Thursday, November 14, 2013

A Wedding By Any Other Name

When we moved to Minnesota from North Carolina, Maggie noticed something different about her new middle school.

"There are lots of gay teachers up here," she said.  We explained that her last school had gay teachers, too, but they had to keep it secret in order to hold their jobs in a narrow-minded community.

She was incredulous.  So when she reached high school, she joined the Gay-Straight Alliance.

Fairness and honesty have always mattered to her. As a Chinese adoptee growing up in America, she's no stranger to racism, prejudice, ignorance, intolerance. Pick your poison.

For over two years, she's been a dedicated, enthusiastic ally and is now the vice president. She helped create a school-wide activity to challenge gender stereotyping. She worked to pass state legislation allowing gay marriage.

Last Saturday she celebrated her efforts at a wedding for one of her school's gay teachers.

The prelude included John Lennon's Imagine, and the processional was What a Wonderful World, made famous by Louis Armstrong. When the couple lighted the unity candle with their separate candles, the new flame leaped brilliantly.

Fire passes no judgment. Love is love in the presence of light.

These two wonderful men had a typical church wedding. Flowers and scripture readings. Rings and programs. Lunch and toasts. There was not, however, a poofy-dressed bride and a chorus line of bridesmaids. Honestly, I appreciated that.

The absence of sequins and satin kept us focused on their promise and their dream, a dream that any straight couple can take for granted.

At one point in the service, the pastor's blessing said: " you walk toward a horizon that never comes." I keep thinking about her words. Maybe she referred to the religious concept of life being eternal, even after death, for those who accept Jesus as Savior. That's certainly fine, but I've never been a stamp-pad hereafter Christian.

Instead of thinking about the next life, I think about her words in terms of this life as a road we're following into the distance, toward a better life on earth.  But if we experience life thoughtfully and bravely, we discover the journey doesn't end in a watercolored sunset on the horizon.  Rather, we keep finding new roads with even greater challenges.  Our ambitions expand because our courage soars, one success at a time.

Something seemingly impossible always awaits us.

My father used to say that I couldn't see the forest for the trees whenever I was stuck in the learning ditch. I had a tendency to be stopped by a single pine. He wanted me to understand the beauty up ahead.

Last Saturday Maggie witnessed that beauty up ahead with David and Tim.

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Thursday, November 7, 2013

Here Be Dragons

Ancient cartographers wrote Here Be Dragons to indicate unexplored territories and their imagined dangers. Fair warning, I guess, if you enter mysterious lands.

I’ve lived plenty of places in my life and every one of them is a mapped dot —a city in a county in a state. Nothing mysterious is left.

But I tell you this. No place ever mentions the squirrel hazard. The scary creatures haunt me.

In Oklahoma they chewed through the handle of the hose mobile. An elderly neighbor told me the salt from people’s hands attracted them. That gnawed handle, dangling unattractively, drove me crazy. Cliff said he could fix it, but I’ve been through that before—a man with a roll of duct tape. It’s never pretty.

In Wisconsin they ate my fall pumpkins on the porch our first year there. In subsequent years I carried each pumpkin inside during the night and kept watch throughout the day. Finally I got tired. The squirrels were waiting for me to surrender. They knew my kind.

In Illinois they chewed the pretty wood planters I special ordered.  Their white-picket styling matched our new fence.  Filled with pink geraniums and ferns, they would have caught Martha Stewart’s eye if she’d ever happened by, lost from Connecticut.  The hardware store clerk swore by sour apple spray. It worked, but I couldn’t keep it up.  It rained.  We went on vacation.  The squirrels waited me out.

In North Carolina our yard was filled with birds, so Maggie and I took on an outdoor winter craft project. (I read you were supposed to do that kind of thing with kids.  Otherwise they’d become teenagers with everything pierced and tattooed.) We gathered pine cones, covered them in peanut butter, rolled them in bird seed, and hung them from plant hooks. It was good, sticky fun. The birds were thrilled. 

Then one morning a genius squirrel figured it out. There in our yard, with his friends gathered, he set up Cirque de Squirrel. I couldn’t believe his agility, his relentless approaches. He set that pine cone swinging with his feet, grabbed on, and flew off the hook with it. He had learned well the laws of physics from his time at Harvard. 

In Minnesota I've finally learned that polyurethane spray banishes squirrels from pumpkins until the freezing rain finally wears it off. By then Thanksgiving is over and orange is no longer trendy.  At last.  I won.

But here’s what I didn't know when we bought this house. The real estate description sheet should have been marked: Here Be Squirrels and Such.  Apparently we’re on an ancient wildlife trail that makes our property irresistible.  Something gnawed two places in the new fence in order to pass through. The landscaping crew thought it was raccoons. Then something started eating the new plants, apparently thinking we’d installed a salad bar for their evening enjoyment on their journey through our yard. The same crew figured it was rabbits. I bought 100% guaranteed Bunny Barrier, a mix of despicable bagged herbs. Hung at nose level (One hangs on the arm of our Chinese statue.), it successfully shooed them away.
I was feeling proud of myself until Cliff noticed the hostas at the far end of the yard. The largest leaves were gone; only their stems remained. Clearly the herbal odor didn’t reach that far.

“What will you do now?” he asked.

“Nothing. At the end of the day, we all have to make a living.”

It’s important to know when you’re beaten, when to throw in the towel, when to fold your cards.

I’d take my chances with a dragon any day.

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