28 January 2010

Meet The Professor

Visits From Mr. Bigelow will return after this break.

Last Monday I visited one of my law school professors. He was my freshman ward bishop as well, so I have known him for a good chunk of my life. We have kept in touch since I graduated, and I've always considered him a mentor. It's standard law school protocol for professors and students to address each other as "Mr." or "Ms.", so when he recently urged me to call him by his first name, I found it difficult to comply. In my mind, the appellation "Mr." had become a title of honor for him because, after all, it was thanks in part to his efforts that I've been able to make a successful career. I owe him a great deal. So calling him by his first name seemed presumptuous and arrogant somehow, and I don't know if I'll ever be able to do it comfortably. Just like when the judge I clerked for after school told me some years after the clerkship that I could call her by her first name. Very difficult.

After catching up on each other's lives and families and careers, we had only a few minutes left before he had to rush off to teach a class. I'd thought a lot ahead of time whether to share with him the biggest event of my life in recent years, and even though our visit was almost over, I decided to go ahead. I knew we'd continue the conversation later so I wanted to at least bring it up. So I told him one of the main reasons I looked so healthy and happy and little changed from my student days (his words, not mine, and he wanted to know how I did it) was that sixteen months ago I had come out of the closet and so freed myself from the stress and pressure and difficulty of constantly pretending to be something I wasn't. Naturally, I couldn't recommend that he follow my particular method of stress reduction!

He didn't flinch or bat an eye. He simply said, with a smile and his regular calm, gentle demeanor, "that must have been a great challenge for you." I said yes it had, but I'd also discovered a great paradox in being a gay Mormon. While from a cultural perspective there probably wasn't a worse church to be a member of if you're gay (which as I recall he agreed with), in a long-term theological sense it's arguably one of the best because nobody else has the 9th Article of Faith which leaves open the possibility of a wonderful miraculous resolution to all present difficulties.

By this time he was on the verge of being late for his class, but, gentleman that he is, he said nothing about it and made no sign of needing to go. Still, I knew I shouldn't keep him, so I wrote out my blog URL and asked him to read and give me his reactions. He said he would. I warned him that in a couple of posts I had taken Bruce Hafen (former dean of the law school) and Dallin Oaks (founding dean of the law school) to task for things they'd said publicly. I'm curious to see if he finds and comments on those posts. Why do I feel like I've just turned in an exam and am waiting for my grade?

I stood to go. He said he was honored that I'd shared this part of my life with him, then went to the coat rack and held my coat so I could put it on. Like I said, the consummate gentleman. We shook hands, smiled, and parted. It won't be our last visit, I'm sure.

One of the great blessings of my life has been to know this talented, accomplished, disciplined, gracious, humble teacher who's inspired me to achievement and always led by example. His reaction to my little bombshell was typical of his constant effort to follow and emulate the Savior. So, knowing that at some point he may read this blog, I'd like to introduce all the rest of you to Professor David Thomas, a truly great man who I'm honored to call my friend.


J G-W said...

Actually, there are plenty of other reasons (besides our belief in continuous revelation) that I think you are actually better off being gay and Mormon.

But revelation is a biggie. I've had a number of interesting conversations with a gay Presbyterian friend in which we've discussed the fact that all you can do within that theological framework is argue about the meaning of ancient texts...

Of course, being a Presbyterian doesn't preclude the possibility of receiving a revelation!

Pomoprophet said...

glad you feel so much more healthy! Its wonderful isn't it? :)