Imagination

My greeting to the guests at our rehearsal dinner.
I delayed publication until after the ceremony.


I never imagined being married.

Of course, lesbians couldn’t marry. But it was more than that.

It was more than that I didn’t expect to be married. It was more than that I didn’t expect to have a wedding, to be a bride.

I never even imagined it. Never even imagined being married. Never even imagined being a bride.


My fiancée says that, when she was a girl, she wanted what every little ranch girl wants: To get married, have children, raise children, get children married, spoil grandchildren.


I never had that aspiration.

It wasn’t because I am a lesbian. It wasn’t because lesbians couldn’t marry.

Even as a very young girl, before I knew that I was a lesbian, I didn’t dream, or daydream, or even imagine being married. Didn’t dream, or daydream or imagine being a bride.

When I played with Barbie dolls – Yes, I played with Barbie dolls – my Barbie wasn’t a bride. Barbie wasn’t married to Ken.

It wasn’t latent lesbianism. It wasn’t a latent feminist fantasy of an independent woman. It was simply want of imagination.

I realized I was a lesbian when I was in high school. I did things that I’m not proud of. Things that disgust me. Things that you may have heard rumored. Things that made marriage even more unimaginable.


I was baptized, raised and confirmed in the Roman Catholic Church. I broke Mother’s heart when I left the Church. I didn’t leave because I was a lesbian. Even after I left the Church, I believed that being a lesbian was a sin.

The Catechism of the Roman Catholic Church says,

Homosexual persons are called to chastity. By the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom, at times by the support of disinterested friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection.

I had inhuman self-mastery. It made me the best engineer you’ve ever seen.

But I was wasting my life. I was wasting my capacity to love and be loved.


I could have married a man. Had children. Gradually and resolutely approached Christian perfection.

But it would have been morally appalling.

I could have tolerated knowing I would never be emotionally or romantically or physically fulfilled. I have fortitude enough to sublimate myself for the sake of my soul and for the sake of children to love.

But for him, for a husband? It would have been an unpardonable sin against him. It would have been morally abominable to do that to someone, someone who loved me.

Can you imagine loving someone – dedicating your life to someone – who cannot love you as you love? Who cannot love you as you deserve to be loved?

Can you imagine loving someone incapable of love and desire and passion for you? Someone you want to fulfill?

One of the things that I have learned so well from my fiancée is that it is more blessed to give – emotionally, romantically, physically – than to receive. The most amazing thing about love is not one’s own rapture, but the rapture of another.

Even if I had been the greatest actress, even if I could deceive a man for his entire life, even if he never had an inkling of it, the deception would have been morally repulsive. What would it have made me? A moral monster.

How could I withhold that from someone – deceive someone – who loved me enough to dedicate his life to me? How long before my own moral depravity would overcome me, either in guilt or shame or in a perverted moral center?


I never imagined being married. I never imagined being a bride. But my poverty of imagination was greater than that. I never imagined loving someone. I never imagined being loved.

I don’t mean that I thought that I was unlovable. I don’t mean that I thought I was incapable of love. I wasn’t depressed or even unhappy. I didn’t pity myself. I didn’t consider myself pitiable. My life was fulfilling. But love was just something outside of my imagination. My impoverished imagination.


I was extraordinarily fortunate to have found a compassionate and inquisitive minister. I came into his office and declared, without preface, “I am a lesbian.”

He laughed at my forwardness, the baldness of my declaration. He asked me what I wanted to do about it. What I wanted him to do about it. Being a Protestant, he couldn’t offer me absolution. But, as a Protestant, he would help me look into scripture – and solely to scripture, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

Although he is not a Calvinist, he seemed guided by the Westminster Confession:

The whole counsel of God, concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man’s salvation, faith, and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit, or traditions of men. Nevertheless we acknowledge the inward illumination of the Spirit of God to be necessary for the saving understanding of such things as are revealed in the Word.


I won’t detail our investigation, our hermeneutic and theological wrestling. I will only say this: In the end, I must always come to the words of our Savior:

Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

This is how Christ himself would have us interpret God’s law. “On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

My love of this woman, and of my God, is wholly in the letter and spirit of those two commandments.


Two years ago, after showing me to a calm in my soul, the minister asked me to meet with a woman. He said she was a lesbian comfortable in her conservative Christian faith.

We met for dinner. I immediately knew that she was the most extraordinary person I had ever met. Brilliant beyond imagining, cultured, cosmopolitan, beautiful, charming, successful – yet the friendliest, happiest, least conceited person I had ever met. She immediately put me at ease, treated me as an equal, was interested in me.

