This I Believe

Ellen - Charlottesville, Virginia
Entered on June 18, 2008

I believe in lullabies.

Mom sang me to sleep every night when I was a kid. Her repertoire was small, and she sang only one song. It was “Everybody Loves my Darling Ellen”, and it involved lists of every person she could think of while hunched in the corner of my trundle bed, interrupted periodically with the chorus-“Everybody loves my darling Ellen”. This lullaby taught me that the world was a good place to be, filled with people who loved me and loved each other with all they had.

Cut to an afternoon during my sixth year, in the midst of those nightly affirmations. I invited my best friend over to play with the neighbor’s dog. As we approached, the usually amiable dog snarled at my companion. Why did he growl so viciously at her and not at me? Were we not just two smiling children coming to play? We ran, scared and confused, past the electric fence and straight home. She was black, and I was white, that’s when I learned about race.

Cut to my eighteenth year, a year when the last thing I wanted to do was be seen in public with my parents. But in public we were, crouched over soggy bar food, when I learned that my beloved uncle was gay and dying of AIDS. Why were they speaking in such hushed tones in this dark restaurant corner? I was eighteen, and that’s when I learned that even parents are fallible.

It was during my twenty-first year that I dreamed my uncle said goodbye. He wore a yellow shirt and the pristine white sneakers I always warned him against. He stood in a room that resembled the hospital in which he resided at the time. He seemed to glow as he told me that he was sorry. When I awoke terrified, I called Mom to check on his status. He was still alive. No change. Five hours later, he was dead.

Cut to my twenty-fifth year, sitting at my computer attempting to make sense of what I believe. I wonder if twenty-five years need to be siphoned into words when I am a living amalgamation of every instant. Each of us walks around as manifestations of our entire life experience, and we constantly change as we move from scene to scene.

My answer is simply to appreciate the distance I’ve traveled and the distance I have yet to cover. Finally, I can try to see the world as my mother taught me to see it. What she sang then and what I affirm now is that what really matters are our most essential cores, the parts of us that have journeyed since our births and continue to journey until our deaths. Those parts that allow us to be malleable, to grow and change according to what we experience and how we deal. The parts where we all look more or less the same and we all look good, just like Mom’s lullaby said we would.