The temperature started to change around here this week. Fall is creeping in. For me, autumn takes its texture not only from the outward physical changes in the environment, but also (and perhaps, most profoundly) from the poignant layers of memory that have become indelibly linked to that season in my life. It even has a melody: Pachelbel’s surpassing Canon in D, which I first heard in the autumn of my freshman year of college, as I stepped out into a very unfamiliar world.
One such memory was Thanksgiving Day, 1996. I was at the Baton Rouge airport, dropping off Dave—a genial British exchange student who was returning to England. He had been camping out for a couple of months in the rambling house near LSU that served as our English graduate student commune. After he checked his bags, we had some time to kill before he went to the boarding area. We wandered over to a gleaming new car from a local dealership that was parked in the lobby. While we were studying the way-out-of-reach window decal, a friendly police officer on foot patrol stopped by and started chatting us up.
I don’t remember how the conversation steered in this direction, but it turned out that, in the 60s, the policeman had been a young Trappist monk at Gethsemani Abbey with Thomas Merton. My ears perked up. This was intriguing to me both as a cradle Catholic and a former seminarian. He described how exciting it was to be in the abbey at that time, as famous authors, thinkers, and religious and political figures journeyed to the Kentucky countryside to meet with Merton, often giving talks to the assembled brothers during their stay.
He recalled one meeting in particular when a prominent civil rights leader had spoken about how we all arrive at certain junctures in life and are confronted with decisions that demand a response from us. About how it’s important to seize the day and take action in the appropriate season. Our lives may not be over if we don’t, but if we continue to delay and vacillate, they’ll be irrevocably different.
He was looking directly at me. My heart pounded as he spoke; I knew what this was about. The next morning I drove to Dallas, and that weekend I had hours-long heartfelt conversations with two of my closest friends. And so began the long and stumbling process of emerging from the dark and sad closet and coming out as an affirming and loving gay man.