Don we now our gay apparel

A friend of mine posted this on Facebook last night:

The Moultrie Middle School choir changed “don we now our gay apparel” to “bright apparel.” Is the word gay so evil that we have to remove it altogether?

A flurry of comments and dialogue ensued, including much outrage and a fair share of humor, including:

I’m offended they used the word “don” with its obvious pro-mafia connotation.

I'm gonna troll an ancient yuletide carol he can't refuse."

I’m sure they don’t use the word “don” every day, but they didn’t change that word. But by eliminating the word “gay,” they’ve sent a clear message that there’s something wrong with the word.

Let’s call the Flintstones. Maybe their theme song should say “fun old time” instead?

Reknown for having a gay old time.

Oh, Moultrie Middle School, you missed a fine, teachable moment.

Let’s rewind a bit.

Merriam Webster defines the word “gay” as:

1: a : happily excited : merryb : keenly alive and exuberant : having or inducing high spirits

2: a : bright, lively <gay sunny meadows> b : brilliant in color

3: given to social pleasures; also : licentious

4: a : homosexual <gay men> b : of, relating to, or used by homosexuals <the gay rights movement> <a gay bar>

Can we all agree that “gay apparel” refers to clothing and accessories that are merry in mood, brilliant in color, and happy-making?

Or do you seriously think that the writer of the lyrics to “Deck The Halls,” poet John Ceiriog Hughes was referring exclusively to the clothing and accessories of homosexuals?

For the love of gay apparel, people.

Can we also agree that part of education is learning that words have multiple meanings? That words need to be viewed in the context of intent and even history? I mean, do you “troll the ancient yuletide carol?” Other than with Fred Flintstone, that is. Pray, please invite me when you do.

Look, I grew up in a generation where the word “gay” was a synonym for stupid, lame, and basically anything anyone didn’t like. Know what? We still sang the original words to “Deck The Halls” for all of my school recitals.

Now. Did some kids giggle during rehearsals? Yes.

They also giggled whenever the words gas, chest, bathroom, or but(t) (the conjunction and the body part) were uttered. (Note: this is not a complete list.) Why? Because kids are even more nervous than we are about their bodies, its functions and how and when it will grow and change. Oh, and they’re silly. They’re kids.

Did these same kids giggle during our recital performance – in a room full of people that included their parents, families, teachers, and school administrators? Of course not, because they would have died of embarrassment/been killed by their parents for not “taking things seriously.” (See above: they’re kids.)

We prove ourselves as adults when we push through our own fears, our own uncomfortable, oogey (that’s a clinical term) feelings to engage in honest, thoughtful dialogue with children. To answer their very real questions, assuage their fears, and hear them. Let me repeat that: hear them.

Cue the well-executed teachable moment.

Take two minutes to watch the video below of a lesbian couple who so eloquently and graciously confront their mayor, Joyce Daniels, who recently posted anti-gay sentiments on her Facebook page.

Mayor Daniels’s post, dated June 25, reads:

I think I am going to throw away my I Love New York carrying bag now that queers can get married there.

With warmth, humor and intelligence, the couple introduces their two daughters to the mayor, shares their drawings with her, and in all ways, takes the high road to understanding and acceptance.

Rather than lashing out in anger. Rather than ignoring the post, or the changed lyrics. We each, we all, have the opportunity to share our experiences with our children, our neighbors, our fellow parents, and our community. We have the opportunity to engage each other in meaningful, respectful dialogue. To show our children, by example, that we all have the power to move through the oogiest of moments with kindness and grace. And, that we are all free to don our apparel, gay or otherwise.

Of Blue Nights

The author. Her daughter, Quintana Roo. Her husband, John Dunne.

I recently read Joan Didion’s new book, Blue Nights, a memoir about the death of her daughter Quintana, who died at age 39 of pneumonia and septic shock.

This is a heartbreakingly beautiful book full of grief; vivid, happy memories – and a long list of questions about what it means to be a mother, a writer, an aging woman, and the surviving member of your own family.

For a few weeks after I read Blue Nights, I found myself thinking nonstop about how old, or rather young, Quintana was when she died, mostly, I’m sure, because I am the same age. I thought of my mother and where she was at 39. It was 1976 – she was married, had three children: ages 16, 9, and 4 (me), and was making beds and dinners and building people. I cannot fathom what my life would have been like had we lost my Mom when was 39, any more than I can imagine what my Mom would do if she lost me right now.

Mother and daughter

The truth is, none of us can fathom loss, expected or sudden, until we are in the midst of it – and even then it carries a surreal quality that, at times, feels so foreign we catch ourselves watching ourselves from the outside in.

Which makes me think of what Mona Simpson, Steve Jobs’s sister, said in his eulogy: “We all — in the end — die in medias res. In the middle of a story. Of many stories.”

Even when we “have time.” Even when we “say what we need to say.” There is always the thought. It wasn’t enough time. I need more.

During an interview on NPR’s Fresh Air, Didion shared a conversation she and Quintana had near the end of her life about what kind of mother Didion was. “Quintana, to my surprise, said, ‘You were okay, but you were a little remote,'” said Didion. “That was a very frank thing for her to say, and I recognized myself in it.”

What are our parents to us and we to them? A collection of tics, idiosyncrasies, stories, secrets, assumptions and hyberbole? Do we ever truly know one another, or are we bound by our own definitions of parent and child?

A friend whose father has terminal cancer told me recently that her father is cleaning out dresser drawers and organizing things. “It’s almost as if he were a pregnant woman nesting,” she said. I was so struck by that – the notion that what we do to prepare for a new life could so mimic what we do to prepare for the end of life.

As our conversation continued, I spoke about my Dad, who died nearly two and a half years ago. I heard myself say, “I’ve adjusted to his death, but I don’t think I’ve accepted it.” I could not have surprised myself more.

My Dad lived a full life, 80 years, and by his last days, he was not living the way he nor anyone who loved him would have wished for him. And yet. But still. Grief is muted and morphed by time. And I still long for the sound of his laugh, his eyebrow raised in jest, his warm hand on the top of my head when I was young. As Didion writes, “Memory fades, memory adjusts, memory conforms to what we think we remember.”

So she writes. And remembers.

As I do. As I will.

We Who Want

New poem. With thanks to Kim Vollmer-Lawson.

We want the sunset back
The moment
Its crimson belly
Finds it hiding place
Children dirty kneed in dungarees. Painters. Poets.

We want another story to sleep by
As we rub burning eyes
Stretch. Sink toward dream.

We want heavy, elephant skies
Spirits with long memories. Early snows.
We wish. Will. Wonder.
Whisper. Into ears that hear.
We beg. Bless. Blunder.

We draw portraits as you draw breath
Unconscious of the beauty within them both.