(delivered as a funeral address for Dan Turner, June, 1990, Grace Cathedral, San Francisco)
Once upon a time there was a monster that lived in a secret wood, far, far from the sight of all humankind. Very few had ever seen this creature, but people talked of it as though they had. "I heard it's hairy and horrible," said the village blacksmith. But he didn't really know. "Its genitals are forked and loathsome and lavender," said the village wise woman. But she didn't really know. "This monster does all kinds of monstrous things and deserves to die. In fact, we should kill it," said the village idiot. But he didn't really know what he was talking about, either.
The monster in the secret wood lived in fear of the villagers of course and tried never to be seen, half-believing all the terrible things that were said about it, and thinking it was the only one of its kind. In its heartsickness and loneliness, the creature began to sing, and discovered to its amazement that its voice was very beautiful. "What is that sound?" the villagers asked. "It is the wind," said one. "It is the voice of God," said another. "No, it seems to come from the direction of the place where the monster lives," a brave man ventured. "Don't be ridiculous!" the village elders snapped. "How could anything beautiful come from such an unspeakable thing as the monster that lives in the secret wood?"
No more was said.
At times the monster yearned to call out to the villagers that he indeed was the source of their beautiful music, yet he could not risk letting them know where he was, could not show one little part of himself, lest they kill him before he could even open his mouth. "I will continue to sing from this secret wood," the monster said. "The villagers will have my music. I will be content that they think it comes from someone else." And the villagers did drink in the monster's music, for quite truly they needed it to live even as they needed food and water and air.
And this went on for many centuries -- the monster pouring forth his bewitching, soul-sustaining melodies, the villagers ridiculing and reviling the unseen monster that lived deep in the secret wood. And no one dreamed for a moment that this relationship would ever alter.
But one day the monster grew ill. The cause of its illness was not very important -- a useless, stupid germ infiltrated the monster's blood and decided it needed to kill the very home it lived in. The monster grew sicker and sicker and finally staggered into the village, thin and desperate. It collapsed in the town square. Foolish little boys hit it with sticks and called it cruel names because they didn't know what else to do with it; no one had told them that you don't hurt beauty. Old people said, "How queer it looks lying there. Do you think we should bother helping it? Do you think it can harm us now?"
Then other similar creatures began crawling into the village from other secret woods, a great many of them. The monster, close to death, gasped. "I wish to speak," it said.
"It can talk?!" the villagers marveled.
"Oh, indeed," the monster said.
"Well, what do you wish to say?" the villagers asked, gathering around it.
"Do you know where the beautiful music that you have heard all these years has come from?" the monster asked.
"Music? Why, it just is," the villagers said.
"No," believe me, 'just is' is not the answer," the monster said.
"What then?" the villagers pressed it, impatient to be about their business.
Weak though it was, the monster forced itself to speak, looking at the other thin and dying creatures all around it. "You thought we were horrible all these years. I heard you, all the things you said, the way you hated us: 'Nothing but filthy creatures,' you said. 'We must make sure no other such monsters are born. Perhaps we can even nip it in the womb,' you said. Some will actually say that this germ I am dying of is 'God's pesticide.'" The monster coughed and choked, its eyes huge and glistening in its long face. Its time was growing short. But it managed to continue.
"I want to tell you that I am not what you said I was. If only you had allowed me to make myself known to you before this illness, you would have seen that I am not a monster. I do not claim to be perfect, and perhaps there are other creatures like me, that never sing, or sing a different song, and even some of you occasionally sing, but I know in my heart that there are many creatures of my breed that give more song to the world than the world deserves. I see now that it is no accident that the beautiful music that you took for granted all this while came from us, came from us even when you would not let us unhide ourselves, when you called us evil and without purpose, when you shamed us and hunted us and would not let us utter a word because we were not identical to you, when even our very mothers and fathers were disgusted because they thought they had produced monsters and wept and hid their heads from you and left us in the secret woods to fend for ourselves...." The monster sighed. "I do not mean to complain." The eyes were nearly closed. "I realize you villagers like to hear only your own complaints... Let me die in peace now." Its head sagged, the breaths were labored, and it began to sing, but so that it was barely audible.
Then the monster raised his head. "No, I'll be damned if I will die like this, pathetic and unfinished, noble and long-suffering, letting you continue to think that you have a right to pity me as I go on pouring out my song for you until my last breath! Even the most foolish among you must now see that I and my fellow creatures have given you beauty and art in return for your hatred. Even the most ordinary and unimaginative among you must now realize that I was able to give you my song -- not despite the fact that I am such a creature as I am, but because I am such a creature. Even the most wretchedly unintelligent among you must now realize that far from being the despicable monster that you have told me I was all my days, after all I've done for you, when it comes to talent, guts, and contributions to society most of you can't begin to hold a candle to me and the ones like me, you incredible, stupid fucks!"
And the monster from the secret wood drew a big gulp of air into its lungs and sat up and began to feel better. Quite perky in fact. And the world began take note and bowed its head, and it was ashamed, so very ashamed (as well it should have been) for all the pain that had gone before.
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