I Contain Multitudes. Call Me “They.”

Hi, Jeff.

First, I have to say that I’ve always admired your weirdness. Yes, you’re an odd one. To wit: dyeing your hair orange before going to a gathering with 30,000 teenagers. I could never pull off colored hair, but friends just looked at you and said, “Oh, yeah, that’s Pastor Jeff.” And at 6’4” you would have been visible in a crowd to all your church kids—clever.

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Seymour

Now, on to that last text message about your child: Seymour doesn’t identify as male or female and chooses to not be called daughter rather child and instead of her rather to be called they. I would love to see a blog post on non-gender word usage in a world that is stuck in binary. I struggle a bit but I am learning to honor Seymour’s name and using they as a way of referring to them not her.

I have a bunch of ideas, Jeff, but none of them are about gender-specific language. I hadn’t finished reading your text before a couple of lines from Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass interrupted:

Do I contradict myself?

Very well then I contradict myself,

(I am large, I contain multitudes.)

I confess I also had a sneak preview of your message. Folks in the congregation I’m serving reported about a year ago that their granddaughter altered her name and asked to be referred to as they. So, your child isn’t alone.

For the record, I say that Seymour and Whitman are right. When son Micah was a teenager, he railed against posers. Goth, emo, metal: apparently all groups had posers, kids who were wearing the clothes and moshing the mosh, but not bearing the genuine tribe brand on their souls. Every time we passed some lonely kid on a street corner and Micah gave his critique, I kept my eyes on the road and endured. How could I explain that only the rarest of human beings isn’t a poser? Don’t each of us contain multitudes—compelling personas asking to apply our makeup and fill out our wardrobe?

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Well done, Jeff, but I can still make out your whitewalls.

Gray-hairs like us say, “Oh, Seymour is just trying to find, uh, herself.” Just. As if their search isn’t epic, and as if ours is complete. Seymour is going through a phase, all right, and so are we, brother. It lasts from cradle to grave. You went with orange. My clerical shirts are migrating to the back of the rack—the collar doesn’t mean what it used to. You and I are actually playing it safe, keeping our spiritual boats close to shore.

But your child is—or are?—frying Jonah’s whale. When Seymour says, “Call me they,” they are fussing with not only personal identity, but also with what it means to be human. Your Child-Formerly-Known-as-Anna’s project is Applied Whitman. And picking your own name, that’s a move of biblical proportions. Parents name their children, but Yahweh gets the final say.

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The face of those who force God’s hand–whatever that means. Teach me new words. I’m listening.

So has Seymour forced God’s hand? I’m crazy enough to consider them faithful. As for you, wife Sue, son Isaac, and anybody who cares about Seymour, we ought to speak a brave language, adopt a compassionate grammar–and not complain. Love that won’t receive the beloveds’ new vocabulary and speak awkward sentences as if they’re really songs isn’t love at all.

Just to check, I sent you this text message: “So Seymour is good with my posting this?” You answered, “They are indeed.” I love you for your answer, Jeff. You tell me you’re “learning to honor Seymour’s name.” Let’s all keep learning. What we say will sound like poetry.

Your brother,

John

Blogger’s Note: for photo credits, contact me at my email address, JohnColemanObl@gmail.com.

I Kiss Your Shoulder at First Light

Dear Kathy,

I don’t know exactly what time it is, but I’m awake. Strange, I’m still tired. It’s almost like I woke up so that I could lay here and feel my fatigue. As today’s first light shows through the boulevard’s maples, I kiss your bare shoulder. Quietly. Softly. I kiss your shoulder and rest my hand on your back.

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Dawn shines through the Shenley Drive maples.

I’ve been tethered to myself lately, reckoning the distance between the man I am and the man I long to be and shaking my head. The destination is over the horizon, and the road is black ice. So I kiss your shoulder to say, “I’m more grateful for you than you can imagine,” without spoiling your last hour of sleep. There’s no reason for both of us to look out the window and contemplate mortality and, at least in my case, feel fat.

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Cole’s legs and my belly: I don’t know how to break this to you, Kath, but I’m pregnant.

That’s another thing: I glimpse myself walking by windows and see the reflection of an animated pudgy-guy butter sculpture. You may remember a time when I cleaned up pretty well, when I didn’t grunt when bending over. I do the weight loss calculations and string together a couple of interior expletives: 3500 calories x the 50 lbs. I want to lose = $%#&! So, again, without your knowing it, I kiss your shoulder. And at the moment, my hand still rests on your back—a fragile man steadying himself.

Since I’ll get a nap this afternoon, I stay awake in gratitude. You don’t mope around, gazing into your naval and mentally kvetching about your wounds and flaws. Instead, you do shit, extremely beautiful and useful shit. When we needed a roof, you said, “I can do that,” and you did. Even though you used to faint at the sight of blood, you said, “I do believe I’ll become a nurse,” and then you hauled off and did it. Now, you not only treat cancer patients, but you look at them with compassionate eyes. When the downstairs bathroom got shabby, you remodeled the bad boy.

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That’s some fine tile work . . . especially for a rookie.

And over the last few months, while I’ve napped, you’ve tended plants. This summer we’ll have tomatoes, basil, cilantro, and peppers, and the yard will be a riot of color because you go to work for ten hours, then come home and head to your basement “greenhouse” to make sure no plant is thirsty.

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Even the animals love to hang with you in the basement greenhouse.

Now you’re awake. You roll toward me. I draw you close and kiss your boney elbow. (You could put somebody’s eye out with those elbows of yours.)

Understand, I’m not saying all these nice things about you because I’m entirely hot dog water. I’m a nice guy, patient, low-maintenance, and I do cook you some good food. I’m much less neurotic than I was years ago. That counts for something. I do more chores than back when I was a lazy slug. And I work as hard at writing as you do at gardening, though your produce tastes way better than mine.

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Pretty soon, my love, I’ll make you some pasta with pesto.

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It’s only May, and your flowers are already gorgeous.

The thing is, I sometimes wonder if you knew what you were getting into when you said “I do” on July 30, 1983. Elena and Matt have given us Cole, and Micah is making us proud. Good stuff! But you love the rush as a plane accelerates toward take off, and I’d rather snort wasabi than fly. You love to sail, and I’m always a-scared the boat will capsize. You like to ski and build snow forts, and I like to drink hot cocoa by a fire. In short, whatever the woman equivalent of a mensch is, that’s you. As a guy, I’m a fraidy cat, a poor man’s Woody Allen.

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Please be careful! Don’t stand so close to the edge!

I do lots of mulling over as I watch you sleep. Often without realizing it, my lips are drawn to your shoulder, cool from the open window. I rest my hand on your back, cooperate with love’s gravity, and kiss you so gently you don’t feel it—most of the time. Once in a while you go hmm, and I know you understand what I mean.

I mean I’m glad we’re together. The sight of you walking in the front door is a joy to me. Falling asleep and waking up next to you is unmerited grace. This is what I’ve been saying, kissing your shoulder this morning at first light.

Love,

John

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Flowers everywhere, including on our busted-ass back steps. This summer you’ll make them beautiful again, like you do everything else.