Arise, Sir ...

By David Vásquez
Friday December 21, 2007

An essay by playwright Alan Bennett, telling about how he declined a knighthood and other honors, prompted me to think on my past for a moment, so I’ve borrowed the title above. In that essay, he says that he grew up taught to shun this sort of attention, had stopped trusting authority, and was not a “joiner,” or one who cared to be a part of such ranks. I identified with his words because although I have had a few minor acknowledgements I never felt fully recognized by them. My reasons, I thought, were probably a lot like his. He wrote, though, that the greatest honor he had ever been given “had nothing to do with the Honours List and thus evaded the strictures of [his] recusatory temperament and all [his] misgivings about authority”: namely, being given a Trusteeship in the National Gallery, a position that gave him permission to visit the gallery outside of their open hours for the rest of his life.  

I tried to think of any time that I felt a great honor being given to me. I was able to think of only one, but I remembered it immediately. It was one day when I was a young man, in a doctor’s office. I was about to go cycling back to my apartment in West Hollywood after my appointment. Back then, I always wanted to be thought of as one of the athletic young gay men known to be seen everywhere in that city. So I was dressed in stylish black biking tights, and though they covered my whole legs, I did feel a little bare since they were snug, elastic and thin. Still they, along with my hair style and regular trips to the gym, were meant to get me attention.  

In the waiting room after my appointment, I sat down to fill out a form that the doctor had given me. Also waiting in the room were a mother and her two boys, probably about age 7 and 10. I said “Hi” to them and felt a little self-conscious about what I was wearing, trying to “look the stud” in front of these family-type people. But I knew I was going to be on my way soon and after hearing the two boys’ names, Ari the older and Jaren the younger, I sat down to my form right about when the mom went into the doctor. The boys waited behind. 

The waiting room had books and toys, so the boys didn’t really lack diversions. But they oddly made sure to show me the toys they were playing with and generally include me in what they were doing. It was not long before Jaren asked if I would read something to them from the kids’ magazine he showed me. Ari, too, stood waiting my answer. I had to finish my form, was eager to be on my way, but I do like kids and so I said, “Well, guys, I’ve gotta finish filling this out. When I’m done, I’ll be happy to.” 

I had expected a mild complaint, or even a little disappointment, but it was as if a switch had been flipped on their motors. ZIP!—the two of them didn’t waste one word or one second finding something else to do.  

When I finished the form, I was prepared to read the story to them. “Okay,” I asked, “Where’s the magazine?” Jaren brought it over and, to my surprise, both he and Ari very promptly knelt on either side of my chair. Together, they opened the magazine and held it open in front of me, each holding one side of it. Then Jaren began reading it aloud—to me.  

He read in the slow, deliberate speech of a boy who was still learning how to read. I was too startled by their gesture to think or say anything. A little ways into reading I saw Jaren’s small hand stretch and begin to reach tentatively toward me, as if he were comfortable enough that he was going to let it rest on my knee.  

I felt awkward, being dressed as I was, but I also felt a trembling sense inside—of being honored. I had been given of their time not because of my looks, because I was wearing the most fashionable bikewear, or anything else about my appearance. Even if I appeared gay it  

didn’t matter to them. They felt trusting enough of me and were happy with the fact that I could just give them my attention. Their kindness made me feel at a loss, in ways I didn’t recognize then and haven’t known since.  

I’d like to say that my heart almost broke when their mom came out and brought them into the office to join her, but I can’t remember much more. I’m sure I must have left shaky for having been, in a small way, coveted by two very sweet little boys. Since I feel it now, I know that I must have left that office feeling honored and elevated, feeling that I could arise taller from my chair and more of a man because of their gestures of trust and affection.