Tuesday, March 31, 2015

The Mess in Indiana

I just finished reading a satire from the New Yorker, "Indiana Governor Surprised By How Many People Seem to Have Gay Friends." It was very well done, and might have been funny except for the mess in Indiana right now, due to the passage of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

I'm from Indiana; I grew up in a mid-sized city, Fort Wayne, where my parents, brother, and extended family still live. I spent the first eight years of my marriage in Indianapolis, where my son was born, and I could still drive you down Meridian Street and point out the Governor's mansion, the one with the sturdiest fence and the cop car parked in the drive.

My brother, who is an attorney, assures me that the law is basically unenforceable, and he may be right, but I think this is one of those times when the appearance of the thing is what matters. It certainly looks as though this law was designed to foster hatred and separatism. The only heartening thing about it is how swift and thorough the public reaction has been, from country-wide criticism to Hoosier businesses putting "We Welcome Everyone" signs on their doors to the front page of today's Indianapolis Star.

I am trying so hard to fulfill my Lenten resolution--No Snark--and it does change how I write about this. Maybe it even changes how I feel. Because the righteous indignation I suspect I would usually foster has been mostly changed to a deep and heavy sorrow.

When I was growing up in Indiana, the biggest event all year was the Indianapolis 500. It was different then. Drivers spent the entire month of May at the Speedway. Winning the pole was a big deal. On the day of the race itself, the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend, the race would be blacked out on television in Indiana, so we would all--I'm not making this up--listen on the radio. In our family we cut up the list of drivers from that morning's paper and divided them among us; when one of your drivers wrecked, you'd wad their name up and throw it away.  Once the race was over they'd show a replay on tv, and, despite having listened to the whole thing, we'd sit down and watch it.

The voice of the 500, and by extension the voice of Indiana, was Jim Nabors. If you're as old as I am you can probably just remember him playing Gomer Pyle on reruns, but he is a classically trained singer with a beautiful voice, and from the 1970s until this year (he has said last year would be his final 500) he opened the 500 with the song, "Back Home Again In Indiana." I don't really remember anyone but Jim Nabors singing that song.

The new-mown hay sends out its sweetness in the fields I used to roam.
When I think about the moonlight on the Wabash, how I long for my Indiana home.

Two years ago, Jim Nabors married for the first time, to Stan Cadwallader, his life partner for 38 years. No word on whether or not anyone refused to bake them a cake.