Posted November 10, 2012

Legacy

A Naptown Tales Sequel by Altimexis

Chapter 49 - Laying Pop to Rest - Josh Kimball-Reynolds

Sunday, April 5, 2043
Sixteen Days after the Assassination

It was taking every ounce of self-control I had to keep from crying. As Dad said, America was looking to us to guide them in mourning Pop. Dad was the mourner-in-chief and Sandy and I were the first family of mourning. The strange thing was that we were also the first family again, for real. I still couldn’t believe that Dad was now the President. I sure hoped someone didn’t try to kill Dad too. At least all the people responsible for Pop’s assassination were now in jail or, in some cases, dead. Dad assured me that all was safe now and he was no longer in any more danger than any other president, but I still worried, you know?

Singing with Sandy and Uncle Trevor was as emotionally draining as anything I’ve ever done. The song was one that Uncle Trevor learned from his grandparents and it was beautiful. I love playing my guitar and I love to sing. Music is my passion and it was only through concentrating on the music that I was able to hold it together. After we finished the song, we were ushered by the Secret Service to a limo that was waiting outside. We waited forever as several limos were loaded up with close family and dignitaries, and then we were led by a motorcycle escort across the river, to Pop’s graveside. Everyone else traveled by bus.

Dad, Sandy and I were led to a grouping of chairs, right in the front row. Pop’s gravesite was on top of a hill and the view of Washington from there was amazing. A memorial to Pop would be built on the site, with the official unveiling to occur on the one-year anniversary of Pop’s death, in compliance with Jewish traditions for those of us in the family that were Jewish - particularly Sandy and me. As we took our seats, our backs were to the view, I guess so the holocameras would catch the view behind us. It took more than an hour for everyone attending the graveside service to arrive.

The service was co-officiated by Uncle Kurt and by Rabbi Brandon Cohen. They did an awesome job of blending traditional elements from the Christian and Jewish faiths. Then it was time for the Eulogy and Dad stood up and walked forward to the podium that was set up for him. Of course his back was toward us but, as he started to speak, I could hear his words loud and clear - words that were being heard by billions around the world.

How do you say goodbye to a man who has been the center of your world for nearly 36 years? A man who was a wonderful husband and father… a man who was a great leader and an inspiration to so many people around the world? David was one of the great leaders of our time… a leader the likes of which hasn’t been seen since Kennedy, or perhaps even Franklin Roosevelt, or Winston Churchill. Yet he was also a family man to his husband and two children, making time for us when seemingly none existed.

I will never forget the first time I encountered David Reynolds. We were both in the eighth grade and had a class in Earth Sciences together, among others. Late in the year we became involved in an animated discussion on the role the dinosaurs may have played in shaping their own environment, much as humans have today. That was my first time really seeing him in action as we debated our viewpoints directly with each other. No sooner would I suggest an argument in favor of my viewpoint than he would counter with his own argument, almost as if he’d prepared for the debate in advance.

It turned out he was right, by the way. I’ve never met a person who could think on their feet the way our David could. He was a natural politician… a man who saw politics as a calling, a way to serve the public good, rather than as a game to be played.

The first time I saw David in action in the political arena was when we were visiting our state’s senior senator here in Washington. As luck would have it, President Obama dropped in to converse with the Senator, and ended up in a debate with my boyfriend instead. David Reynolds has never been one to shy away from an opportunity when one presents itself and then was no exception. He hammered the President on the issues of gays serving in the military and on same-sex marriage, and I do mean he hammered him. Many years later when the President was asked who he considered to have been his most formidable opponent, without hesitation he answered that it was a fifteen-year-old boy named David Reynolds.

After serving as White House interns and weathering a political scandal that would have brought most politicians down, David and I took on an even greater challenge… a challenge not unfamiliar to many people the world over… the challenge of marriage.

It’s difficult today to imagine a time when this country actively discriminated against a legitimate minority, and there are still a number of countries that do. In 2010 there were only six states and the District of Columbia that did not actively discriminate against same-sex couples who wished to marry. Our own state had a constitutional amendment prohibiting such unions, as did a number of the states and, even in those that favored gay rights, most only permitted an inferior arrangement known as a civil union.

The so-called Defense of Marriage Act prohibited Federal recognition of same-sex marriage, even in states where it was legal. Same-sex couples couldn’t file taxes jointly, nor could a surviving spouse collect military or civil service death benefits. Not since Jim Crow had civil rights been so openly trampled.

But David and I weren’t about to let that deter us. We filled two planeloads with family and friends and were married in Boston. We were only seventeen years old, but we’d been in love for three years and knew we were destined to be together forever. Little did we know that forever would come to an end so suddenly… so soon.

