(I love telling stories. It might be my favorite “style” of writing. It is, without a doubt, the stuff that most of my readers best respond to. This year, I want to tell you some stories about my past– about people who’ve made me who I am today. Some will be happy, some will be sad. Some you will find encouraging, some you will find maddening. But they all have one thing in common. They are all: People Who’ve Made Me Who I Am Today.)
I absolutely love to sing. I’ve probably mentioned that before. I am not an exceptional vocalist. I am also not tone-deaf. I have what has always, as long as I can remember, been referred to as: “a nice voice.” People who sit in front of me at church? Frequently turn around and say, “you have a nice voice.” In college? My dorm neighbors would remark, “you have a nice voice.” When I would sing to my baby girl in the NICU? They’d turn the speaker of our isolation room on and everyone would listen. “You have a nice voice,” they’d say.
So, yeah. I have a “nice voice.” Inoffensive, at least.
Interestingly enough, I never sang in the school chorus or church choir. Never mind that I could have joined either without any hassle or great effort– neither required a formal audition, unless you were planning on doing a solo. But, even though I loved to sing, I never joined one of those groups.
When I got to college, however, I decided I wanted to join the choir. Leave it to me to decide to join a singing group only when it was required that I try out for it! For whatever reason, this didn’t deter me and I walked with a group of other freshmen into the music hall at our campus, ready to audition.
The young man who stood at the door holding a clipboard looked up with a broad grin.
“Hello!” he beamed. “Are you here to SING for us today?”
“Excellent!” he declared, noting my name with a quick shake of his dark curls.
The blonde girl behind me commented on his necklace, “Are those rainbow rings? I love rainbows! Where did you ever find something so cool?”
He threw his head back and his silvery laugh rang out through the room.
“Ah, honey, I’m not sure you really want THIS necklace. It’s the rainbow for gay pride. Do you know about that?” His smile never faltered.
She shook her head. She didn’t know.
Neither did I, for that matter.
I had been raised in a public school in the liberal state of Connecticut but, to be frank, I knew nothing about gay people. As far as I knew, I’d never met anyone who was gay. (I’m not so naieve as to believe that was actually the case, but I truly wasn’t aware of anyone in my community or social circles who was homosexual.) I had spent the early 90s in high school– not in a city– so I think such things were still pretty hushed.
There is simply no other word to describe Reno than “delightful.” I mean, he was also temperamental. And dramatic. But, mostly, he was delightful– charming, joyful, lively, and fun.
As I got to know the rest of our choir, one thing became abundantly clear: straight men were a decided minority in the bunch. As in, I think there were two of them.
Like I said, I’d never known (or, at least, known that I’d known) any gay people before. It’s also not something that had ever been heavily discussed, one way or the other. My church didn’t really bring it up. My parents didn’t have a lot to say about it. Honestly, the one thing I ever remember my mom saying was when I was in high school and she said,
“I just don’t believe that this is a choice. I don’t believe anyone wakes up and makes the decision to be gay. And there’s just no excuse for not being kind to everyone.”
And, really, that was that. And it was enough.
I had no difficulty making friends in choir. I’m friends with some of them to this day. Two of the (gay) men I met in that choir went on to sing at my Catholic wedding. The Ave Maria solo brought tears to more than a few eyes.
Reno was the start of it for me. His bright, friendly, welcoming smile was truly all I saw. I may not have known anything about the gay pride flag when I entered that room, but I knew how to listen. How to be kind. And how to see beyond labels to the character beneath.
And so began some truly beautiful friendships.
Other people who’ve made me who I am: