If history is any guide, we’ll probably get a few unsigned letters of criticism about this month’s issue. We get letters of criticism fairly often, but they usually carry the writers’ names; the unsigned ones tend to come in response to articles that have anything whatsoever to do with homosexuality. We’re running a couple such articles this month. I don’t need to point them out. If you’re among the vast majority of our readers, you’ll read them or not, depending on whether you find their titles intriguing or the accompanying photos draw you in or their topics interest you; and if you’re in the anonymous letter writers’ club—a very tiny club, to be sure—then no doubt your own special brand of gaydar will be your unerring guide.
I’m writing this column at the tail end of Thanksgiving weekend, still logy from turkey and pie at the in-laws’. At some point over the past few days, in some newspaper or magazine, I came across a quotation from the 14th-century German theologian and mystic Meister Eckhart: “If the only prayer you ever say in your whole life is ‘Thank you,’ it will be enough.” That’s pretty great stuff, philosophically speaking. Psalms and shouts and murmurs of praise? Almost always salutary, soul-wise. Pleas and intercessions and callings down of wrath? Not so much. If I could high-five the good Meister across 700 years, I would. But also deserving of a shout-out, I think, is the editor or writer who, in what was quite likely a smack-dab-on-deadline search for seasonally appropriate filler, chose to use that quote. What better way to give comfort and confidence to your 21st-century Midwestern American readership than with an ancient kernel of epiphanic insight that seems to validate the spiritual regimen of intoning, once a year on the fourth Thursday in November, “Um, thanks for the awesome chow, Big Guy”?
Around the holidays I often think about my old friend Henry, long deceased, a devoutly Lutheran, closeted gay man who could both eat and give praise with the best of them. He once faked his own engagement—invited a crowd of people to his house and presented as his fiancée a woman none of us had ever seen before and would never see again. I still wonder why he did it. Maybe he really intended to get married. Or maybe he felt professionally threatened. He worked in a field, and in a time and place, where being openly gay wasn’t an option. I know there were whispers about him; maybe there were anonymous letters or phone calls, too. Maybe he felt the need to stage a diversion.
I just Googled Meister Eckhart and found a whole raft of pithy nuggets culled from his works, including this one: “Do exactly what you would do if you felt most secure.” Which sounds pretty New Age-y for something written so long ago. But also apt for any era. If we could live by such a principle, there’d be no need for faux engagements. Or figurative closets. Or letters too uncivil to put your name to. If you wanted to spout anonymous verbiage, you could make it a song of thanks and praise.
Listen to me—Joe Pollyanna. Must be the turkey talking.