Monday, January 28, 2013

Being a part time angel; and a part time baptiser too

I was an angel yesterday afternoon.

Not for long, and I was only practising, but a bit of an angel nonetheless.

Angels, I discovered, seem to belong somewhere out of time, but have to operate within it. They’re not human, being angels, but are somehow also ultra-human. They have deep compassion, but are also quite detached. They have immense authority but have no need to assert it. They have infinite tenderness: and infinite strength.

I was rehearsing, of course, having been cast as an angel, in Theatre Alba’s remarkable and beautiful passion play, “To The Cross” which they perform to an audience of up to a thousand in and around Duddingston village on the outskirts of Edinburgh, ( and Charles Nowolskielski, the play’s author/director has cast me because the other thing about angels is that they are not men, and not women, but maybe a bit of both, and in at least part of that respect I fill the bill very well.

I am the angel that rolls away the stone from Jesus’ tomb and appears to Mary Magdalene and the other women to tell them Jesus has risen from the dead.

Not that easy a part, as it happens, but i do my best, and then rush off to a nearby leisure centre to do a baptism.

Which makes it an unusually sacred afternoon. But I like that, because in the societies that accept and celebrate the existence of us gender non-conformists we often seem to play a sacred role.

We’re to baptise a particularly  courageous and remarkable young transman, brought up in the Baptist tradition, who wants to celebrate and consecrate his true name and has hired the swimming pool there.

I’ve been asked to perform Lewis Reay’s very beautiful retelling of the story of the Apostle Philip and the Eunuch (Acts 8) and then help Maxwell, the minister, do the immersion.

Maxwell’s very beautiful prayers speak of an angelic place, a spiritual place, to which we all belong: where we are totally accepted and celebrated for who we are. Part of a community, belonging to our fellow human beings. Where we belong in the world.

A witness to the event said it moved her profoundly because it was a physical symbol of being able to walk away from all the suffering and mistakes of the past and make a fresh start. Begin a new life...

Before we got into the pool Maxwell blessed the water and made it holy, which is rather lovely, because there it is today, looking normal, and people are swimming in it: and all of them quietly getting blessed.

Just as Simon was blessed in his new life. And we who witnessed were blessed in ours.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

When You Die, Dear Friend

When you die, dear friend....

When you die, dear friend,
And your body is buried
In splendour and glory
And wild wild celebration,
I know strange things will start to happen at your grave.
It will be a place of weird and never before seen flowers,
Whose deep colours will dazzle all eyes;
It will be a rendezvous for happy lovers;
And a place where 
A spring will start flowing,
Of the clearest, purest water:
And those who drink it,
And wash themselves in it,
And make love beside it,
Will all bask in huge happiness.
It will be a place of sweet miracles,
Of dancing and song,
And after a while,
When your bones are all scattered,
And your name quite forgotten,
Theatre festivals will spring up there
And attract their happy thousands
And no-one will quite know why.
But I will tell them.
I will be an improbable crone,
On my shaky sticks, my wild hair strewn with flowers,
Wearing the most gorgeous, if faded, silk dress.
And I will tell them:
“My dear friend is buried here.
She lived life fully
And she accepted death gladly
And that is why miracles happen in this most holy place.
That is why lovers are happy and fruitful
And why, every morning,
A delicious chocolate cake always appears
On the flower draped stone that marks the site of her grave.”
The Vatican will phone me,
The experts will ask me,
The tight arsed men in their scarlet dresses
Whose profession it is to examine candidates for sainthood
And whose frocks reveal a truth
They spend all their energy denying.
I will tell them:
“Look around you, dear sirs, 
For evidence of her miracles;
And above all look deep in your withered hearts.”
And they did, and their hearts burst into flower,
They acknowledged her sainthood and abandoned the church.
And I tell you now, dear loved one,
Confronting the future with such clear-eyed courage,
The real miracle is that somehow,
Somewhere impossibly distant, impossibly close
All this is happening

Johanna C. Edinburgh, 26 July 2008

I wrote this for a dear friend four years ago. She knew then she was dying; and on Saturday I learnt of her death. She did not want any service or memorial, so I have suppressed the mention of her name.
I want the poem to be read, though; people of her courage are rare, and should be honoured.

Friday, January 18, 2013

A spiteful joke

“You’d think the trannies could take it”, a man writes in a national newspaper in defence of the writers of some recently hateful articles about trans women, “Their shoulders are broad enough”.

It's a common tactic, of course, that the apologists for abuse tend to use: to blame the victins, rather than challenge the perpetrators. Because that, somehow, requires too much courage. 

But he shows no awareness of that. Instead he writes in a gleefully complacent tone, as if saying something especially witty and daring, courageous even: because he knows what he writes will cause offence.

I came across his words, as it happens, just after packing away a beautiful evening dress I was going to have take back to the shop. A dress I couldn’t wear because my shoulders are too broad for it.

“I won’t be hurt by this”, I told myself, “I won’t be. It isn’t worth it”.

But of course I was. It reminded me of those sneering remarks that were always directed  to me at school; the remarks that bullies use to taunt and ridicule. They’re impossible to deal with; I never knew whether to pretend to ignore them, which gave the bullies one kind of victory, or try to answer back and give the bullies the satisfaction of knowing they had hurt me. 

I would generally say nothing, and then afterwards rehearse the most stinging responses over and over in my head. And that, I suspect, was how I first learned to craft dialogue.

It’s a sadness that otherwise intelligent people should think it witty to mock a fellow human being’s physical appearance. In this case, I’ve a feeling the writer’s gibe at broad shoulders comes from something inside himself that frightens and shames him. Something he doesn’t yet have the strength and courage to directly confront.

And so he spreads his little bit of hatred. And hatred breeds hatred, and rage breeds rage.

And fear breeds fear. The woman in the dress shop seems possessed by it. She can barely bring herself to look at me. I can’t tell if she is afraid of me, or afraid of losing her job. She’s standing in an empty shop and I feel sorry for her. For all my efforts, she will not smile. On a couple of occasions she fleetingly moves the muscles of her mouth, as if with great efort, but her face stays lifeless.

Outside the street is full of beggars. Their gang masters have placed them at regular intervals each side of the road. And told them to kneel.

The Big Issue seller is furious. “They should be sent back”, he says, “Sent back to where they come from”. I say I feel sorry for them. “Each country should look after its own”, he says. “But we’re not”, I say, “Look at this one”. He agrees: “This country”s a joke”. 

And I say: “And we all turn against each other”.

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