March 31, 2009

May I Keep You

A friend of mine died last week. Rance Searle, briefly a rock star, always a bright star, died after a long battle with esophageal cancer. I knew him only for a few years and mostly from correspondence in an online forum.

Famous in the 70s for the pop hit “May I Keep You,” he became a wealthy businessman through common sense, new patents, and good honest work. He was brilliant, acerbic, hilarious, opinionated, witty, angry, loving, profane, compassionate, and strong. He was a magnet to anyone who met him online and in person. We gathered around to hear what Rance would say next on whatever subject arose.

On hard work:
I came from a wealthy family but that didn't change the fact that when I was eight years old Dad led me and my two little brothers and one little sister into the bank and made us take out a note for $18,000 to buy 1,500 head of sheep. We each had to sign on the note and Randy, my youngest brother, was only five years old but mom had taught him to write his name. From that day until we all graduated from high school, those sheep were our responsibility. We branded them, we sheared them, we tromped the wool, we put the breeding harnesses on the bucks in the fall and we drove them from the headquarters ranch to the big ranch, a distance of 22 miles every spring and back every fall. We lambed them out, we docked them, which means cutting their tails off with a sharp knife and removing the testicles of the male lambs by cutting the end off their little sack and pushing the sack back and pulling the testicles out with your teeth.

We worked like slaves. Yes, we made a lot of money with those stupid sheep but we were not a bunch of pampered rich kids, not by a damn sight. We were taught from day one that wealth was a huge responsibility, not a ticket to ride. Those lessons stuck with me and with my siblings as well. I have that god damned bank note in a frame hanging in the bar at the house. It is one of my most treasured possessions. Those four little childish signatures on a note for $18,000 from a time when that was a hell of a lot of money. Each spring when we had shipped our lambs we would all trudge into the bank together and pay on that note. It took us only three years to pay it off. God how I hated those sheep. They are the stupidest animals on the face of the earth and they were damned rough on a budding gay kid.

But the important thing is what they taught me. They taught me that hard work is one of life's greatest blessings. I love the way a hard day’s work makes me feel. I love having my hands dirty and standing back and feeling good about what the day has done.
It was Rance who first made me deeply aware of the damage the church, Mormon and otherwise, has done and continues to do to the LGBT community. He told stories of pain, alienation, surrender, and even suicides of faithful young gay men who could not reconcile the message they were hearing with the person they were made to be. He carried a lifetime of guilt, wondering if he could have helped those whose pain became too much to bear. And in his most recent years, he became a beacon of hope to young men who found their way to his open door and heart. He and the love of his life lived openly in Utah, defying anyone to call their union less than love, their commitment less than any marriage authenticated by law.

On the church:
We could all tell these kinds of stories all day long. It is so easy to hate and to blame but in the end, we must rise above it. Rising above it is all we have. We must each find a way to emulate Him, and keep our eyes on Him and not the tide of misunderstanding that so often rises against us. In the end we should not be deprived of the Church because so many in it don't have a clue. It is just as much our church as it is theirs, it is there for us, for all of us, and the more understanding I gain, the more I realize that Christ would welcome me to the arms of the Church, and He is the only one who counts at the end of the day.
Rance was a joy to witness and a challenge to engage. I was lucky to meet him in person a couple of summers ago before he became ill. We are all richer for his life and I am grateful for his brief friendship.

On last New Year:

Rest in God’s arms tonight, Rance. We keep you in our hearts, full of love and free of horseshit.

Update: To read more of Rance's moving and hilarious stories, read Brian's post of remembrance.

Update II: Rance's writing helped me talk to some Mormon missionary boys who came to my door. You can read my story on Bilerico.


Ur-spo said...

it is always sad to hear of someone's passing, especially when I hear this person meant something to the writer. I can feel some love this way; he is not merely a name.

Brian R said...

Thanks for putting some more of Rance's writings up. I would love for someone to compile them into a book. It would be a book I would cherish. I will greatly miss reading his words both for the wisdom and the humour.

Steven said...

Despite the brevity in knowing Rance, one can tell the impact he has had on you. I am sorry for your loss.

THIS IS ME....ONLINE said...

What a beautiful remembrance. He made a lot of sense.

Roxrocks said...

This post just goes to show that you never know the impact you may have on the people you meet in your lifetime. He made an impression on you and through you, made an impression on others. I'm sorry for your loss.

evilganome said...

I'm very sorry for you loss, but thank you for sharing your memories with us and Rance's writing.

People like him make life richer and when the leave us the world is diminished.