes on that plane would be a true hero to me today.
On the weekend May 27th. I had the honor of meeting Mark's mother Alice face to face in NYC. It was at a Rugby tournament held in her son's honor called The Bingham Cup. She was even more incredible and caring then I could hope for. I met so many of Mark's friends and watched them play the game he loved so much. I realized at this point I finally arrived. I'm finally Rick.
Since that day I joined Alice Hoglan and Mark's friends and family in Shanksville, PA on the fifth anniversary of the plane crash and the terrorists attacks. Shanksville was the small country town where United Flight 93 crashed. Seeing the memorial site there was a surreal and moving experience. I will forever be thankful to Mark Bingham for being who he was and for what he did for this country and for me personally. Thank you Mark.
I would also like to thank Mark's Mom Alice for being a beacon in a storm for me and guiding me home. To Mark's friend Todd for words that gave me strength and showed me a new way to live my life. To Mark's friend Joe in San Francisco for the support and friendship he gave to me and to my friends who I love so much, especially Joe..my best friend. You're a true brother to me!
I'm honored to be part of a documentary about Mark's life. Here is the link to view the trailer and make a donation to the production.