It’s totally busy around here, what with getting everything together for my dossier and trying to juggle finances on an abridged stipend. So it’s easy enough to toddle along my little path and forget that life happens, and happens without apology or permission, to all of us. And my life is flooded with people who remind me to live.
Return with me to the middle 80s. We’re in high school. And I’m the one wearing an army trenchcoat practically everywhere I go, except, that is, when I’m in the ‘Pumpkin Brigade’ woolen band uniform (colors: orange and black. Note: not anyone’s good color. Another note: why is it that every parade happens the day after I get a huge sunburn? Wool, remember.) While I’m in the stands with the band, S is standing on the wall with the others in cheer, and we’re all screaming like idiots when not mocking the other school’s mascot or fight song (especially Shadle: they wore kilts and played pipes. Yeah, we were dorks. Kilts and pipes are stinkin’ cool. But what did we know? We were the pumpkin brigade.) Meanwhile, J is down on the field with the football team, managing. I never knew either J or S, at least not beyond face recognition.
S was a force to reckon with in HS. She was all politics, all the time, and out to be a lobbyist when she grew up. And she was a soch. Popular, big time. J was not so in-your-face, but certainly very involved because of her connection with athletics. I was in the band. So I went to the football and hoops games, every one of them, but never dared step outside my little bandy gang. Since dancing was verboten, I never got to know people outside of the actual school or sport context. And of course, the prom wasn’t even on my radar.
So one of my colleagues here got me onto Facebook. And it was okay, nothing much, mostly just setting up connections with colleagues who are moving away (like I will be) to enter academic careers. But then I found a few HS friends, and noticed that there were alumni groups for a lot of folks, but not one for us. So I set one up—no strings, just a place for us to connect. We have this site supposedly for us elsewhere, but there’s a tight control on it by a moderator, and I wanted something open to whatever happens. A place to reconnect with people we’ve not seen for 20-odd years. It started slowly, but this past month it’s been exploding with people from HS joining the book.
And it’s here I finally make friends with S. Turns out, our lives as children were pulled from the same book. We both grew up AG, both in practically the same subculture of the AG, and people who were significantly influential in my life were likewise in hers. We’ve shared a couple PTSD moments reliving these things. Of course, she’s still über-conservative (thank God, not a lobbyist), and despite our friendship’s rocky start, she’s shown me that though she sometimes stumbles over her words in ways that can cause pain, she never means any.
I had her read that posting about being put in ‘my place,’ and that brought us into (I’m not making this up) a marathon eight-hour-long conversation about practically everything, including what it is to be a gay Christian, what it sounds like to be told (directly or indirectly) that one should be celibate one’s whole life in order to remain faithful to Jesus. And we talked about faith (she’s Calvinist, I’m Armenian), politics (she’s quite conservative, I’m quite liberal), and all those things you’re never supposed to discuss in polite company. Funny, but though we are on opposite poles, she believes, as I do, that those on the other pole are not necessarily idiots. (I said not necessarily, not that none are.) Of course, she slips into generalizations sometimes, but she’s intellectually honest, and willing to research and reconsider.
When I asked her if she’d welcome my partner, were I ever to be so blessed, she hedged. Finally, she admitted that she’d probably love that woman to death, but that she’s just not ‘there’ yet. Fair enough. We talked, she reconsidered, and the impact of her comment about my ‘practicing homosexuality’ hit her with all the force it should, once it was brought to her attention.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, J asks to be my friend on the book. Now J has much more courage than I, and she came out many years ago. In the 80s, we didn’t talk much about gays (especially not in churchy circles, outside of Jack Chick tracts, of course), but J was certainly gay. I don’t know her experience, but I never heard anyone say anything disrespectful or unkind about her. Ever.
So she finds the love of her life, and lives a robust, powerful, and full life with her. Until one day her wife tragically dies, in such a ungodly, isolated way. I am embarrassed that I never heard about it. So much for thinking I don’t live in the ivory tower. And now I find myself wondering why I never got to know J, and what sort of person she was back in HS, and whether, were I not such a total dork who hid behind a wall of goofiness to mask my insecurity, I would have ever made friends with her.
And I am so thankful for the opportunity I have via Facebook (of all things! and even its horribly buggy ‘new’ incarnation) to finally meet and befriend such amazing people I had the honor to graduate with.
I have no words to add to what’s been said to J, other than I respect her, admire her courage and stamina, and pray for all God’s blessings on her and her lovely children. And I’m sorry I’m so late to the table, in so many ways.
Just when my life became a cycle of academia, arguments about whether somebody’s theory is correctly interpreted, arguments that nobody but other academics will ever care about or read, something comes up to remind me that there is life out there, full of relationship, pain, love, confusion, disrespect, struggle, and joy.
So much more, so much more, than putting together all the pieces for a career in academia. So much more than the ivory tower. Thank God.