On anniversaries and a medley of “summer love”

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(The Hamilton Spectator – Friday, July 26, 2013)

HAMILTON, CANADA ✦ Love has always been one of those loaded words, one that means everything and nothing at the same time because we can love the latest Bond movie or country music or summer rain, but this has nothing to do with summer love at, say, a July wedding, or the love that shows on the faces of a couple who have sailed through thick and thin.

This is what it was the other day, an anniversary of 55 years. The man smiled and looked me in the eye and told me that he knew from the first time he saw her. “She stepped off the train and I heard a voice: ‘This is the woman you’ll marry.'”

It’s really something when this sort of thing happens, but it’s quaint too, and we know it, that we’re further away from such voices of clarity, closer now to all sorts of ambiguities that keep us guessing.

I’m in a local mall looking for a hat and looking rather closely while talking to the clerk, unable to tell if this youth is male or female. Neither body nor voice really gives it away, and then this person calls over a colleague who also appears to be in some sort of gender flux.

Now it’s before, and I’m driving our van with my son, Jonathan, and the radio reports a man has been targeted and shot because he’s gay. Jonathan asks and we talk about it, first about paradise lost and then about being gay and men marrying men, as if I know what to say to a seven-year-old, except that it’s wrong to go around shooting people for any reason and that nobody is unworthy of — here’s that word again — love.

The hard truth of other places, like Africa, where we live most of the year, is that sexual minorities stand much less of a chance, and, if a gay man is shot, it may or may not make the news. On the other hand, in those difficult places, one doesn’t ever consider exploring sexual territory just to make a fashion statement, just because styles and colours have changed and we can now wear whatever hat we please.

It comes to mind because it’s summer, and not just summer but the season to wed — Hamilton region sees plenty of weddings June through August — and my own anniversary is here, and, maybe more so, because the very name Jonathan is associated with one of history’s better known relationships.

Jonathan was a close friend of David, that ancient Israeli shepherd boy turned king whom we know somewhat through movies and Richard Gere prancing around in a skimpy loincloth, when he, David, feels especially full of freedom and worship and joy. This drove one of David’s wives to hot jealousy, but, presumably, earlier, these traits also made David sympathetic to his dear friend, Jonathan, when David ran for his life from Jonathan’s murderous father.

This isn’t to suggest that Jonathan and David were gay lovers, though some liberal scholars speculate this very thing because the old texts say that the two young men wept and kissed each other (this is the Middle East) during one of their last goodbyes, and these texts say David loved Jonathan “as his own soul” with “a love passing the love of women.”

It is to say, though, that it’s sad when two men can’t weep together, or show affection, or have emotional and spiritual intimacy, can’t even rent an apartment or maybe barely walk down Main Street together without the assumption that they’re also in bed. Neither can two women. Not much. Not anymore.

Getting back to Africa, you can. Because people yearn for same sex, non-sexual intimacy. There it’s not uncommon to see two men hand-in-hand for no other reason than they have a friendship of value. The same is true in many other places around the world. Just not here.

In all this we’re losing something, something of, ironically, our freedom, that ability to simply be ourselves. And in this, there’s something to learn from the other side of the ocean.

It’s what I wish for my son, my dear Jonathan.

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