26 May 2010

Memorial Heat

Today was one of those very hot days that, in some years, comes at this time of year:  at or near Memorial Day. When it's this hot earlier in the spring, you still know it was spring, even if you don't look at the calendar:  even the heat passes with the evanescence--almost a kind of delicacy or fragility, really--of the cherry blossoms, lilacs and other flowers with gossamer-like petals.  But now the heat, like the flora and fauna, have grown fuller--and heavier.  Between now and September, if we get a chilly, rainy day--as often happens just before the official start of summer--it will be merely an interlude, a passage in the hazy chamber of summer heat.

Now there is summer:  It could be a time of joy, a time of reflection or a time of death.  Last summer was certainly a time for the first two; in some sense, there had always been death and there would be more death.  I recall one year--so long ago now!--that this time of May began, literally, a season of death--and a prolonged one at that.  It seemed that lives could be submerged in the steamy, almost viscous heat of a season like that one.  James Baldwin has described that air--like an electrically-charged sky right before a summer storm that could just as easily become the strangest and most intense dream, one about which the dreamer can do nothing--filling  Southern summer nights and veiling the darkness in which lives are drowned and no one hears the scream.

Before that summer night of my life would end--after enveloping the months from Memorial Day until Christmas that year--six people who had been in my life before it began would be gone.   One would be murdered; the other five would die from AIDS-related illnesses.  Yes, I know, I am still affected by them, still grieving them, if I am still talking about them.  Why wouldn't I?  I have a chance at life, my own life, that they never had.  

In one sense, one might say that I died in a way, too, during that time:  After all, I was not the same afterward.  And, I also died in giving birth to myself.  No one is ever the same after giving birth as he or she was before.  Of course, for me, that was the point of it:  Why would I have gone through changing my gender and the surgery if it weren't?  That meant, of course death to the old person who lived through the body I had.  

A few hundred students--including a few of mine--will graduate on Friday.  Some speaker or another is going to talk at them about the challenges they'll face in the future.  I don't remember exactly what the speakers at my graduation said ours would be.  But I don't think any has ever said that real challenges would be dying and giving birth to one's self, as well as others, again and again.

If I ever had a chance of being anyone's commencement speaker, I probably blew it just now  Oh well.  I didn't want to do that anyway.