Is this thing on? Still? Surely this is a mistake?
“I cannot perch among those who think that I am broken.”
Rachel Hartman, Seraphina
Did you notice? That thing that happened today? It’s kind of a big deal. Adults will argue over its significance. Nice people will say mean things. Though you are small, you are above all that. And you will never forget the name.
I’m old. Today, I turned 52. And this has not been an easy year. Since I saw you for the first time at the reunion at your home last year, I’ve had a couple tough surgeries, a very long recovery, and am still unable to get out and work like I used to. I tutor adults, helping them learn how to read, and that helps pass the time. I’ve also taken up playing Animal Crossing: New Horizon on my Nintendo Switch. I have a 5-star island and residents who say they like me, so I am happy. I am easy to please. I am a kid again.
I have always been a kid at heart. Don’t tell anyone, but I really love reading books written for younger people. YA, or Young Adult fiction, as they call it. Think Harry Potter or books by authors like John Green and Rainbow Rowell. But my favorite of series of books is Seraphina by a British author named Rachel Hartman. It’s got dragons, and humans, and half-dragon-half-humans, and some magic. Mostly, though, it illuminates the hearts of the marginalized and outcast, who are different from the crowd because of their bravery.
Though this has been a very difficult year, it has been a year of courage and bravery for many on the fringes of our society. In the face of oppression and open hatred, many have found their voice and now use it to speak up to those who would rather they not speak at all. People who have proclaimed that they will no longer be satisfied with a seat at a table among those who openly despise them.
This is my wish for you.
It may be a little too early for life mottos or mission statements or mantras, but words lead to thoughts and thoughts lead to actions. I hope that as you grow, you do not waste time trying to earn a spot among those who would only look down on you. Who find no problem with seeing you as less than. It will take you a lifetime to learn the nuance of resistance, but a clear and firm bedrock can be built upon. So, Seraphina and I give you these words:
I cannot perch among those who think that I am broken.
Write it down on a piece of paper and hang it in your room. Read it every day. Talk to your parents about what it means. Explain it to others in your own words. You, Georgia Jade, are not broken. You are a whirlwind of resistance and revolution and revelation. You will say and do things that we have never imagined.
You are beautiful and you are fire . . .
It is an honor, and truly humbling, to be here to speak to you this afternoon.
I’ve never been much of an activist. I’ll admit, I do occasionally find joy in being disagreeable. And the sarcasm is strong with this one.
But I own the fact that I’ve had it easy. Garsy and I raised four cool kids, kept our sphere of influence small.
The good life, insular and private, in which I never had a reason to win.
Something invigorating happens when you look up from the mundane and notice the magnificent people around you. Through the lens of mindful contemplation, you truly see your neighbor, who you delightfully discover is so much more than overalls and mumbles. The silent store clerk who rings up your smokes with trembling hands. My youngest child who, at the age of fourteen, in the bravest act I’ve ever witnessed, handed his mom and I a note saying, “I think I may be a boy.” My daughter, who, after years of emotional upheaval, became a beacon of healing and hope for herself and others and found the courage to come out as a lesbian.
Until just over three years ago, I never believed in anything enough to fight for it. I was loud but voiceless. My tired mantra, “It is what it is” withered to dust and blew away when it met the harsh wind of standing in solidarity with my kids, welcoming and absorbing and deflecting the ridicule.
Strangely, it was like the fog clearing on a humid Indiana morning. There was corn! And the corn was good! Being a witness to their struggles and victories, I find myself at the place in my life where I’m trying to live up to who I think I am, or who I might want to be.
At last year’s Pride, I wanted to be a hugger. I made this shirt. I didn’t expect a lot of takers. Pride attendees get props from each other, not from old straight cis dudes like me. Wandering around the pavilion listening to the music, I felt a tap on my shoulder. I turned around and there stood a young girl, a teenager, nondescript. “I think my friend needs a hug.” She pointed to another young girl standing some distance away. Her hands covered her mouth and she seemed to be crying. I opened my arms and she ran to me. Or maybe I ran to her. We both needed that hug. She cried on my shoulder as we held each other. Finally, she pulled away and, voice quavering, told me, “What those people are saying out there? I hear that all the time at home. And it hurts seeing it here.” My heart broke for her. I can tune that shit out. The Pride protesters are nothing to me but a bunch of people shouting words that don’t impact me whatsoever. In the right ears, however, their toxicity lacerates a sacred space within the soul of all of us.
