In the twenty some years since my conversion, I’ve been asked this question countless times. Therefore should not have been surprised when she asked it. But I was.
I was speaking with a friend whom I have not seen since I left Houston and my job in the Texas Medical Center. My last clear memory of her was our presence with another friend at a cocktail party for top financial supporters to Planned Parenthood and Emily’s List. Like the three of us.
I called Claire because she and her husband Gary are TMC pediatricians (I’ve changed their names and specialties because this was a private conversation.) I am researching transgenderism for my new book, Plausible Liars and am looking to understand all aspects of gender dysphoria: that males or females feel they are in the wrong body…feelings which are so powerful that preteens are undergoing puberty suppression hormone therapy and surgery to transform the bodies to the desired gender. At least well enough for my character, Zoey Carmichael, an 18 year old female-to-male, to feel authentic. Substantial- a person my readers can ‘stand under.’
Her medical view on the subject and her generosity with patient details was most helpful. Claire also recommended other TMC specialists whom I might want to speak to. Once the ‘business’ end of our conversation was taken care of, we returned to updating one another on our lives.
Somewhere in that update, Claire said she loved to read and wanted to know which of my books should she start with? Because of the current pandemic, I replied, Malthus Revisited . In explaining a bit about the protagonist, Lindsey McCall, I made a fleeting mention of my conversion to Catholicism not long after I went to Greece. Alone. This isn’t just a regular mystery novel, there’ll be spiritual elements…
I thought she would remember the Greece trip because it was during my last summer in Houston. When my personal life and remaining tenure in my job became uncomfortably public.
When she returned to that comment later in out conversation, and asked, “Why did you become a Catholic?” I hesitated.
She wants to know…she’s not just being polite.
There was a silence for a beat or two and then she said softly, “I was raised Catholic. My mother was very devout…I envy you…the peace it must bring you.”
Without thinking, I blurted out, “Claire, it isn’t an “it” but a person, Jesus.”
Her reply was something wordless, but audible. Quite suddenly, I said something I don’t ever recall saying to anyone before, “What is your mailing address? I’ll send you a book of poems I wrote that summer I left Houston. And then completed following my conversion. Maybe then you’ll know why.”
Her question is a simple one. At least the words are.
But what poured into my heart while I was listening to her, was the longing. I remember it well.
And found poetry to be the only way to express it:
BELONGINGIs there a place called home
Where memories and tradition await
Patiently hidden in places made deep
By relentless pursuit of useless truths.
Do we come trailing clouds of glory
Only to don the actors pose
And spend too many years and tears
Reclaiming wisdom lost so long ago
Saved finally by the knowledge
That human truth is shadow and illusion
Yet uplifted by one hope and prayer
That our path toward peace and Understanding lies patiently waiting
For our gaze to turn back to the Place where we began?
A Search for the Sacred