My mother said that she never wanted to grow up.
That could be why she taught first grade all of her professional life and was beloved by her students. She was one of them. In her later years, she confessed with a laugh, she couldn’t quite “get” that she was the old woman who looked at her in the mirror! She felt so young, she said, despite her arthritis, macular degeneration, hearing loss, and aging body.
Now I know what she meant.
Saturday afternoon I sat in a gay bar with my partner Wade and our neighbor Marc, watching mostly men having a good time. Atlanta’s Pride shifted from June to October some years ago due to a drought and the toll it took on the lawns of Piedmont Park.
The joke is that rain is traditional for our festival and parade no matter which time of year the events are held. And rain had forced us indoors from the Pride festival to Blake’s, an old establishment in Midtown with a usually younger clientele.
I have always loved watching people. And despite a more mixed-age gathering than usual, I thought of how young they acted, how animated: smiling, laughing, flirting and being downright charming with one another, a coping mechanism many of us developed as children to gain approval.
I admit that at first glance I judged their charm to be affected.
I judged them just as Thomas Mann’s character Aschenbach near the beginning of Death in Venice judged the older man trying to fit in with younger men by affecting their style of dress and coloring his hair. By the end of the story, Aschenbach would do the same thing in pursuit of a beautiful youth.
But then I watched more compassionately. These were boys who never grew up despite the harshness they may have experienced being gay in anti-gay families, churches, schools, towns and workplaces, plus whatever personal and political efforts they’d made fighting inequality and AIDS.
Not to say they hadn’t matured and adapted and managed, but they had somehow also preserved their boyishness in their playfulness, humor, dress and manner.
Like my mother, they had grown up without growing old.
I thought of the friends I name during my morning prayers who died of AIDS. These too were boys who never grew up, or perhaps grew up too fast. I wish they could see the changes the LGBT movement has wrought over the decades, all the way to this week’s Vatican study paper saying that we have gifts to offer the church.
This is what I took away from Pride this year.
Originally published on Progressive Christian Reflections; Image via flickr user Quinn Dombrowski