Sacred. Soul. These are loaded words. But research shows that a majority of us gathered here know what I’m talking about. The Reverend Elizabeth M. Edman, in her book Queer Virtue, refers to the mysterious ability in each of us “to perceive ourselves as a person of greater value,” to recognize “God’s extraordinary touch,” or to “hear God’s encouraging voice whispering into [your] ear, “You go, girl”; “You go, boy”; “You go, you fabulous genderqueer child.”
I want to emphasize that this is not at attempt tell LGBT people to be anything other than “the extraordinary souls you already are.” I’m not trying to “impose the notion of spirituality” on you. I speak from the perspective on one who is pluralistic in belief, an independent spiritualist, reverently agnostic, but thoroughly Christian by upbringing and in practice. Christianity is what I know, what I embrace and rebel against, and what I seek to impact.
Every speech needs statistics. A recent study by the Marin Foundation, based in Chicago’s Boys Town community, found that 86% of LGBT people were raised in a faith community during their youth. 54% of LGBT people leave their religious community after the age of 18. 76% of LGBT people are open to returning to their religious community and its practices.
Is the hunger real? Do LGBT we all, deep down in a place we seldom visit, lack what the religious community provides? That is for you to decide. I believe that God is people. I look in the mirror and I see God in all his glorious imperfection. I look across this lawn and I see the God I want to hang with. We are the only God I can see and relate to in this life. In these bodies. You are God to me.
I’m a U2 fan. And perhaps you, like me, can relate to the lamentation in the song Acrobat: “I’d break bread and wine if there was a church I could receive in.” Maybe you’re searching for a table of fellowship where you’ll be offered the cup by willing hands. The Affirming Church Directory on gaychurch.org lists, eight places here in Fort Wayne. Eight safe spaces, in the city of churches.
Or maybe it’s time to create our own sacred spaces. What does one look like? My spiritual hero Gregory Boyle urges us to go out and “create a community of kinship such that God, in fact, might recognize it . . . a circle of compassion with nobody standing outside. You do that by going to the margins, and you stand with the poor, and the powerless and the voiceless, with those whose dignity has been denied, with the demonized so that the demonizing will stop, and with the disposable, so the day will come when we stop throwing people away.”
Edman’s desire is my desire: “that progressive Christians will rise up and demand a full stop on the frontal assault being waged on queer people in the name of religion.”
Souls peppered with hate as they enter an open space where they are free to be who they know themselves to be. They are my heroes. Born that way. Stars just below the horizon waiting to rise in splendor of authenticity and genuineness and PRIDE!
With the blessing of the local Pride leadership, my family and I are assembling a group of individuals called Faces of Love. On Saturday, July 22, we will gather at Headwaters Park. We will drink coffee and juice and eat donuts and granola bars and fruit and donuts. We will break the bread of fellowship and unity. And we will wait.
In silence, we will be the answer to the question:
What God would damn a heart?
Not the one I see in us. In you and me.
We have room. If you’d like to be a one of the Faces of Love, see me after the event.
God is people. We shape our faith according to our own inner desires and longings. We are all people. We are one at the table of fellowship, and it is good for my soul to be there.
So did you have anything special to eat on this special day, your second birthday? I imagine you had cake. I wonder what kind. Do you have a favorite yet? Or is all cake pretty much the best cake ever? Your aunt Garsy and I spent the day in Indianapolis, going to doctor appointments and getting lab work done. But we found time to eat breakfast at one of our favorite restaurants. Yolk! That’s its name. And holy cow was it yummy. I had pancakes and sausage links and two strips of bacon and two eggs cooked over medium. And to top it all off, they gave me this as a birthday treat!
It s a crepe with Nutella crumbles, glazed strawberries, and a chocolate drizzle. And whipped cream too! Oh, my!
The reason we had to go to the doctor is because I had a kidney transplant six weeks ago. We go to Indianapolis once a week, usually on Monday, so the surgeons and kidney doctors and pharmacists and nurses can make sure my new kidney is working and that no other complications have come up. Your cousin Ty, my oldest son, was my living donor. Since we all have two kidneys, but can live a normal life with only one, my son agreed to have one of his kidneys removed and the doctors put his kidney in my body, where it does the job that my own kidneys quit doing last year. Now, my new kidney keeps my blood clean and I feel like a million bucks. With clean blood, I don’t get tired as easily, my heart works better, and I go to the bathroom way more than I used to. Which is kinda awesome, I must admit. I feel somewhat normal again.