And yet we had 33 wonderful years of marriage that just as easily might not have happened. Three times we experienced a close brush with death, sometimes not even knowing so. In 2012 I competed in the Summer Olympics in London and brought home five medals. Little did I know at the time that we very nearly didn’t come home at all. Thanks to excellent police work, a terrorist plot to acquire and detonate a nuclear weapon was thwarted. Not only would such an attack have killed thousands or millions, but fallout from the attack would have contaminated a vast area of Greater London.

The world would have lost some great people that day… not only world class athletes, but future world leaders such as David Reynolds, Brad Reynolds and myself, my nominee for the Chief Justice, William Kramer, my National Security Advisor and close friend, Trevor Austin, and his husband, the White House Chief of Staff, Kurt DeWitt. The Attorney General, Debbie McLaughlin, was there, as was her wife, Cathy Andrews, who invented the video holographic chips that power so much of the technology we use today. There were countless others, some of whom we may never know about. What a senseless waste of lives that would have been… lives that contributed so much to the world as it is today.

We had another close brush with death later the same year while attending the high school football championship in our state. The quarterback on my high school’s team was Billy Mathews, a man who would go on to win four Super Bowl championships for the Colts. It was no secret even then that Billy’s gay, as were two of the other players on our team, Larry Peters and Bret Anderson. My brother-in-law was a wide receiver and was on the field when the sound of gunshots rang out. A lone gunman, a gay teenager on the opposing team, shot Larry and Bret, fortunately not fatally, and took Billy hostage before ultimately killing himself as David and I watched from the sideline. His brother, Terrance, was in the stands and saw his brother blow his brains out. It turns out that Terrance played a significant role in the terrorist events in the Middle East last week. It’s a small world…

No event came closer to taking David Reynolds from his destiny with the future, than the time we went to Guatemala on a mission of peace and ended up caught in the middle of a drug war. It is well known that we were both wounded, but just how critically David was injured has never been fully disclosed until now. Not only did a bullet pass through his right lung, causing it to collapse, but his chest filled up with blood and air, compressing and collapsing his remaining, uninjured lung. In spite of his injuries he fought on, stopping only when the camp nurse forced him to do so. His condition became grave after the nurse was killed and the power failed, but he continued to put the welfare of innocent men, women and children above his own until we were rescued. Others suggested we should turn tail and run but, we now know, we would have all been killed had we done so.

Not long after that my husband ran for governor, beginning his meteoric rise in politics. He challenged a very popular incumbent governor who had absolutely no idea what he was up against. I will never forget the first question asked during their first debate, which was about the fact that he was a gay man married to another gay man in a state that prohibited same sex marriage. Not only did David quickly put that issue to rest, but he went on to cite three failures of his opponent’s administration and how he would fix them, all the while remaining within his time limit. That evening, the world got its first glimpse of the great leader my husband would become.

Yet why is it that David and I have always been referred to as gay politicians? What does being gay have to do with our leadership abilities? Why are there still those who believe we are sinful and an example of what is wrong with America today? David and I were two humans involved in a loving marriage, trying to raise a family. Other than that we were both men and, thankfully, never divorced, how did our family differ from any other?

David may not have been killed because he was gay, but we now know that a number of those involved in his assassination were believers in religious fundamentalism who saw David’s leadership as leading the world in the wrong direction. Not only did they take offense that he was gay, but they believed the state of war that has existed for generations in the Middle East was a fundamental, necessary step in the bringing about of God’s Kingdom on earth. That billions might die because, as they saw it, they had chosen to follow the wrong religion, was irrelevant to the fundamentalists. That there were so many with greed in their hearts, who participated in the events of the last two weeks for money and power, is indeed sobering.

Many politicians have attempted to appease the religious right, or to embrace it, and few have been willing to challenge it. I am one of those few. I have nothing against religion in general and I am myself a firm believer in God but, with both Christian and Jewish roots, I believe in religious pluralism. The freedom to choose and practice one’s own religion is one of the founding, fundamental principles upon which America was built. A firm line must be drawn between freedom of religion and speech on the one hand, and coercion on the other hand. My husband’s assassination was planned by men and women who crossed that line.

What the fuck was Dad doing? Was he asking to be killed by religious extremists? Did he want to be a martyr, just like Pop? But still he continued…

Just because a number of religions have predictions of the end of the world does not mean humankind should actively try to bring it about! If they are right, the end of the world will come about on its own without any help from humankind. If they are wrong however, there may not be anything left in the end upon which to build God’s Kingdom. I am not so certain of my religion that I believe I possess the one and only legitimate pathway to God. Neither should anyone else be. One cannot have faith unless one has experienced doubt. God gave us the power to reason, not as an enticement to do evil, but as a means to choose between doing evil and advancing the work of His creation. Destroying His work is not God’s way.