It was the most wonderful dinner of my life. It was the most wonderful two hours of conversation of my life.

As we left, standing on the sidewalk in front of the restaurant, she touched my cheek. I nearly fainted. My heart stopped. Literally stopped.

I thought, “I am going to die, right here.”

Then, “Thank you, God, for letting me die happy.”


I didn’t die, of course. But, for the first time, I imagined love.

I wasn’t in love, not yet. I didn’t know enough about love to know if I was in love, and I knew it. I knew that I didn’t know enough about her – or, frankly, about myself – to be in love.

But in that instant, I could imagine it. It – the imagining – was the most extraordinary thing in the world. Not only that I could love, but that I could be loved. Be loved not as a friend or a sister or a daughter, but as God’s gift for another. To love someone not as a friend or a sibling or a parent, but as God’s gift to me.


You know the rest. We fell in love. I moved to New York. She nearly died. We proposed and accepted marriage. We gave each other these rings. We bought dresses and planned this wedding.


But you don’t know all the rest.

I still could not imagine being a bride. The ceremony tomorrow seemed only that: a celebration of the life to come, a life together.


My fiancée decided in her childhood imaginings that she wanted to be married under the order for service from the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer. She told me this when we became engaged. I read the order for service and agreed. We’re neither of us Episcopal, but we are traditionalists. Beyond that, the order for service seemed to both of us to say whatever we might write in personal vows, and say it more eloquently – certainly more eloquently than I could.


Last Sunday, after church, we sat with the minister who introduced us and will officiate tomorrow. We read the order for service together. And then, with the same power as the moment of imagining when she touched my cheek, I imagined being her bride. Being her wife. Her being my bride. Her being my wife.


I’m not an imaginative woman. I’m not given much to self-reflection and certainly not to self-absorption. I’m not easily distracted, especially by abstract ideas or flights of fancy.

So I’ve seemed odd this week. The better you know me, the odder I have probably seemed.

Someone who didn’t know me well might write it off as pre-wedding jitters or pre-wedding excitement. Someone who didn’t know my mother, or my fiancée’s mother, or our sisters, and the thoroughness and excellence of their preparation might write it off as distraction by the thousand details of a wedding.


But it’s this: I am reveling in the a dream. A dream of a wedding. A dream of being married. Imagining what it will be like, tomorrow, to stand in God’s presence and declare, reverently and deliberately, that I will have this woman to be my wife; to live together in the covenant of marriage, to love her, comfort her, honor and keep her, in sickness and in health; and, forsaking all others, be faithful to her as long as we both shall live.

And for her, tomorrow, to stand in God’s presence and declare, reverently and deliberately, that she will have this woman to be her wife; to live together in the covenant of marriage, to love me, comfort me, honor and keep me, in sickness and in health; and, forsaking all others, be faithful to me as long as we both shall live.

Advertisements

Paradox: The incoherence of common sense

My musings on mathematicians and engineers were provoked by my Love’s reaction to something I saw in a quotes file:

There’s no way to develop an ambitious, broad-ranging, self-consistent metaphysical system without doing serious violence to common sense somewhere.
Eric Schwitzgebel

When I saw that, I laughed. It sums up what I’ve always thought about metaphysics. It sums up what almost everyone thinks about analytic philosophy.

I quoted it to my Love, who was trained as a pure mathematician. (For those of you who have never spent time with a pure mathematician: They make Mr Spock seem illogical.) She smiled and said,

Of course, sweetheart. Everything in mathematics, everything in science, did serious violence to the common sense of its time. That’s why we remember Galileo and Newton and Euler and Einstein. They defied common sense. Common sense is always wrong, unless it’s based on science that did violence to the common sense of its time.


The perils of quotes files: They lack context.

After that conversation with my Love, I read the whole interview with Professor Schwitzgebel. He said essentially the same thing as my Love said. He’s not criticizing metaphysics. He’s criticizing common sense. I still think metaphysics (other than Kant) is mostly silly, but he’s devastatingly right about common sense.

In context, Professor Schwitzgebel says,

Common sense is incoherent in matters of metaphysics. There’s no way to develop an ambitious, broad-ranging, self-consistent metaphysical system without doing serious violence to common sense somewhere. It’s just impossible. Since common sense is an inconsistent system, you can’t respect it all. Every metaphysician will have to violate it somewhere.

Common sense is an acceptable guide to everyday practical interactions with the world. But there’s no reason to think it would be a good guide to the fundamental structure of the universe. Think about all the weirdness of quantum mechanics, all the weirdness of relativity theory. The more we learn about such things, the more it seems we’re forced to leave common sense behind. The same is probably true about metaphysics.

