Mind the Foxes

Image“There’s a fox in my backyard.”

That was the simplistic picture message Odin sent me on a winter afternoon. His random text was accompanied by an image of whitewashed woodland. A little red creature darted across the snowy terrain. Its bushy tail dusted a trail as he ran.

Initially, I was perplexed by the message’s random nature. Later, its profound depth entranced me.  It took a tragedy to shake meaning out of meagerness; Odin died unexpectedly a few months later.  He bequeathed me a fascination with all things foxy.

The occasional apocalypse is necessary for the long-term evolution of the soul. Old habits, aged ideologies, and outdated practices have to be destroyed so that the individual can survive in an evolving world. Sometimes, it is not just a Phoenix that rises from the ashes. There are moments when we must mind the fox.

Odin’s fox was going somewhere; he was on a mission. The where and why were irrelevant. It was only the advent of his interloping that mattered in that moment.

Odin saw what others missed. Maybe that is the up side to having a disordered personality. The frame of his mind minded not the fences we tend to put around ourselves. In a smart-phone society, we lose focus on what is in front of us. If it is not on Facebook, we do not know about it. If it is not in our iCal, we are not there.  Most of our actions are premeditated; much of our existence is preordained by the rigid schedule we box ourselves into. We get so consumed by the details of our life that we often forget to live. We miss the foxes in our own backyard.

And sometimes, we forget about the foxes in our bedrooms! Odin’s message reminded me that I had a fuzzy creature in my own midst.

His name was Victor. He was an unassuming, fluffy toy-animal. My parents gave him to me on my fifth birthday. I vividly remember unwrapping a round, red box and finding a furry, stuffed creature snuggled inside. When my eyes met his synthetic gaze, I knew we would be companions for life.

“I want Victor to be my friend when I’m 100 years old!” I exclaimed. “We’ll go everywhere together.”

We did. That day, we went camping by a lake in Ohio with my mom and dad. A few months later, we ventured to Arizona and explored deserts with my grandparents. Later, we moved to North Carolina. We explored the kudzu-laden woods of “Tarheel Land” as I pretended to be the Nintendo hero Link, on a mission to save Princess Zelda. We went to Myrtle Beach with my aunts every spring. We visited my cousin in the mountains of West Virginia every summer. We really did go everywhere together.

As I got older, I stopped impersonating video game heroes; I also stopped playing with my toy fox.  Life changed. My parents divorced. I moved to Kansas with my mom. I came out of the closet. I went to college. I ran for office. There really was no constant to weave together my disjointed life; none but a furry fox named Victor.

Though he had always been a fixture in every bedroom I have inhabited, I somehow forgot about him. Odin’s picture message jolted my brain. I called him up and exclaimed proudly that while he had a fox in his backyard, I had a fox inside my apartment. Odin was captivated when I sent him my own fox pic.

“Why didn’t you ever tell me about Victor?” he asked. “We’ve talked all these years and finally I’m impressed by something of yours! Send me one picture of him every day for a month.”

It took a lot to impress Odin.  Throughout our relationship, I tried in vain to astonish him with my arty lifestyle, political career, menagerie of friends, and zest for exotic food. The things I thought I loved always annoyed him. We found our common denominator in a fox.

For a month, I sent him a picture of Victor posed in different places, behind unique paintings, and with blends of various people. Each photo was an opportunity for us to connect. He listened with interest when I filled in the details of where and with whom Victor was socializing each day. Eventually, that led to me telling him about all the places Victor had been over the years and about all of the very real events he had seen unfold before his plastic eyes.

Victor saw my dad throw my mom onto her bed and force himself inside her when she refused to take him back after their separation.  He saw me cry when my friend Glenn told me we could no longer talk because I was not a good Christian anymore. Victor saw the joy on my face when my best friend Mary moved to Kansas to live with me. He saw the pain in my eyes when she left to marry a guy she had only know for a few months. Victor’s fur was splashed with champagne the night Democrats regained control of Congress in 2006; his fuzzy façade was bathed in tears the night I pulled the plug on my own political career by dropping out of the city council race.

Maybe my life was not so disjointed after all. The more I talked about what Victor had seen, the more I began to realize that it was really just one big fox trot!

The more of Victor’s visions I shared, the more of Odin’s adventures I became privy to.

“Victor shouldn’t have to just see your life,” Odin announced one night. “So, I guess I’ll have to tell him a little about mine. Put him on the phone. I guess you can listen, too”

Every night, Odin would call with a different story to tell Victor. I grabbed the fox, and sat him and my Blackberry on my lap. We listened intensely as Odin’s voice penetrated the speakerphone. He told Victor about the time his father threw him out of their house and into the cold street because he could not memorize a section of the Koran at the age of five. He related the pain he felt when most of his family disowned him for being gay. He cried a little bit when he recalled being banished from his mosque at fifteen. He regaled the exploits of living for a happy summer in New York City. He remarked that Obama’s election brought him hope that we would one day live in a pluralistic society. He talked openly about the anguish his muddled mind brought to him.  He wished out loud that his personality was not so disordered.  He admitted that he craved connection and belonging; he was raw, vulnerable, and bare in enumerating his yearnings. He bemoaned that he had one too many strikes against him to ever be happy.

Eventually, Odin and I were talking beyond the fox. We were communicating with each other. We came to know, understand, and love deeply. We were men having an incorporeal connection; I never knew a plush toy could be so therapeutic.

I also did not understand the relevance of what was happening. I was too busy living the many motions of my life to fully grasp what those foxes—one alive, one fake—were trying to show me. There was something about the construct of Odin’s mind that disallowed the rudimentary to take root too deeply. He saw the understated, simple things. To him, the artless was an advent.

