I’d like to share a Christmas story. When my eldest son, Chris, was only 3, his mother and I were moving our family from Los Angeles to Iowa when we stopped by a restaurant, owned by a friend, on our way out of town. I had lost touch with Seth, the owner, for several years but I wanted to visit what was once my favorite restaurant one more time.
I knew Seth as a handsome, curly-haired and bearded man, but as we were seated we learned “Seth” was now “Cynthia.”
Within a minute a tall women with long hair and a floral dress was bee-lining to our table. Her gait was clearly feminine; her face, now devoid of any hair, was still the face I knew as Seth.
Not a second of hesitation stood between us as we fell into a warm embrace. She spoke first, her voice vacillating between shades of her present and former identity.
”Gary! How are you? It’s been years!”
She had known me as a comedic actor, and her eyes invited me to bridge the surprising moment. I responded: “I’m great. What’s new? I see you changed the menu.”
She threw her head back with a deep laugh and I noticed Chris was looking at her with a puzzled expression. Before I could gather a thought, he blurted out: “Are you a boy or a girl?”
I wanted to crawl under the table. Cynthia, on the other hand, smiled ear to ear. A maternal warmth reached out to my son and she whispered to me: “What do I say?”
Searching for wisdom, I said: “We always tell Chris the truth. But, he doesn’t have to get an answer to every question. Your privacy is your business.”
Cynthia kneeled beside my son. “I was born like a boy, but, I always knew inside that I was really a girl. When I got older I wanted to live the rest of my life as I really am.”
Chris looked at Cynthia with curious eyes, tilted his head, and asked: “Do you still like trucks?”
We all looked at each another, again surprised by his innocent candor, and erupted into the kind of laughter that defines the best moments in life.
As we left I told Cynthia how beautiful she was and we made a promise to stay in touch. Sadly, the end of this story will break even the hardest heart as Cynthia passed away just before Christmas, not long after our visit.
Her presence remains in our lives. Our encounter was a treasure trove of life; a person wanting to be free and true to themselves, the embrace of friendship, a child’s innocence and the purity of love. Even though my personal conviction to stand up for the rights of all people was already resolute, Cynthia was a transcendent moment in my life.
As I said, this is a Christmas story. It is a celebration of someone who lived, and died, because they believed truth is the beginning of all understanding.