Most religions also include as a core belief the need to advance civilization toward a perfect ideal, be it the coming of the Messiah, establishment of a messianic age, or what some in the East call enlightenment. The end of war… the conquest of disease and suffering… the pursuit of knowledge and the truth… and loving one-another… are not these the things God has always asked of us? Is that not what the United States of America should stand for?

You know, there is a common misconception that science and religion are diametrically opposed to one another. Now I’m no scientist any more than I’m a theologian, but I do know that science and religion must go hand in hand. The word, ‘science’ comes from the Latin word for knowledge. Science is not a philosophy, but rather a method for acquiring knowledge… for ferreting out the truth. Science is a means by which we can test our ideas… a way to prove or disprove our best guess as to the truth. Science is a means… not an end, just as a car is a way to get to market and not the market itself.

So what should be our approach when the scientific process disproves something we believe to be the truth? For decades many people doubted the reality of climate change because it wasn’t predicted in the Bible and, perhaps more importantly, because dealing with it could have resulted in major lifestyle changes. Sadly, much long-term damage to the environment had already occurred before it became obvious to nearly everyone that the world has indeed become a hotter place. It is fortunate that many breakthrough developments in carbon nanotubule technology… ultra-efficient lighting, superconducting motors and generators, and high-capacity batteries, to name a few… came along when they did, but there is still much work to be done in reversing the human impact of global warming on the environment before it is too late.

But that brings us back to the broader question of reality versus faith. We nearly destroyed the planet because so many of us could not accept the reality of climate change. My husband was killed because many saw the need for the continued presence of war in the Middle East and, to a lesser extent, because they see gay relationships as sinful, even as they themselves sin in so many other ways.

Science does not make choices… people make choices, and we have the choice to embrace or ignore the facts as borne out by science. The Bible tells us that the Earth was created in six days. So does the Koran. Numerous other religious teachings describe the birth of the Earth as a unique event, yet we know the Earth is not at the center of the Universe as we once thought it was. The Earth is one of perhaps thousands or millions or billions of planets out there capable of supporting intelligent life. The creation of the Earth is not unique. The Universe arose billions of years ago in a cosmic big bang and the birth and death of suns and planets is something that continues to this day. The scientific proof is irrefutable, yet why do so many cling to beliefs told orally or hand-written for thousands of years before we even had the means to save them in print?

Evolution is a fact. Many with strong religious convictions would argue on this point, but in the time since Darwin first gathered evidence of natural selection, we have observed the birth and death of entire new species of life. Science can easily prove the process of evolution in the Petri dish. What science cannot do nor should we even try to do is to prove that humankind evolved from lower life forms without any kind of divine intervention. Just because we can prove the existence of evolution does not mean we should reject the presence of God.

So if we as a people are to embrace universal ideals of ending war, loving one another and putting an end to disease and suffering… if we as a people are going to reject hatred, intolerance and the inevitability of war, disease and suffering… how can we do so within the framework of so many different beliefs and faiths? In the past, leaders have tried to legislate unity by establishing a state religion, or by abolishing religion entirely, and have utterly failed. America has succeeded by embracing plurality, by separating religion and politics and by insisting that all have the right to worship as we individually choose.

Still, there are those who believe that America is in decline and that the only way to save her is to embrace the past… to return to ‘traditional values’. To those I would say that attempting to reverse progress will be no more successful than attempting to reverse the ageing process. There is a reason people rejected so-called traditional values in the first place, not the least of which is that there were gaping holes in the logic behind them. Why should the bastard child have been forced to live on the streets as a beggar, just because their mother gave birth out of wedlock? How was it the child’s fault that they were not born to a married household?

Why should the child who is attracted to someone of the same gender be treated as a sinner? We cannot control our attractions, no matter how we try. Why are some of us attracted to blonds and others to brunettes? Yet Secretary of State Altaf El Tahari barely escaped from Pakistan because he fell in love with his best friend. His friend, Fareed, was not so lucky and was stoned to death for the sin of homosexuality. Was the Imam who sentenced two boys to death by stoning doing the work of God, the God of love, or was he doing the evil bidding of Satan?

Are we as humans going to accept this institutionalized hatred of a segment of the population, even as we reject that the Earth has four corners, that the sun moves around the Earth or that slavery is ever permissible? Are we to accept every word in the Bible, the Koran or in any other religious text as the absolute truth from God, or are we ready to accept that, no matter our personal beliefs, no one person or people are in sole possession of the absolute truth? Are we going to stick by dogmatic beliefs that there is only one true and correct path to God, or are we willing to acknowledge the possibility that there are many paths of righteousness? Reason must win out over dogma.

