Letter to a Cousin

I’ve lately been corresponding with a long-lost cousin, and we’ve been doing the catch-up thing on families, family trees and personal notes. She’s a happily married mathematician and educator in the northwest. As many Summitlake.com readers know, I’m a sixty-something retired gay man who lost a life partner to cancer in 2005, and a Vietnam vet. So, my cousin wrote me today commenting, among other things, on the recent end of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. She also remarked “I am very discouraged about politics.”

“Nickie” is my late brother who came out as gay in the military in 1964. He was a blazing meteor who extinguished his own life soon thereafter as he slammed face-first into the world of that era.

I’m not much for sharing private correspondence. It still occurred to me I had written some encouraging words for my cousin which might serve as a heartening reminder to all of us: while the pace of change often seems maddeningly slow, it’s happening all around us faster than we can usually appreciate. Following is an excerpt from my letter:

It’s not whether we’re as good with words as we might wish, it’s whether we take the chance to express them. As far as I’m concerned your thoughts were well stated and heartfelt – and isn’t that more substantive than the clever TelePrompTer turns of phrase we hear on TV? Thanks for everything you said … it’s one thing to read supporting viewpoints in the media from strangers you don’t even know, but another to hear it from friends and relatives who may not necessarily be personally invested in the issues, but choose to be anyway!

Oddly, my reaction to the end of Don’t ask Don’t Tell seemed almost anticlimactic, but I’m sure that’s only because I waited so long for it, and was never sure I’d actually see it. What the President and Joint Chiefs did was courageous. It was a remarkable “right thing” in an age of expediency.

Nickie had a flair for reducing complex social issues to a single insight, and I often wonder how he would have handled issues of today. Remembering that when WE were young Rock ‘n Roll music was just being born, Nickie’s comment on Elvis and the whole youth music phenomenon was: “Rock ‘n Roll: bubble gum cartoons for the ears.” Nickie liked classical music, particularly the harpsichord music of Bach, Couperin, Vivaldi and others. Although he showed no discernable interest in math, he never seemed to struggle with it as I did, and his music indicates he had the mind of a mathematician or scientist at any rate!

Your comment “I am very discouraged about politics” was touching to me although it seems much of our country is united if only in that one sentiment, which I share. But I must admit that I stop and look back at all that has happened in the world since I was a little kid, back in the days I’d sit on our yard swing wondering how the world would turn out. We have to admit there must be room for cautious optimism if not outright enthusiasm:

Men on the moon, the collapse of the Soviet Regime and rebirth of modern Russia, the end of the Cold War and nuclear holocaust threat we all grew up under, the Civil Rights Act and movements, women’s lib and equality in the workplace, the communications and information explosion, secrets of the cosmos …

… Arab Spring, for showing that social media nullifies government propaganda once and for all, for showing that people worldwide want the same things, and for dramatizing the great gulf between governments and the governed …

And now gays in the military, which Nickie should have been alive to see. We are very fortunate to have witnessed these things in our time. I have this odd feeling Nickie would have been very proud of us, even though nations, like older brothers, sometimes seem to take so very long …

Love,

Alex

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