But I love you, how can I help?

When I was in school, I had a professor who would say in his gentle, lilting, Middle Eastern accent, “But I love you, how can I help?” It was a summer class, we did not want to be in a classroom, and he always said this in exasperation, when we were talking over each other all at once or not following directions, his way of bringing us back around and lightening the mood.

At first his words felt jarring to me, out of place in a classroom, and I dismissed them as an English language translation he’d taken too literally and that no one had had the heart to correct.

I was wrong. My teacher was a devout Muslim who had once been a young journalist stationed in a war zone. He’d been shot in the neck and barely survived. He radiated kindness. And what I eventually realized was that he was just a gracious, genuine, giving teacher who loved his job and loved us, his students.

I have been thinking about my teacher a lot over the ten days, since I first heard about Anderson County public school teacher and pastor Randy Adams’s refusal to abide by Kentucky state guidelines regarding pronoun usage. I won’t rehash the details, because God knows if you live here in Lawrenceburg you’ve heard about it, read about it, or unfortunately watched it swatted maliciously about in the worst-ever place for thoughtful, civilized debate: Facebook. And soon there will be the dreaded circus that will overtake our October 17 School Board meeting, covered by TV news outlets, much like the Sand Spring Baptist Church meeting, giving Anderson County negative, but deserved, press that does nothing to help our community.

It should go without saying that if you are a public school teacher (like Mr. Adams) or a school board member (like Vice Chair Peggy Peach), you should, at a minimum, serve the public through public education and keep it at that.

And yet, here we are.

Like many of you, I have been trying to figure out what I think, what to say, and how how to say it with grace, but the casual cruelty of those with power, in power, using their power to further marginalize an already marginalized and vulnerable group of people — children, no less — has overwhelmed me.

I recall the Sunday morning I ran into a friend in the Kroger parking lot and said jokingly, “Why aren’t you at church?!” and he replied, not joking one bit, “I never go to church around election time. I don’t want to hear it.”

As someone who often watches local pastors’ Sunday sermons online, I knew exactly what he meant. The blatant politics in the sermons. I have witnessed several sermons over the last year or so where pastors’ hyper-focus on homosexuality, transgender, and LGBTQ has felt like a concerted effort to call out and define fellow human beings as “evil.”

I do not understand this. I find the belittling and the dismissiveness alarming. And I do not see the Christianity in it.

I think of my Muslim teacher and the sweetness in his voice amid chaos — But I love you, how can I help?

As to Mr. Adams and his Facebook manifesto about his God-given rights, free speech, “pronouns,” and his righteous refusal to call a child what that child wants/needs to be called, I am both angry and speechless. So I leave you with this:

I have been stepmother for three decades. Over these years have often found myself dismissed outright in rooms of parents who, sometimes mockingly, refused to accept me or acknowledge me as one of them. Whether it was standing in a crowded hallway on parent-teacher night or in someone’s back yard taking pictures of our kids before a homecoming dance, I have spent a lot of energy smiling outwardly through the hurt of it.

But you know what? I can tell you the exact day, the time of day, and where I was standing when my (step)son walked into the kitchen, handed me a greeting card, and said out loud for the first time, “Here you go, mother.”

Was I a “real” mom, his “real” mother? No.

But I can tell you that I felt a surge run through me in hearing that word for the first time.

What it felt like to finally be seen.

What it felt like to be acknowledged, out loud.

What it felt like to be called exactly who I so desperately wanted to be, and knew I was.