Friday, December 13, 2002

The Man in the Uniform

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #197, December 13, 2002)

I didn’t remember how I had gotten there, but I found myself in the waiting area of a large and very grand transportation terminal of some sort. I was sitting on a bench that was surprisingly comfortable, waiting for—I knew not what. I was dressed in my best leathers—boots, pants, shirt, vest and jacket, with my hat on the bench by my side—and, unusual for me, all the leather had been polished and shined to a fare-thee-well.

The crowd in the terminal was a random mix of people, but no one else who was waiting was wearing any leather at all—and I gradually became aware that the leather I was wearing was a source of amusement for some of my fellow travelers and a source of consternation for others. I overheard a man sitting across from me whisper somewhat too loudly to the woman next to him, “How did somebody like him get on this flight?” From the expression on my face he must have realized that I had overheard him; this caused him first to glare at me and then to quickly look away. Another man, a few seats away, also overheard him but didn’t bother whispering as he said to the woman sitting next to him, “Yeah, when did they start letting perverts into heaven?” She laughed and replied, “If they let people like that in, are we really sure we want to be there?”

I’m not sure which was more startling: the dawning of the realization that I was dead, or the fact that even here in the afterlife I was an object of disapproval and derision because I happened to be wearing leather.

As I was pondering this state of affairs, a man in a uniform walked up to the man who hadn’t bothered to whisper and asked, “Is there a problem here, sir?” The man pointed at me and said belligerently, “Yeah, there’s a problem—that guy over there! I’m not going to spend eternity with someone of his ilk!”

The man in the uniform smiled patiently and asked, “What ilk would that be, sir?”

At this point the man who had whispered joined the fray, but he was no longer whispering: “You know very well what he’s talking about! First, he’s obviously queer, and second, he’s one of those queers who think it’s fun to beat each other up! And he’s probably into all kinds of other immoral, weird, disgusting, filthy, vile—”

The man in the uniform interrupted him by asking, “If you can tell just by looking at him that he’s such an evil person, how do you think he got on the same flight as you?” The woman who was with the other man said, “That’s what we mean—we think there must have been some kind of mistake!”

The man in the uniform, realizing that he was dealing with more than one passenger with an objection, started addressing them all as he said, “There has been no mistake. I take it you all consider yourself Christians, am I correct?” Many heads nodded. “I thought so. Would you have the same objection if a follower of, say, Buddhism were sitting in your midst?” No one responded. “Is it right that someone should not be allowed on this flight just because you object to him? You realize, I’m sure, that there are many people in the world who hate people like you, who are convinced that all Christians are evil. They hate the Christian infidels so much that they believe they will achieve spiritual glory by killing them. If they objected to your presence on this flight, would that mean you should not be allowed to go?”

By this time I was wondering if I should just get up and leave, but suddenly the man in the uniform looked directly at me. It was almost as if he knew what I was thinking, and somehow his look communicated to me the message that I should stay, that everything would be all right. He continued speaking to the crowd: “Everyone who is waiting here has traveled their own path to get here. Some of you trod an easy path, while others of you had a more difficult journey. Yet all the paths have led in the end to the same destination. Although the spiritual path this man trod was different from yours, it was no less valid and no less effective for teaching him the things he needed to learn in his lifetime.”

I was surprised that the man in the uniform knew so much about me and my life. But he seemed to be explaining it perfectly, better than I could have explained it had I been called upon to defend myself.

He continued: “This man was part of a community that was and is much misunderstood in the world. The form of love they practice is often radical and not for the timid. But it most certainly is love! And if their methods are extreme, so too is the degree of love, learning, compassion, understanding and enlightenment they can achieve and experience. The disciplines he followed during his life allowed him to transcend barriers and taste a spiritual ecstasy that few others have tasted. He was ready for such ecstasy—he yearned for it—and therefore the means to achieve it were granted him.

“All that he experienced on his journey as part of that community has brought him here, one flight away from eternity. And he deserves as much as anyone here to make that flight.” Then, scanning the crowd, he continued, “If anyone here is not ready to get on the flight with this man, perhaps they’re not ready to make the flight at all.”

The air was tense, and it seemed to me that many in the crowd had not liked what they had just heard. But the man in the uniform didn’t seem to be bothered. He looked at his watch and then addressed me: “It’s just about time. Are you ready?”

Before I could answer the room suddenly grew blazingly bright, and the air was filled with what sounded at first like a chorus of angels—but which turned out to be only a Bach chorale, played through the shrill speaker of my clock radio.

*With apologies to C.S. Lewis.

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