Upon hearing the news of Jerry Falwell's passing last week, a memory immediately rushed in. A few years ago, I came in contact with the Rev. Falwell when I was forced to wait on him, along with his family and staffers, at a local restaurant. Being the only openly gay server in the place, I was not exactly thrilled to tackle the gay-stapo and his 12 minions.
My immediate sense of dread was quickly replaced by shock as I realized how genuine and respectful the party was. As many have formed an opinion about the man, I was really amazed that not only was he polite, but I was not smote down by a vengeful God or turned into a pillar of salt each time I approached the table. I was overwhelmed by the strong guilt of the ugly side of liberalism—how reluctant I was to accept someone in the name of "open-mindedness."
I was the popular server that day. The staff swarmed me with questions as to the behavior of the brood with sadistic fervor. Customers watched every move the party made, and in turn, everything I did. Jerry and I were on display, and I'm not sure who was more aware of it.
I thought I was safe when the food arrived. I could not have been more wrong. As I placed down two plates, one in each hand, I fell prey to the oldest trick in the serving book of nightmares: sniper-prayer.
Seeing my outstretched hands, the people on either side of me snatched my hands while the others bowed their heads. Rev. Falwell began to bellow grace. Suddenly, all my guilty feelings evaporated, and the dread returned. There I was, ambushed into prayer with Jerry, while 30 other full tables and staff stared at me with gaping mouths. Unable to bow my head, unable to feign horror and unable to overcome a glazed look, I searched the room for rescue.
It got worse. I contracted a bad case of the "church giggles"—absolute hysterics in the most somber of situations.
Then what would seem a very kind gesture on Rev. Falwell's part only made me cringe as he asked me my name to include in his very long open letter to God. He asked me my last name so he could be very clear that God knew exactly whom he meant.
"Gagnon," I said, two syllables that have plagued me ever since my peers discovered I was different from the other boys. Surely, I thought, Jerry would snicker and add me to his list of people going to hell, but he didn't flinch. He just butchered it mercilessly and let me go.
I walked away with the strangest sense that I had just traversed fire and brimstone. I had stared into the face of something I've yet to truly understand, but I will tell you: That Jerry Falwell left an impression, kamikaze grace and all.