April 2018

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Crying and Testifying

Two men cried. Ann cried. One man testified.

Saturday, we served shrimp tacos to eleven people from our church community who bought the dinner at an auction.

We do some event like this every year, and we love it. There’s always a mix of people we know well, people we don’t know so well and like a lot, and people we stretch our memories to recognize when we see them out of context.

We started on the deck with drinks (alcoholic and not) and fancy appetizers that Ann made. It was one of those lovely Seattle afternoons where the sun glows warmly after 6 pm and there’s a cool breeze. Our resident hummingbird darted from flower to flower.

As guests came down the path to the deck, several stopped to pick a warm raspberry. My friend Terry, who has moved with his wife Marcia to a retirement community (aka resort) sat to my right. Mary Ellen’s husband Doug, whom I don’t know well and sits in the back in church, sat to my left.

Terry shared with me a few stories from his early teaching, in the days before he turned Republican (very nice Republican) businessman:

“I drove to a student’s home to talk with his mom about hygiene concerns because he smelled so bad that other students wouldn’t sit by him or interact with him. Because it was a Saturday, I drove my convertible pulling the boat for waterskiing.

“I kept driving up and down the road, and I could not find the address. Finally, a woman came through the weeds in a field and waved me down. That was his mother. She and her nine children lived in a car on the lot.

“I said, ‘please get in the car, and we can talk here.’ I felt uncomfortable about my boat and fancy car, but there it was. She said, ‘It’s about my son’s hygiene, isn’t it?’ We don’t have a place for him to bathe and I can’t get him to go to the river.’

Terry remembered that the school had showers in the locker room and arranged for the student to shower at school each morning. He remembered the effect: “That child came regularly to school. He made friends. He performed better academically.” (At this Terry gave the so-so motion with his hand). “He carried himself differently. I’ve never forgotten it. What he and his family were going through just wasn’t right.”

At this, Terry’s voice broke, and he took off his glasses and wiped his eyes. “I’m sorry I broke up like that,” he said. I wasn’t sorry. Tears seemed like the right response to me.     

Terry and I became a unit in this conversation, closed to the others around us. To my left, Doug was sometimes quiet and sometimes chatted amiably with the other guests. I hoped he felt welcome, but I couldn’t figure out how to invite him into this intense conversation.

We all traveled inside, to the dining room, for dinner as Ann put the shrimp and peaches on the grill. During dinner, we mostly talked as a larger group. Terry asked me, “How’s your resurrected father?”

Terry, Marcia, Ann and I laughed, and Marcia explained to the group that, eight years ago, in a real-life version of the game telephone, Terry had gotten confused about which Mary’s father died (We have a lot of Marys in my church—not my dad). Terry, however, thought my dad had died. He and Marcia had talked about how healthy Dad had seemed at my fortieth birthday just a month ago, and Marcia had said a prayer of concern at church the next Sunday.

(Ann and I had not gone to church that Sunday, but I did get a call from the minister asking, “How is your father?” and telling me about Marcia’s prayer. I called Marcia to clear it all up and told Dad the story when I called him later that day. I thought it was hilarious. Dad did not think it was funny.)

Terry reminded all of us that for a long time he was the sole Republican at our church, but as he got to know people he moved increasingly left and is now a Democrat.

I talked about how my parents, too, had changed in their attitudes towards me being a lesbian. (They didn’t like it at first, but after they saw Ann’s and my relationship as I was healing from neurosurgery, my mom noticed especially that I was happiest that month when Ann was in the hospital room. She also noticed how attentive Ann was to me and said, “It’s a good thing you’re not with a man.” I thought to myself, “Yep. Wow.”)

Many of us talked about the ways that we and others had changed because of relationships with people different than us. Jerry told a powerful story about him and his dad not communicating for a year after Jerry came out, and he remembered the day when his dad told him he loved him. Jerry choked up here. Again, the right response, it seemed to me.

Doug was quiet but present in the conversation. I was concerned that he might feel left out of the conversation.

Guests starting making noises about leaving, and Mary Ellen went to the restroom. As people started to stand, Doug said, “I’d like to say something before we all leave, but I’d to wait for Mary Ellen to be here.”

Everyone settled back into their chairs, and when Mary Ellen returned, we all looked to Doug. “I’m a pretty conservative guy,” he started, “but what I have heard tonight has changed me. I have never heard stories like this. I want you to know that this night has changed me. Thank you for that.”

Ann cried as Doug spoke.

I thought, “Yep. Wow.”


  1. ...Mary, Mary, Mary...
    Read this and then I cried.
    Dear Terry. Dear Dale. Dear Ann. Dear you. Dear Wallingford UMC, that gathers such people together. Thank you for sharing these thoughts, this story, and letting it tell itself. Truly moving. Shared the link, as always, on my FB.
    love, kathy

  2. PS - Dear Dale, yes. But also dear Doug, which is what I meant to say. And also Jerry & John. And Mary Ellen. And Marcia. ;-)


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