Today’s Friday Five for the RevGals is about transformations…
Probably one of the primary turning points was attending seminary. It was a long slow turning, to be sure—I was on the five-year plan—but in the process I was able to express more of myself, my real self, than I had in years. I rediscovered my leadership abilities, my analytical skills, and yes, my flair for the dramatic. I became more fully myself; it was safe to do so, and in fact I found that these qualities of mine were wanted. Also, so much of seminary is about truth—speaking your own truth in exegesis, for example, or in the creative work that was a course requirement in most classes, and in seminars and discussion groups. My professors were not interested in having their own thoughts handed back to them, nor in how much research I had done. They wanted to know my thoughts, my understanding of a Biblical passage or worship structure or prayer or ethical dilemma. I got used to telling the truth and being open. Not that I was a huge prevaricator before—but I simply didn’t speak, or I didn’t speak everything that I felt. Lies of omission, if you will.
Another turning point was the death of my father. We had never been close, and to be honest, it felt like a release rather than a grief. I mourned the relationship that had not been, not the one that had been. My father had never seemed satisfied with what I did; not so much that he criticized (which he did and which I sometimes deserved, being human), but that he never praised. I never had the sense that he was proud of what I had done or who I was; or, really, a sense that he loved me. I was his daughter and he was my dad, but that was about it. With his death, I began looking at my life—partly because the death of a parent brings a person to thoughts of their own mortality, but also because I realised we had not had the loving relationship I wanted. To this day, seeing father-daughter relationships where there is mutual trust, love and support makes me wistful. I knew if I wanted to change things in my life, I did not have forever.
A few months later, as part of my seminary studies, I took a ten-day study trip to Poland. The main focus of the trip was the Shoah (Holocaust) and the roots of anti-Semitism in the Bible. Poland has never been easy on her Jewish citizens; with the Nazi conquest of Poland in 1939, the invaders used the internal tensions of Poland against both Jewish Poles and Christian Poles. Both were interned and massacred in the death camps. Seeing the Jewish ghettos in Warsaw and Krakow, visiting the camps at Auschwitz and Treblinka, confronted with the museum display cases of prayer shawls and children’s toys confiscated from the arrivals at the camps, I was forced to consider what I would have done (or not done). I was faced with, as Hannah Arendt put it, the “banality of evil.” Most Poles, Jewish or Christian, were simply trying to survive in wartime. This doesn’t excuse or condone the betrayal of whole Jewish towns and families, nor willing participation in mass murder. But I began to wonder, first, whether I would have been able to muster the courage to be part of the resistance (as we all want to think we would), and then, whether I might have been a target. I was beginning to come out to myself, and deep within myself, I trembled at the thought of being arrested and sent to a camp for being who I was. And then I began to turn that around…who was I to hide, to not take a stand beside my sisters and brothers of oppressed nations (the Roma, Poles, Slavs), faiths (Jehovah’s Witnesses, Confessing Lutherans, Roman Catholics, and of course Jews), and sexualities (gay men were interned and frequently became the sex slaves of superiors; lesbians were considered anti-social because they did not “bear children for the Fatherland”). That ten days pushed me into a realisation of personal responsibility and the responsibility for ethical leadership and honesty incumbent on a spiritual leader.
And these all led to turning points four and five--coming out and 9/11. I had always felt an attraction to both men and women, but had pushed the latter feelings away, telling myself it was a phase or I was just confused. But with seminary and the emphasis on openness and truth, I began to peek out from those walls I had built. My father’s death and the trip to Poland cracked the walls even more. Then came 9/11. As I have mentioned before on this blog, the events of that day were very immediate for me. I was living in a suburb of Washington DC at the time. My then-husband was retired military. Our extended network of family and friends (he had lived in the area for more than thirty years; I had lived there for twenty years, off and on) included people at the Pentagon, in downtown Washington, in Manhattan, and in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. That terrible morning, I managed to get through to my sister-in-law, who worked two blocks from the White House. The terror in her voice as she said there had been an explosion nearby and that they were being told to go home, and the tears in our voices as we said “I love you,” before hanging up… It all brought home to me that tomorrow is promised to no-one—which is a banal conclusion—and so the time to be me, all of me, was today. It took me another year before I was able to come out completely, but that was the spark to the fuse that had been laid with my father’s death and the trip to Poland.