The Castro in the shadows

Hello, readers – especially to you followers I do not know, who have somehow found my little corner and signed up to tag along.  This post is just for you! Well, everyone else too – but, I want to play tour guide this week. I have no idea where you live – perhaps you know San Francisco, perhaps not – but this week’s exploration is a chance for you to visit a corner of my world.  Come stroll with me through a neighborhood like perhaps your own, and yet, unlike any other – world changing, in a way, at least at one time – and still revered and treasured, though at the moment a little tattered and bruised.  And still shining through that shadow of COVID.

The Castro has a long history of being home to various ethnic and cultural groups – at one point, it was known as “Little Scandanavia”, and was not the original core area for San Francisco’s emerging gay/lesbian population.  But, in the 70’s, with a variety of factors contributing,  bars and their patrons began moving from the Polk Street area to the Castro, and it became known as the “gay capital” in many ways, particularly after Harvey Milk began his campaign for political office from his camera shop.  There are many wonderful documentaries and websites for you to learn about that heritage – it is somewhat less vibrant today, again for many reasons even before COVID.  But, my stroll this week to buy a birthday gift for family gave me a chance to see how this once, and still, magical few blocks is changing – like us all. 

Today the Castro is revered in the LGBTQ community world wide as an early refuge, a symbol of freedom and standing for rights long denied.  Now, Harvey’s old camera shop is a retail and community center for the Human Rights campaign (although some were aghast at that idea, it has proven to be a reminder of his presence); it would be rare to see anything other than a Democratic campaign event here or anywhere in SF.  Harvey’s restaurant, formerly the “Elephant Bar”, displays posters for the upcoming presidential election; victory parties are already planned ….

Like all of San Francisco, politics are fervently expressed in the Castro everyday.

Nightlife and retail are the lifeblood of many urban communities, even more so here.  The bars are limited to serving alcohol outdoors, with food – so the restaurants, with a slightly increased capacity now that SF has moved into the “least restrictive” color coded compliance zone, partner with bars as well as serving their own customers.  By building “parklets” in the streets – some more extravagant than others – in theory, visitors can comply with mask and distancing rules.  We do not attend these locations – to us, it is not important – but they are well populated, and probably going to be around for quite a while – their version of the new normal.  But the shops still carry unique products that even reflect the current COVID focus that casts its long shadow over all. The heads in one window display made in SF pride masks.

There are businesses that are closed forever – one long time, ahem, adult shop among others; but new businesses waiting to open, oddly enough a second ice cream shop, near the famed “Hot Cookie” bakery, where a wall of photos of customers wearing the namesake briefs welcomes visitors to buy a “butch bar” or a more than suggestively shaped cookie to enjoy. 

Cliff’s variety store is exactly that – a little bit of everything, plus some you never knew about! It’s a mainstay of the neighborhood, with a long history of its own – customers line up to enter now, but on this early morning access was easy.  I kept my visit to enjoying the Halloween display, featuring some very creative garden gnomes. 

Speaking of creative, this local small independent gym was one who adopted the “outdoor training” approach when all else was still verboten – I was impressed with their logistics to providing a complete workout experience.  We used to go to the chain gym down the street, which is now reopened indoors – but, we have modified our attendance to another, non-Castro location which the chain opened, featuring an outdoor tent filled with equipment.  Business owners are struggling to stay open, daily, weekly – following restrictions, hoping customers will be faithful, and adapting – while they can.  

The term currently in use may be different – I think recently it was “un housed” – or something similar.  Perhaps there is another term this couple might use for their classification, but, for the moment, on this weekday morning, they find shelter in a nook of the entry to the GLBT Historical society museum, up the street between “Harvey’s” restaurant and two of the remaining gay bars.  This museum, small but well curated, would normally be a spot I would recommend visiting – but for us, for now, we are content with our virtual visits, and supporting the society and other causes financially until, one day, we feel the reward of a visit outweighs the risks. 