You don’t even need to get into the weirdness of quantum mechanics. The Sun orbits the Earth? Common sense. A heavier stone falls faster than a lighter stone? Common sense. Species were as God created them in the Garden of Eden? Common sense. Newtonian mechanics? Crazy. Invisible animals cause disease? Insane! Send pictures through the air? Get this guy a straitjacket.


Even in the most abstract pursuits, there’s a place for common sense. Professor Schwitzgebel again:

But here’s the catch: Without common sense as a guide, metaphysics is hobbled as an enterprise. You can’t do an empirical study, for example, to determine whether there really is a material world out there or whether everything is instead just ideas in our minds coordinated by god. You can’t do an empirical study to determine whether there really exist an infinite number of universes with different laws of physics, entirely out of causal contact with our own. We’re stuck with common sense, plausibility arguments, and theoretical elegance – and none of these should rightly be regarded as decisive on such matters, whenever there are several very different and yet attractive contender positions, as there always are.

Vulgar language

[This is not the password-protected post.
The password-protected post is here.
I apologize for the confusion.]


I don’t like vulgar language.

I’m not prissy. I’m no prig.

I’ve spent my working life on construction sites. Vulgar language is as common as dust, mud and pickup trucks. Put a woman in charge – a woman who’s proud to be a woman and leans toward the feminine – and it gets even louder and more common.

I’ve heard every vulgar word and phrase you have ever heard, and a lot more. I’ve heard them combined in ways you can’t imagine. I’ve had them used to belittle, describe or taunt me. I’m a big girl. I can deal with it. I get respect in the end.

Please pardon me if catcalling and wolf-whistling don’t give me the vapors. Yes, it’s immoral. No, it’s not rape.

I don’t even hear it any more. There’s a filter between my auditory nerves and my conscious brain.


I avoid using vulgar language. It doesn’t add anything, and a good engineer seeks economy.

Still, I would win any profanity-slinging contest.


My Love is even more fastidious than I am.

Her firm is the cleanest-mouthed organization I’ve ever been around.

She’s no prig, either.

She grew up on a cow-calf ranch. She’s castrated more bulls than you have seen, even in the movies. If she judges that a male is treating her with insufficient respect, she will describe the method for him. In detail.


Whenever she hears anything off-color, she has a Pavlovian reaction: “Do you eat with that mouth?”

The first time I heard her say that on the subway, I thought the punk would murder us, right there. Instead, he looked sheepish and apologized.

My Love is not a woman to be trifled with.

 

 

The jet-setting life

An obligatory
“Sorry for not posting”
post

For almost 35 years, my life was bounded

  • on the North by the Canadian border
  • on the East on a line through Rapid City, South Dakota
  • on the South by a line through Santa Fe, New Mexico
  • on the West by the Pacific Ocean.

Seattle and Denver were the largest cities I had ever been in.

Since March, I have been around the world. Twice.

“Oooh. Glamorous! Jet setter! Front of the plane! Grand hotels!”

No.


My latest trip:

Redeye to Frankfurt. Redeye to Singapore. 22 hours.

Clear Customs and Immigration. Disembarkation card:

WELCOME TO SINGAPORE

WARNING
DEATH FOR DRUG TRAFFICKERS
UNDER SINGAPORE LAW
.

You can’t say you weren’t warned.

Check into hotel. Shower and dress. Go to meeting.

Room full of sponsors, bankers, lawyers, investors and engineers. Half of them insulted that my firm would send a girl. The other half that we would send only one person, and she barely out of school.

8-hour grilling by sponsors, bankers, lawyers, investors and engineers. One of the senior engineers (whose work I am implicitly shredding) refers to me as, “Young Lady”. I smile.

Increasing signs of respect, beginning with the senior engineers.

Meeting breaks up. We got the job. General consensus that the Young Lady knows what she’s talking about.

Banker: Give you a lift?

Me: Sure. Thanks.

Banker: A drink and dinner?

Me (showing ring): I’m engaged.

Banker (laughing): I’m gay.

Me (laughing): I’m engaged to a girl.

Banker takes me to the Long Bar at the Raffles. I order a Singapore Sling, because: Raffles. Take one sip. Ewwww. Order a gin and tonic.

Banker takes me to the Seafood Centre. I order chili crab, because: Singapore. Holy cow! Amazing! They don’t serve chili crab at the diner in West Jerkwater. Sadly, the craft beer craze has not reached the Singapore Seafood Centre.

Catch midnight flight to Frankfurt.

24 hours later, back in New York.

That’s right folks:

A day trip to Singapore.

40 hours on planes.

Ugh.