Odin’s untimely death was the personal apocalypse that opened up my eyes. It took the passing of one life to allow mine to move forward in a different way. Just like the fox in his backyard, Odin, too, was on a mission. His sojourn in this world ended all to soon. What he left behind is all too apparent.

Now, I mind the foxes in my own backyard. I seek out forgotten confidantes. I try to focus more on the simple beauty in front of me and less on the noisy distractions that abound. In doing this, I have become illuminated by the majesty that surrounds my ever evolving life.

Boomer Boomerang

Impact is measured by a convergence of people, place, and time. Grasping particular circumstances and harnessing a certain momentum at a critical point in history can leave a palpable legacy. Fifty years ago, a flagrant force began to stir subdued souls.

To everything, turn, turn.

Boxed into black and white suburbia, restless youth wanting more than company salaries and pallid picket fences began to rebel. What ensued is a decade that will forever be engrained into our national psyche. A controversial war was killing youths by the thousands. Protesters were rising up.  A civil rights movement was changing social and legal possibilities for blacks and women. A sexual revolution was “freeing love”, redefining many social mores. A sense that a new generation was going to alter the course of history permeated. In the end, change did come to fruition in countless areas. However, many of the promises that came with the times were ultimately unkept. A backlash ensued.

Sometimes, the energy of a particular period never fades. It marinates. It reincarnates, rebuffed and refined.

There’s evidence that the spirit of the sixties is manifesting itself in the youth culture of today. Much of popular art, music, and fashion harkens back to that psychedelic era. Listen to the music and analyze the fashion of popular groups like MGMT, The Dandy Warhols, and even the Jonas Brothers. You’ll see a boomeranging not just in style, but also with substance. Vintage has definitely come in vogue in other facets of life, too. With that comes an appreciation for not just material objects, but also the spirit of the time in which they were manufactured. It’s a badge of honor among many twenty and thirty-somethings to find a majority of their wardrobe at a thrift store. As “hipsters”, “scenesters”, and other millennial sub-groups purchase psychedelic frocks from the shelves of Urban Outfitters and pilgrimage to IKEA for simplistic, yet styled furniture, they’re making a statement about their values.

More important that commerce, though, are cultural conditions. Another unpopular war is being waged. Advances in civil rights, this time for gays, are being sought. Technology is changing how we interact socially and do business globally. An economy turned on its head is leading to a re-examination of fundamental values and expectations. There’s a lot of uncertainty, but with that comes yet another chance for a generation to leave an indelible imprint on the tapestry of history.

As energy is re-birthed, it is also redefined. There’s a key difference in the change in styles and mores among today’s youth. This isn’t a rebellion. This is simply a “propellion”—a forward moving evolution. We’re different from our parents. What we value is different. How we see the world is divergent. However, we aren’t living our lives in opposition to the mores of the generation that birthed us. Old ideologies simply don’t work for us. We have our own rendezvous with destiny, and this is our moment to live history. In this, perhaps, we can finally fulfill some of those seemingly utopian broken promises, sans backlash.

A time to heal? There is a season. Turn. Turn.

Culture War Curtail

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photo by David Quick

When it comes to discussions about sexual orientation, the “culture wars” seem to be a constant theme. For over three decades, American politics has largely been defined by a battle in which Christian soldiers armed with moral truth aim to use the political process to codify their values into law. Meanwhile, LGBT activists armed with the truth about their own lives have aimed to involve themselves politically to find broader acceptance in society and gain legal rights and protections.  It’s a conflict that has manifested itself in the form of an outright revolution.

We’ve been so busy battling each other that we’ve forgotten the very basic fact that, despite the seemingly deep values chiasm, we aren’t all that different.  All of us want a better world with safer, stronger communities.  All of us want to be respected. All of us want the freedom to live our lives according to what we believe is right. For these reasons, I believe it’s time to end the culture wars and move beyond political rhetoric that labels and limits our potential.  We need to stop battling each other and start peacefully coexisting. We can do this right here—in Wichita, KS and set an example of civility for the rest of the country.

To do this, we have to start talking to each other and begin some uncomfortable conversations. We have to stop fearing those who are different from us, and we have to start engaging them. Christians need to understand and acknowledge that gay does not equal godless. There are plenty of LGBT individuals of faith who are actively involved in multiple denominations and congregations. They have families who want their children to grow up with strong moral convictions and definitive ideas about right and wrong. Their God is just as awesome as anyone else’s. Many gay people have been hurt by religion, but to move forward we need to be forgiving. We have to stop greeting with hostility those who identify as religious or conservative. We need to be as accepting of others as we want them to be of us. This means we won’t always agree with a particular person’s beliefs. We can disagree with people on matters of philosophy and politics. We should all agree, though, that we’re on our own spiritual journeys. Judgment should be reserved for someone with higher authority.

It’s very easy to fall into an “us vs. them” mentality. Real progress is made when you can rise above the status quo. We’ve been fighting wars with each other for too long. It’s time to start working together. That doesn’t mean you compromise your own integrity or cheapen your personal moral code. When it comes to safer streets, connected neighborhoods, and a more vibrant local economy Wichita needs everyone to move forward.

Putting an end to the culture wars won’t be easy for everyone. Inevitable, some will always cling to conflict. For them, we must lead by example. That old adage about lighting a candle instead of cursing the darkness comes to mind. Loving thy neighbor means accepting that you won’t always understand your neighbor’s beliefs or way of life. We should all make strides to get to know each other and learn to respect each other, though.  That’s a Kansas value that could revolutionize the world.

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