There comes a time when all of a sudden we realize we are no longer as hip as we think we are. More often than not, it is someone younger who triggers such realizations or wake-up calls. I call those realizations “milestones.” They can be enlightening. They can be depressing.
When they happen, we are forced to stop and reset our minds. And if we are not in denial, we start looking at things under a different light and accept, welcome, or adjust to the brave new world.
I have had my epiphanies.
It is an Italian custom that when a child receives his Catholic confirmation, one of the uncles acts as godfather and he is required, by tradition, to present the 12-year-old with a watch. I remember, as a kid, how excited I was when my day came. I did not care about the religious part. I was thinking of nothing but the watch. It was a symbol of pre-adulthood. I was a man because I finally had a watch.
It was a Girard-Perregaux. It sounds expensive, but it wasn't.
When my youngest nephew was due for his confirmation, I was asked to be his godfather. He is my favorite and on that day he did not disappoint me. He insisted on wearing red canvas shoes for the ceremony.
To the strong and loud objections of his parents and grandparents he replied: "I don't think Jesus minds or cares if I wear red shoes, I like them and they look good." That shut them up and he walked into the church small and proud in his red PF Flyers. Good for you kid. I never had your guts at your age. But I'm digressing.
A week before the ceremony I took him aside and asked him what kind of watch he wanted. "Maybe we can go together so you can pick the one you like." He looked at me as if I was speaking in tongues. "I don't need a watch," he replied sheepishly. "Don't be silly, everybody needs a watch," I said to him. And that's when I was hit with my first "milestone." "It's a thing of the past Uncle P, if I need to know the time I have the iPhone grandpa and grandma gave me".
I definitely was a few stations behind the high-speed train, and I didn't even know it. I have not been able to put on any of my several watches since, without thinking of him and feeling old-fashioned. Damn you, kid!
And then my 15-year-old niece sent me spinning. I was visiting my brother in Italy and one day she asked me to meet her after school. "There is a place downtown you will like," she said in a conspiratorial tone. The bar/cafe was a hang-out for leftists, artists and gays. Socialist magazines and Communist newspapers were on every table. A poster of Che Guevara hung on the main wall.
She ordered a glass of light wine (don't forget this is Italy), I settled for a beer. I had the feeling there was a very specific reason for this meeting. It didn't take long. "May I ask you a personal question Zio P?”
"Sure, go ahead," I replied, knowing already what was coming. "Are you gay?”
I looked at her straight in the eyes and said: "You tell me.”
“I think you are but I'm not completely sure."
"I am. Does it make any difference?”
I never saw anybody react to my being gay the way she did. "Oh my God, of course not, this is great! It's wonderful… I knew it all the time… I have to tell all my friends!” A typical teenager.
She was ecstatic to have a gay uncle. Honestly, for a moment, I felt I was a Disney character. She wanted to know, in rapid-fire succession, about my life, my friends, my partner, when she was going to meet him, how long we had been together, what was our life like… everything.
Nobody ever made me feel so good about being gay. I was pleasantly shocked, relieved and completely blown over. I was back on the high-speed train. I was cool again. When I was 15, it never crossed my mind to ask a relative or a friend if he/she was gay. I did not even ask myself the question, for that matter. I was too scared of the answer. For my niece it was the most natural thing in the world. Bless you child… I never had your spirit at your age.
Yes, I might resent the fact that my nephew broke away from tradition and thinks my collection of watches is passé, but at the same time I'm overjoyed, and hopeful, to see that new generations do not give a hoot about sexual orientation. To them it is not a big deal.
We have been telling the world for years, "We are what we are.” I think some of them out there are finally getting it.
I left the cafe with a new spring in my step and felt much younger. That afternoon with my teenage niece will always be memorable. There was a new and special bond between us and a sense of peace with the world around. Moments like that make it all worthwhile.
Carpe Diem - Cogli l'attimo - Seize the Day.