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.

A Funeral Story

My brother and I spent the better part of a day traveling to and from our Uncle Bob’s funeral on Monday. We began in the pre-dawn winter darkness of Wooster, Ohio, traveled to St. Paul’s Presbyterian Church in Livonia, Michigan and found our way back to Wooster as the pale sun fell into its pink then blue place below the snow.

Along the way, dressed in funeral attire, we talked about family (memories of Uncle Bob, of our own Dad who died in 2009, growing up and its accompanying angst and adventure), politics (the economy, the 2012 election, John “tan” Boehner, Barack Obama and the tragedy in Tucson), music (John Lennon, The Beatles, The Stones, The Animals, Gerry Rafferty to name a few) and movies (Monty Python and The Holy Grail, The Big Lebowski, High Fidelity and Elf). It was an eight-hour ride.

While The Beatles were playing, I asked my brother where he was when John Lennon was shot. My brother is a huge Beatles fan. In fact, the first album he ever gave me was The Magical Mystery Tour. His answer, “at college,” reminded me of our 12-year age difference, which nowadays seems a much smaller expanse of time. He told me that he came home just days after Lennon was killed, and the news coverage was exhaustive, much like it’s been since the Tucson tragedy. My brother said that Dad, tired of the constant coverage, said in frustration, “He’s just a man.”

John Lennon and his son Sean.

My brother said nothing back – but that moment was one of alienation and misunderstanding. My brother grieving his hero, a musical, social and political voice of his generation, unable to share any of it with Dad. And Dad, viewing Lennon as an aimless artist, hippie, troublemaker – who he didn’t even respect as a musician.

I sat with that for a moment when my brother finished. And I told him that I recently read an interview with Yoko Ono in which she spoke with pride about John being “the first man to push a baby carriage…no one did it before John.” I told Steve that whether or not that was true, it was amazing to think the effect one man could have had on a generation of fathers – a collective unconscious agreement to perhaps take a more hands-on role than their fathers had.

Interestingly, our own Dad was very hands-on with us when were babies. Not surprisingly, when we were old enough to voice our own opinions on the world, our relationships got more complicated.

I wonder if my Dad ever came around to John Lennon – understanding what a tragedy his death was, not just for his fans, but for his wife, his sons. And our culture. Did Dad respond that way because of his own fear of death? You’re walking through your life and suddenly, you’re gunned down in front of your home? Or one day, your mind simply stops working the way it once did. Was his quick anger simply his confirmation that we are all, always, vulnerable?

Now, at Uncle Bob’s funeral. A chance to honor the last of 11 children, a man full of life, a storyteller who often spoke of himself in the third person, a devoted husband, dad, grandpa, uncle, friend. A doer of good – in his church, in soup kitchens, with children less fortunate, with friends and family. A stubborn, funny, crystal blue-eyed character.

Aunt Georgia & Uncle Bob

The minister said it out loud: “We are perishable. What has happened here will happen to us all.”

I looked out the window to the churchyard, where Uncle Bob spent hours cleaning up, tending the lawn and flowers. It was snow-covered now: a large birdfeeder hanging from a leafless branch.

The minister continued, “The pain is over for Bob…and he will live on forever through God.”

I didn’t feel convinced.

But a covey of doves flew into the churchyard and began eating from the feeder. That was something.

A mutual friend of Uncle Bob and Aunt Georgia’s delivered the eulogy. It was laugh out loud funny at times; poignant in others, as all good tributes should be.

Afterward, we gathered with cousins and church folk for a luncheon. I joked with my brother, taking bets on whether or not ham would be served. (It is the Midwest, after all.)

There was ham. And chicken. Pasta. Potatoes.

And literally, a table of desserts.

Everyone wins with that kind of grief buffet.

When I hugged Aunt Georgia goodbye, I felt her physical strength through her heavy wool coat, though I knew her heart was aching. She had spent 62 years with Uncle Bob and today, for the first time in 62 years, she would go home alone.

What she has, what we all have, is memory, the way in which her life is different and richer because of the moments contained within it.

Josh, Becca & Grandpa/Uncle Bob

It’s not for me to say if Uncle Bob is somewhere laughing now with his 10 siblings, parents, even with my Dad.


I have an armload of memories. I have every present moment. I have a snowy car ride with my brother. And it is more than enough.

Uncle Bob

 

Uncle Bob & Aunt Georgia

 

My Uncle Bob passed away yesterday after a long battle with cancer.

Dear Uncle Bob,

Thank you for always being an example to me of a life well lived. My memories of you and Aunt Georgia are filled with love…of warm, homemade cookies…long swims in your pool until my fingers and toes were wrinkled…vivid summer flowers Aunt Georgia tended…the kaleidoscope of colors of the jukebox in the basement…watching with wonder as you talked about your job…the heat of the sun-warmed cement lulling me to sleep by the pool…the way you always both talked to me like I was a person, not just a kid, even when I was a kid…the comfort of knowing I was safe and loved…safe enough to fall asleep in your car on the trip from Findlay…loved enough to strive to live fully as you both do…

The moments I spent with you are precious beyond measure. You taught me so much with your honesty, humor and compassion. I hope what I’m writing now is something you already knew, already and always felt from me. But I wanted to write this so that it’s clear. I love you and am so very grateful for all have brought to my life.

We will miss you.

All my love,

Jenny