Recently I contacted an acquaintance from my first life. I remember him as a tall, sexy graduate student with an infectious smile and an outsider’s insight into our society. A U.S. citizen, he’d grown up overseas. We enjoyed long philosophical discussions. I lost track of him when he returned to Europe.
Thanks to the internet, I learned he now lives stateside, works for a religious institution. I emailed him this innocuous note:
Jack (not his real name),
Warm greetings and (mostly) good wishes to you in the midst of the yammering and clamoring of daily life.
I stumbled across your name today and smiled to think of you back when you wrote for the magazine I edited. Back when I yet called myself Doug, before I named myself.
My file of abandoned to-do projects includes an airmail letter I started to you overseas. Perhaps this note is by way of laying that obligation to rest. <
I hope you are well and happy. Interesting how life continues apace, how it carries us along on its currents, how we do the best we can. How much this matters; how little.
Life and peace to you. And light,
He replied, addressing me by my birth name. Red flag. People who refuse to honor my name change also tend to discount the person I am now. Jack wrote:
Thank you for your note. I enjoyed writing for the magazine. There is something you write here that lacks wisdom: "I named myself." It is folly to think that we can name ourselves. We are not our own authors. We are the clay, not the Potter.
What's in a name? "She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins" (Matthew 1:21). Everything's in THIS name: "For there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved" (Acts 4:12).
And this is my only hope—that Jesus came into the world to save sinners. He alone is true peace, light, and life,
What gives? His response seems overblown. Somehow he must have learned I've come out. Apparently my making contact threatens him. What, is he afraid I’ll assault his belief system? His person? I feel angry.
At the same time, I've been where he is, smug and secure in self-righteous conviction on his side of the church door. If I write Jack off as a lost cause, I also throw out the former me he represents. I want to believe my first lifetime was not a total wash, that some part of what I did or who I was outlived my coming out. That's why I emailed Jack in the first place. When I answer him I also address the man I once was:
Curious (or maybe not) that you and I address comments to persons who lived some 14, 15 years ago, who are no longer present to life in a physical way. I write a Jack whom I perceived/projected to be in the thick of continued learning, able to pose questions, feeling his way into the future. You write a man named Doug, earnest, sincere, sure he knew where if not what the answers were. Peace to both those men. And to the men they are at present, may one day become.
Thank you for your response, for your time, energy and expression of hope/belief. Given the tenor of your words, the judgment I hear in them, and my desire for health, I choose to terminate contact with this email (leaving me the last word, I note) and say to that ages-ago Jack and his present incarnation, as I did to my father four years ago on his deathbed, three years later to my dying mother, then to my beloved grandmother, "I love you; I let you go."
When I was little I wanted to be a cat when I grew up. In childhood, all bets were off, all options open. My world has narrowed since then. Nowadays the thought of having to endure nine lives leaves me feeling tired. I can’t seem to reconcile the two that have been granted me, let alone nine. I grieve the loss of my first life and my inability to bring people from my past into my present. This life after death is deeper, richer, fuller, different. I wish those I once loved were here to share it.
This essay first appeared in The Letter, February 2009