Some years ago I was teaching in the University of Wisconsin, where it is really cold and people don’t speak the way I was brought up to speak: with an Alabama accent. I had a young student who was a rather attractive young man, but didn’t have much between the ears.
It became quite apparent early in the semester that Robert didn’t have much chance of passing the course without some special help. So we scheduled — I offered at any rate — to have him come by my office with every paper he wrote in Freshman English. Bless Robert’s heart. He did beautifully. He was there. The next paper wouldn’t be that much better, but we worked, and we worked, and we worked. And near the end of the semester, Robert got just enough better to pass that course with a C-minus, which was the best we were going to get from Robert. But he earned it, so that he could get out and do the work of the other courses.
I was so happy. And he was happy too.
I didn’t see Robert for maybe a year or year and a half. Back in those days I was still jogging. It is very difficult to jog in the wintertime. But spring was on its way and the world was, as e.e. cummings says, "puddle wonderful." I was out jogging around the lakes on our campus, trying to miss a puddle here and not slip there. And I looked ahead of me I saw Robert jogging through this wet, cold, but wonderfully bright lake area. And I was so happy to see him: that meant that he was still at the University! I brightened up and I said "Robert!" And at that point Robert spat in my face and said, "Faggot!"
We must be here for the Roberts of the world.
Can you… can you imagine what it would be like to be Robert? Can you imagine what it would be like to be Robert’s wife? Forget the spit on my face. Can you imagine what it would be like to be Robert’s daughter? Coming to your father with a need, any kind of need. Anything that stretched him to reach out to her? What we know as Christians on our journey, Robert so much needs. I knew in the moment that Robert’s spit got in my eyes, just as Jesus talks about spittle taking scales off your eyes, that the Roberts of the world are vastly in need of love! We must learn how to speak that love.
This has nothing to do with how "good" we are. We’re not here to proclaim our righteousness, but God’s infinite mercy, and God’s love. I don’t understand this either! Why would God take an old queen like me, and love me? But, I’ve been asking myself over the last year, with so many celebrations and arthritis hitting in so many more places, what does it mean? Why did you choose me and others like me, God? What does this lesbian/gay movement mean to the world? And it’s not to get straight people to love us. It really isn’t. It’s to tell them that we’ve been loved by God.
You see, so many people talk about faith as if it’s our gift to God, and if you don’t pay you don’t get in. It’s not that way at all! It’s God’s gift to us! We don’t have anything to do with it! God already loves us.
There are people who are dying who may never know that God loves them unless they can see that God loves a tired old queen like me. And She does!
The man I married and I were both enormously loved by both of our parents, which made it a lot easier to understand God’s love. But I just didn’t understand how, with all of the horrible things that happened, it never seemed to get to him at all. Maybe it was because he is African American and just finally got his own coping mechanism that if you take it all seriously you’ll never get through the day. I don’t know.
Oh, once in a while we would notice that in going to the grocery store in Fort Valley, Georgia, that whenever we would go in together, all the people who worked in the grocery store, no matter what they were doing or how crowded it was, would go back behind the butcher’s two-way counter and watch the faggots shop. And it would really get to me but it never got to him, and one day he noticed it was getting to me and rather impatiently he said, "Oh honey! They may gloat, but we’re the stars!"
Ernest’s reticence did bother me because you want in an intimate relationship for people to share with you pain and suffering of their own. Though if I subjected him to every one of my painful stories he’d tell me to get up and go on about my life and not worry about them. But one evening very early, maybe a year, into our relationship — a long time ago! — I said to him, "Baby, didn’t they ever get to you? At least once?"
He moved the conversation into another register and said, "Well, I remember once when I was a child, I was visiting my aunt in Florida, and I must have been nine or ten years old. Maybe twelve or thirteen, I don’t remember. But, I had been down to the playground, and the boys had started teasing me about the way I walked. And I said, ‘What do you mean? What’s wrong with the way I walk?’
"And they said, ‘Well, you walk like a girl.’
"’Like a girl? What’s like a girl about the way I’m walking?’"
They didn’t want to play with him. He felt embarrassed, and he started on the way home. And he said that as he approached the house his aunt was out on the back screen porch. He couldn’t see her but she could see him. And as he came closer he was trying to walk this way, and then this way, but none of it was working right and it was all very awkward and he was really hurting.
She came off the porch, and he didn’t see her come off the porch, and she was there in the backyard. And as they came up together she said, "Boy, what you doing?"
He lowered his eyes and he looked to the ground and said, "Ma’am?"
"What you doing?"
"But what you doing?"
"Yas’m, just walking."
"But son, you been here how long? Eight weeks? I been watching you go over to that playground every day. You never walked like this! What you doing now is not walking!"
In a wonderful change in her mood, a gentleness, she came up and put her arms around him and said, "Son, did they tease you down at the playground?"
"About the way you walk?"
"Son, God gave you the legs that you have. And you’ve been walking on ’em pretty well until today. You can’t be walking on nobody else’s legs. God loves you just the way you are! You hear me?"
This article is an excerpt from: Clay, L. (2015). Welcome to Samaria. In M. Niedzwiecki (Ed.), Letters from Samaria: The Prose and Poetry of Louie Crew Clay 1974-2014 (pp. 72-75). New York, NY: Morehouse Publishing.
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