Love & Wisdom
Editor’s Note: An Experience That Lives Forever
The world isn't always as it seems
By Rob Smith November 13, 2023
It was Friday night after a long week. I had just arrived home. The red light was flashing on my answering machine (remember those?). I was ready for the weekend.
The call crushed me.
My first love, my high school sweetheart, my partner in mischief, had passed away due to complications from Multiple Sclerosis. Gwen Cabine was only 33 years old.
Our relationship, our friendship, was always complicated. Gwen was Black. It was 1980. Interracial relationships were rare. Neither of us anticipated the judgment and flat-out racism directed our way.
Gwen lived across town, and we met only because of school desegregation. What an eye-opening experience this was for me, for us. I was exposed to a world I never knew existed. I was only 17, 18 years old, and of course I thought I was more sophisticated than I was. I thought I knew more than I did.
I vividly recall being one of the few, if not only, white persons at weddings and house parties. The conversations were fascinating. I heard tales of racism I could never have imagined. I was asked challenging questions: What was it like going through life as a white boy? Did I ever feel guilty for being white, or growing up in a certain part of town? Did I realize how lucky I was?
The answers, of course, were “no.” And the education we both endured caught us completely off-guard.
Many Black people called her a sellout. Many white people stared at us and simply shook their heads. I received a racist phone call from classmates. We were both threatened with physical violence. The entire school, it seemed, was aware of us.
At first, it made us stronger. It was us against the world. Eventually, it became too much. We graduated from high school and didn’t talk for years. When we reconnected, distance, wisdom, and maturity enabled us to put things in perspective. The experience significantly influenced both of us.
I learned so much that sticks with me to this day: The world isn’t always as it seems. Accept things that you don’t necessarily understand. Remain sensitive to those whose life experiences may be different.
I will always experience life through the lens of a white man. But, thanks to Gwen and the lessons we learned together, I strive to be more tolerant, more open-minded, more empathetic. I’m sure I don’t always succeed.
But I try.
About the Editor's Note Column
Rob Smith is the editor of Seattle magazine and Seattle Business magazine. Following a brief stint in politics after graduating from the University of Oregon, he began freelance writing when a friend landed a job at a small newspaper. A few months later he was offered a full-time position and, as Mark Twain said, "I had no other options," so Rob became a journalist. He likes getting paid to be nosy.