As the Lady From Joisey Said . . .

The Rape of Ganymede by Rubens

The Rape of Ganymede by Rubens

“We think we know everything. We don’t know shit.” The name of the play escapes me, as does the plot, but this line sticks with me, as does the image of the world-weary drag queen who delivers it.
Growing up, I thought I was in the know. My brand of church taught that we had the inside track on salvation, knew exactly what God wanted. It was up to us to point out to others how wrong they were.
My eyes opened when I came out gay in mid-life. I went from a desk job at a religious organization to biscuit maker at an interstate truck stop cafe on the early morning shift. One of my co-workers was a large imposing woman with a thick New Jersey accent. I loved her sense of humor and take on the world. I often told her so. “Aw, ain’t you sweet,” she’d say. “You want to know what I think? I think you’re full of shit.”
I didn’t want to believe her. These twenty years later I begin to think she was spot on.
Last month I wrote a short piece about the brevity of life, how everything changes and how quickly. How to manage in such a world, I wondered aloud, and concluded: “Live as fully alive and fully aware as possible. Choose love. And gratitude. Laugh often.”
This on a Wednesday.
Thursday morning, my employer called me into his office to tell me he’s decided to change my job description. I’m to identify prospective customers and sell them on our services. “I know this has been a revolving-door position,” he said, noting the average tenure of marketing personnel at our company is three months—people get fired when sales quotas are not met. “I’ve decided this is what I want you to do.”
Had my anxiety been rocket propellant, there’d be a big hole in his ceiling. I am no salesman. As a kid, I tried peddling magazine subscriptions, and in college, vitamins. I proved an abject failure on both counts. After college, armed with a communications degree and no job prospects, I went into telephone marketing. That career topped out at a week. My next position, also in sales, lasted four times as long: I sold popcorn and caramel apples out of a wagon at the Covered Bridge Festival in Parke County, Indiana. I haven’t looked back. Until now. My boss orders me to walk the plank.
What I wrote about living awake and aware, embracing what is? Ehhhnhh.
When change stares me in the face, I notice I sing a different tune. I go all queasy—and with good reason.
It has to do with the story I heard Saturday at graduation open house for a friend who just earned her Ph.D. in psychology. As we ate out on the deck, we heard the neighbors’ chickens. Erin told us they’re being picked off one by one. Coyote? Hawk? Conversation turned to a YouTube video she’s seen: a family sets their baby bunny free to live in the great outdoors.
As Dad videotapes its first steps toward freedom, a hawk swoops down and carries off the little rabbit squealing.
“Run, run, be free!” said Erin, gesturing wildly. “Then wham-o!” A bunch of us laughed.
“That’s not funny,” said her mother-in-law, who finished chemotherapy two weeks ago.
“I’m sure it wasn’t funny at the time,” Erin said. “But isn’t that life? It’s what happens.”
Indeed, life pulls no punches. A bald-headed woman. Bunny nuggets. Me a salesman. Everything changes in an instant and it’s not funny. It’s tragic—except that it’s also somehow comical.
We traipse through life thinking we know the score.
“We don’t know shit,” says the drag queen, kneeling at her friend’s grave. She carries her purse over one arm, in the other, a toilet seat lid.

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A prayer to the god of new beginnings

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True to its deep nature, again this spring the world burst into bloom all around the farmhouse where Dave and I live. A small woods borders our house on two sides. In drear months we see the houses north of us. Come spring, however, the trees begin to green. First, soft yellow-green fuzz and a smattering of sea foam on the woodland floor. Then we go to bed on one night and wake up to windows shuttered with leaves a hundred shades of green. Bye, bye, neighbors. See you in November.

Meanwhile, we feast our eyes on an ever-changing array of color. My retiree husband has a green thumb. (Mine’s flame orange; I manage to kill even cacti.) Dave has fashioned garden spots across our yard, filled each bed with perennials that bloom variously throughout the growing season. Something flowers from early spring to late fall. Weekdays, if the weather is decent, we lunch outside when I come home over the noon hour.

June 6 this year marked the thirtieth anniversary of my wedding a woman, and the start of a long chain of events set in motion by this decision. My mood was somber, my thoughts heavy that Thursday through the egg salad sandwiches, carrot and celery sticks, and chocolate cake Dave had prepared. Our shared meal over, I nosed the car onto the road. A moment later I braked, stopped waving goodbye and instead beckoned for Dave to come look. Smack dab in the middle of the road stood two newborn fawns. Little dinky things, no bigger than a minute. Brown and caramel-colored, their sides dotted with rows of white. Spindly legs, big eyes and ears. Their mother stood at attention on the other side of our farm gate, head held high, ears forward.

I watched a long while, then eased the car forward; I had to get back to work. The twin fawns ran toward the gate. One edged up alongside the fence; the other panicked and stopped in the clear, threw its legs akimbo and tried to bury its nose in the dirt. I slid by, marveling all the while. One can live long in such moments, witness to wonder.

So. When I went out to feed the chickens the other morning I found two sparrow hatchlings fluttering against a windowpane in the barn. Their parents had made a nest in the rafters near the poultry quarters. These young’ns had tried their wings, knew enough to want the blue freedom of sky, but hadn’t mastered the trick of flying up to the opening at the top of the window frame. I thought they might scatter at my approach, but they they stayed put. I raised the glass. One immediately flew out and perched on a low branch. The other beat against the pane even as it lifted. Exhausted, the little bird finally dropped to the sill, found open the way of escape. It landed on the ground in the tall grass. I listened to the two of them twittering.

I breathed a prayer to the god of headlong flight and new beginnings. “May you fare well,” I said aloud and thought of the dozen or more gay men whose coming out I have been privileged to witness. For me, there is no moment so holy, no movement so fraught with portent as when one is coming in/out to oneself, saying “yes” to what is, to life, to wholeness and being. Facing the unknown, answering a call deep within, no guarantee of success, but a decision nonetheless to live true, real.

May we all be so brave and responsive. May we all in season answer the call to burst forth, wobble, run, spread wings, perhaps even fly.

This essay appears in the July issue of The Community Letter

Photo credit: bigpenguin2000@flckr.com