Friends Who’ve Shaped Me

Temma and I got our little tree trimmed with all our ornaments this afternoon. That is always a nostalgic task. Many of the ornaments come from friends, as far back as when Temma was a baby and coming off life-support at the hospital after her cardiac arrest. Tim and I came home to our apartment on the first-floor of our friends, the Osterhouse’s home. Waiting there was a little Christmas tree filled with lights and ornaments put together for us by our friends and fellow Christ’s Community members. Many of those ornaments I took out today and put on this year’s tree, remembering what a gift of light they were and still are for me in dark and disorienting times.

Thank you, friends and family for your gifts of love and support. One friend said she had signed up to receive my blog posts and she wondered if she had done something wrong because she hadn’t received anything! I assured her that she was good, that it was me not writing anything on my site because I’ve been so focused on writing pieces of my memoir or other essays and submitting them to literary magazines in order to try and get something published. I’m still working at that.

I also spent three months in the fall filling in as preacher and pastor for the local United Methodist Church here where we live. Writing sermons every week took a lot. It was good and, I’m happy not to be doing it again. My thanks to the church folks who were so supportive. My writing, reading, and caring for my family and our home, these things are my calling now. I’m learning a lot about myself and my world. Included in my list of friends and family who have shaped me, are a list of books. Three books I’ve read this past year have opened up new ways of seeing and being who I am, they’ve shaped me. I re-read “Lila” by Marilynne Robinson, my favorite of Robinson’s Gilead series. Two others are “Woman Running In the Mountains” by Yuko Tsushima (translated from Japanese by Geraldine Harcourt) and “This Body I Wore”, by Diana Goetsch. I’m grateful for them.

In the book by her name, the character Lila fights with shame from a childhood spent traveling with an itinerant group of misfits. Lila ends up in Gilead, alone, a social reject, at the steps of the church where the old preacher of The first book of Robinson’s series is preaching that day. Rev. John Ames shares the theology of the church I grew up in, with the Calvinist theology I was steeped into. Lila encounters the old preacher and their lonely lives are brought together n an unlikely marriage and Lila gives birth to a son. Lila becomes a mother, an experience she has no knowledge of. All of it written in Robinson’s intense, intimate prose becomes a friend to me. When I finish I look up from our conversation, and for some moments I need to remember who I am. When I do, I realize that this world and I in it, we’ve changed, tilting a little more.

The protagonist and narrator of Tsushima’s book, Takiko Osaka, like Lila, is another young woman pushed to the edges of society. Takiko’s pregnancy is a source of great shame and sadness for her parents. Poor and alone, giving birth to her baby boy, she leaves her home to try and find her own way. Haunted by the image her mother once shared of her hometown in the mountains where she ran and ran freely, Takiko ventures to a mountain in her search for a freedom to be who she is. Tsushima’s prose is also strong and intimate, weaving through past and present seamlessly. I’m grateful to this new friend. In her introduction to the book, Lauren Groff writes that “Tsushima reached for fiction so that she could create an imagined life that would be so vivid and true it would become a new sort of reality. She said, ‘If I stop writing, I will feel like a kite without a string. I write fiction, but I experience the fiction I write. In that sense, they are not fiction anymore, but reality.” So it becomes for me in my reading of the book. “That’s frightening,” Tsushima says. “Like other novelists, I live a real life and a life as a writer. At times I get confused which is which.”

Diana Goetsch’s memoir, This Body I Wore, is the painful, heart-wrenching story of her journey to become her authentic, transgender self. It’s difficult for me to read of the cost this becoming entails. I cried, I ached, I laughed, I gasped and fought for air. I put the book down and could not read it, then I picked it up again and told myself that I needed to read it. After finishing the journey with this friend, I am able to honestly write and live into my own story of being gender non-binary. Goetsch opens a path and supports me with her great courage and witness. I’ve shared my struggle to know myself with other friends along my way, but to write it down, to make it real to the world, this is new. The night after I write it I dream of emphatically walking up to the adults in my life and cry, “Why didn’t you stand up for me? Why didn’t you stand up for me?”

Thank you Diana Goetsch, Marilynne and Lila, Tsushima and Takiko for your gifts of courage. Thank you, my many friends and my family, for your support in opening a path for me to walk. I’m running with all of you.

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