David Reynolds, my husband, was a remarkable man… a loving father to our children… a leader of unequaled intelligence and idealism who showed us the solutions to a number of problems we thought unsolvable. Although many might not have been fully accepting of his so-called lifestyle, they embraced his message of hope for the future. David showed us new ways of looking at problems, he single-handedly reinvented the economy and he brought peace to a place no one ever thought would ever see peace. He also happened to be gay. I am optimistic that someday his sexuality will be nothing more than an historic footnote… that it is the other things for which he will be remembered.

As Dad stepped back from the podium, I couldn’t help but reflect on his words. What an awesome eulogy! Still, I couldn’t help but worry that he’d set himself up as the target for another assassination. He’d practically singled out the religious right and told them they were wrong in their beliefs. Dad spoke the truth, but there are so many who cannot see the truth, even when it’s right before their eyes. Not that there was anything I could do, but I was bound and determined that Dad not end up a martyr like my pop.

After a period of silence, Uncle Kurt and Rabbi Brandon returned to the podium and Kurt said, “In a tradition that dates back thousands of years, we now rise and give praise to God, even as we mourn a terrible loss. For those of you unfamiliar with the Mourners’ Kaddish, a transliteration and a translation appear in your program.

As we all rose, I added my voice to those of thousands of others present, speaking the words I knew so well. “Yit'gadal v'yit'kadash sh'mei raba…”

As everyone else was seated, I grabbed my guitar from where I'd stowed it under our seats and made my way to the podium. It’s strange what one thinks about at a time like this, but my thoughts centered on what my Uncle Trevor told me about how cumbersome playing an electric guitar used to be. Besides the guitar itself, one needed a large speaker and an amplifier that actually contained glass vacuum tubes instead of chips. It was also necessary to plug it all into an electric power source. My guitar, by contrast, was entirely self-contained. It could be played for hours on end without the need to recharge, and the sound that came from it was as pure and loud as I wished it to be. I could select from many different modes, making it sound like anything from a classic acoustic guitar, to a zither.

I had originally wanted to do this song as a duet with my sister, but Sandy insisted that this was my moment alone. As she put it, I was the one with music as a passion. I was the one with a ‘velvet voice’ whereas she sounded like a ‘frog in heat’. Those were her words - not mine.

As I slowly started to play my guitar, rendering the soulful melody often used with the last line of the Kaddish, the tears started to stream from my eyes. I could not help it. And then I sang the last line of the Kaddish, the traditional prayer for peace. “Oseh shalom bim'romav hu ya'aseh shalom aleinu v'al kol Yis'ra'eil v'im'ru Amein.”

I did not know it at the time but a picture of me at the graveside, playing my guitar and crying, would grace the cover of Time Magazine that week. Already, people would be comparing that image to the one of little John John Kennedy saluting his dead father. That one picture would become a potent symbol for equality and peace throughout the world, but I did not know any of that at the time. All I knew was that I missed my pop, and it hurt worse than any pain I’d ever known.

As I took my seat, Uncle Kurt and Rabbi Brandon returned to the podium and Rabbi Brandon said, “May He Who makes peace in His heights, may He make peace upon us and upon all Israel. Today we are all Israelis. Today we embrace peace throughout the world. And let us say, Amen.”

Finally the moment I had been dreading arrived as Pop’s casket was slowly lowered into the ground as the sound of firing guns from a military salute echoed across the Potomac. Then Dad was handed a shovel and he dug the shovel into the dirt surrounding the grave, lifted it into the air and dropped the dirt into Pop’s grave. Dad handed the shovel to Sandy who did likewise, and then she handed it to me as I did the same, tears still streaming from my eyes. I handed the shovel to Uncle Brad, who in turn handed it to his father, my grandpa, and so on until everyone in mourning had a chance to help fill Pop’s grave. It was an old Jewish tradition that was supposed to bring closure but, still, I felt only pain.

The author gratefully acknowledges the invaluable assistance of David of Hope in editing, Low Flyer in proofreading and Ed in beta reading my stories, as well as Gay Authors, Awesome Dude and Nifty for hosting them.

DISCLAIMER: This is a fictional account of the assassination of the first openly gay president of the United States. Except as noted, all characters are fictitious and the reader is cautioned against attributing anything from the story to real individuals. There are occasional descriptions of consensual sex between underage boys and it is the reader’s responsibility to ensure the legality of reading this material. The author retains full copyright.