Sometimes, someone posts something on Facebook that is of intrinsic value. The following thought-piece—published here with the author’s permission—is such a post. I was going to write an introductory paragraph and then came to the realization that Doug Kulow’s essay says it all so eloquently.
So instead, I’ll simply say thank you to Doug for allowing me to share it with you, the reader, for I know that you will discover something close to the depth of feeling, immense courage and expansive heart that I found in it.
That First Kiss
That first kiss will have to wait. That fits I guess because it took so long anyway. The events of the past three days affected my consciousness. You know when I think about it most of the good things about the way I think, reason and feel I owe to women I’ve known and loved. I guess no matter how hardened any attitudes I might have had over the years they could be softened by the promise of affection of a girl. My mother always said I was too easy, adding that it is not an attractive thing to be. Still, when someone leads you to question your values and you find yourself without a reasonable defense haven’t they done you a service. What difference does it make how it is that your attention was commandeered? Whether it was the unimpeachable logic of her argument or the simple fact that it was her argument you find it appealing. I’m here to admit without shame that first girls and them women have changed my thinking for the better. So it was with Christine McGowan.
I met Christine at Ohio State. She was intriguingly unusual, to my mind’s eye beautiful, brilliant, masterfully in total charge of all social situations and from Scotland. Scotland, that alone was enough to hold my attention. My mom was right. She lived in Baker Hall West. I met her in the commons. It wasn’t love at first sight. More like infatuation at first semi-intoxicated dash in the rain across the “Oval” after a night a the Heidelberg North to get her back to the dorm before her curfew with enough time to get a really great kiss on the steps.
In 1964 when I graduated from high school I really didn’t think I had any prejudices that were outside normal. In the all male world of a dormitory there were enough opportunities for validation through observation of the interactions between any of your 55 floor mates on an hourly basis. You don’t need details, do you? Egalitarian attitudes about homosexuality, if they existed, certainly weren’t being shared in the towel snapping communal showers or the parties of fraternity rush week. Feminism? Not yet. Race? Well that was a issue of a different color in September of 1964 wasn’t it? Perhaps it was but the fact is that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was only two months old and I sure don’t recall any of my teachers saying much about it. We’d watched the news. We’d seen the protests. We’d listened to our parents, maybe. I knew that a black man couldn’t get a haircut in Wadsworth. I had a couple friends. What did I know? Politics was big deal at Ohio State. Angela Davis was to speak but had to move the event off campus but that was because she was a communist, wasn’t it? She was a Black Panther, too. Was that it? The historian Herbert Aptheker had spoken. Also a communist, he was blacklisted in the fifties, but his focus was on Africa histories. If you listened in the dorms there were conversations. There was a great gap between what I knew and what I was to know.
So on another day, our affair of the heart a little more mature yet still with the innocence of “Pleasantville” romances in black and white, Christine and I walked down High Street towards the Student Union. A couple in front of us crossed the street holding hands, him black, her white.
“I hate that!” I said.
“Why?” asked Christine McGowan. “Why does that bother you?”
What defense did I have? What reason could I offer when there was none? Had I heard it before? How many times? In what context? Was I jealous, envious, bitter, angry, threatened? No. What I was was embarrassed and perhaps a little afraid that I’d lose her affection for this moment, perhaps this evening, maybe forever. I had no answer.
So I learned. But it wasn’t so much what I said but the fact that inside me there was a attitude, some learned way of thinking and responding that couldn’t stand up to question from someone for whom I cared.
So today I’m thankful
For Christine McGowan’s embrace
Which held me just long enough
To allow me to grow up just enough
To question my own assumptions just enough
To accept others in their differences just enough
To finally learn to embrace them.
She held my hand and asked me, “Why?”