But enough about me. How are you?! I see pictures of you all the time thanks to the wonder that is Facebook, and I even get to hear you laugh when your dad or mom post videos of you. I must say that hearing you laugh makes my day every time. Don’t ever stop laughing, my child. There probably won’t always be someone there to tickle you and make you laugh, so you’ll need to find your own inspiration. Maybe a good joke. Or a funny television show. Or maybe a gorgeous sunset. Even though a sunset may not be funny, it can make you smile and its beauty, and smiling is just a hop, skip, and a jump away from laughing.
Do you have any favorite toys yet? When I was your age, I really liked cars. Especially Hot Wheels cars. Has your dad bought you any of those yet? If not, tell him next time you’re at the store that you want HOT WHEELS! He’ll get you one, I guarantee it.
Well, I better get to bed. It’s been a busy day and I’m not so young anymore and need my beauty rest. And I’ll probably be up quite late tomorrow night. Tomorrow is election day here in America, and it promises to be a doozy of a show. You’ll read all about it one day, I imagine. Read and study about the year politics turned uglier than ever before. Two candidates who are polar opposites and despised equally by people all across our nation. Obviously, I don’t know who will win. I cast my vote a couple weeks ago for the one whose ideas I support, but I don’t know if that person will ultimately go on to win the election and govern our country as president for the next four years.
If there is one thing about this particular election season that troubles me, it’s the way people have taken to disagreeing on things so strongly that they hurt each other’s feelings. Things have been said that cut deeply and I wonder if there will be forgiveness at the end of it all. Will we sit at the Thanksgiving table as families and set aside our differences for the sake of unity? Or will we continue to argue and ignore one another’s unique perspective? Will we be able to talk again without shouting? I know this will take both hearing and listening. Reasoned talking and considerate silence. Eye contact and a gentle touch.
I will try to do my part. I know I won’t do it perfectly, and I won’t expect perfection from others. I will try to practice compassion, a big word that means treating others the way you’d like to be treated. It’s been called the “Golden Rule,” and it has a long history, going back thousands of years and embraced by a variety of people of varied backgrounds and beliefs. It means seeing the common good in all those around us and treating them like fellow human beings. To do all this requires a focused effort to pay attention and seek peace while suppressing our desire to be right or angry or the loudest person in the room. It takes practice and time and is not an impossible thing. We will need each other in the days ahead, and I hope we can find a way to rise up and share this space with grace and mercy.
Happy birthday, my dear Georgia Jade. May you sleep surrounded by gumdrop dreams and fluffy, warm clouds of love.
Until next year . . .
Another year in the books for me. I’m a whopping 47 today. And that, as you’ll come to believe soon enough, is “Really old!”
It hasn’t been a stellar year, if I can be totally honest. Health issues have reared their heads and brought me low, nearly to the brink of death. I spent some time in the hospital, wearing a flimsy gown, freezing, throwing up, and having my FUBAR kidneys poked and prodded and generally fretted over. And I am not out of the woods yet. I am on dialysis, taking a bunch more medications, eating better, trying to exercise more, and waiting on a kidney transplant.
The funny part?
I imagine your mom and dad right about now, reading this to you on your first birthday, and you bored to tears, laughing and walking away to play with your toys.
That is cool with me, kid.
I’ve watched you do it all year. Go. To loud stock car races and demolition derbies. To a farm. To bed. From here to there as you’ve crawled, then taken your first steps. Big things and small things and in between things that must have all seemed like big things to you. To your parents. To all of us as we watched you grow from a tiny little thing full of boogers to a beautiful baby girl, a toddler, a lover of life.
You don’t know any of this yet. You just smile and go and then do it again after a nap. You don’t know how just seeing your smiling face is breathtaking. Literally. Choked sobs as you do what you do. Sobs of joy, to be clear. When life hurts, you bring joy. Let me say that again . . .
When life hurts, you bring joy.
As I’ve gone through every single thing during this shitty year, I have been reminded, every time I see a picture or a video of you, of the gift this life is. Of the way a smile can light up the world. One day, you’ll understand how cheesy and cliché that sounds, but I hope you’ll also know, deep in your heart, that it is absolutely true.
A smile can light up the world.
As can so many other things we do when we live mindfully and reach out and embrace those in need. I’ve felt that embrace in innumerable ways over the course of the past few months. Among friends and family and casual acquaintances and complete strangers. Compassion and sacrifice given freely. This is the stuff of a life lived wide. Open to being a force for good.
One day, you’ll know this. You’ll have seen it lived. Been told of those who have gone before who lived that way. And how we have all benefited from the kindness of others. At every turn. In every way. If only we open our eyes and see.
But today, on your first birthday, you won’t get all that. You’ll eat cake and play with some new cool and shiny stuff and go to sleep so exhausted. With a smile on your face. And I will do the same . . .