Our “gayborhood” represents more than business – in some ways, it is a Mecca. I recall my first visit as an out gay man in 2012 – I rode my Indian motorcycle up specifically to be in the Castro. Among the traditions – the memorial to lost loved ones, which began during the AIDS crisis early years by posting pictures and other tributes on the walls of the Hibernia Bank (long gone, but this corner still referred to as “Hibernia Beach”). And, not far away, the community “bulletin board” – empty, but formerly filled with event flyers and posters for all kinds of things that you don’t find in Kansas city. The “angels” above still circle, waiting for those days to return.

A couple of blocks up Market – perhaps not the traditional “Castro” but one of my favorite little spots, Giddy’s candy store has a few Halloween treats available.

Yummy treats at Giddy Candy – imports from around the world, always fun!

Once upon a time, Halloween in the Castro was a major street party, but that ended before my arrival and long before COVID, due to public safety concerns – the costumes were, of course, fabulous in their day. Some may appear this week ….

From years past – Halloween in the Castro – no social distancing back then!

Our last stop, for now. The famed Castro Theater, which I referenced in my column last week about the slow return of films to our cultural menu, is completely walled off – the organ, presumably heard occasionally but only by a few, was in the process of being replaced by a new, sophisticated model.  It almost doesn’t matter what the first movie to be shown when those doors open is – it will be crowded, and those in attendance will gladly sing along with the traditional “San Francisco, Open your golden gates” introduced by Jeannette MacDonald in that MGM epic of 1936.  Of course, that depicted a city torn by earthquakes and fire – and then, rebuilt. Ours is facing a different onslaught – but renewal can come, as it did more than a century ago. What will that look like – and who will take up the challenge?

Take a peek at what Castro theater lovers treasure!

Our world will look different a year from now. The future is something we can create – you, me, all of us – can build it. Your neighborhood may have seen changes already, as well. The Castro may look very different in a decade; this is just a moment in a stream of constant energy and life. For many of us, our local places, whether routine or world famous, are still – sacred, in a way. A part of our hearts lives there, even after we move on. But what gives our communities life is the spirit of those who are there today (and tomorrow), building, creating, celebrating, sharing, loving – giving. You may not have a drag queen on your main street USA, but that doesn’t mean you can’t shine. Let our hope shine. The shadows will pass, others will come – we must hold on, to one another, and build, today. And we will.

Beyond the stars on a magic carpet

This week I was freed. 

We’d been exposed to COVID courtesy of a visiting home repairman whose brief stop to pick up a check led to receiving a call less than 48 hours later, courtesy of SF city health. We were to quarantine with testing and daily monitoring by phone for two weeks. Happily, our initial tests were both clear, and again just before our ultimate release.  I chose to celebrate by daring to indulge in an experience few else were pursuing these days. 

I’m calling to your memories. I’m asking you to think back as far as you can — a moment long ago when you sat with a roomful of mostly strangers, and the lights dimmed to darkness, and the room hushed as everyone around you became quiet.  Perhaps you heard a fanfare, the curtains opened – revealing a shiny silvery screen, and beams of light bringing to your eyes a vision. 

No one reading this today was present 125 years ago when, shortly after Christmas, two brothers created a public gathering that transformed the world. Louis and Augusta Lumiere charged one franc each to 33 Parisians to watch less than 10 minutes of silent film.  They had not invented the film process but did create their unique mechanism for projection to a paying audience.  This very first commercial film screening soon resulted in their opening a chain of local “cinemas”, and in time to the world. 

Moments from a century of film magic, in less than 5 minutes

Although I do not think it was my first movie, my first movie memory was going to the old Corona theater in 1966 with my older brother, I was 8, he was 10 and the scenes of the fire engulfing the forest ignited not only the screen but my imagination.  In the more than 5 decades since I have no idea how many films I have seen; many in the theater, but also on Tv, or college retrospectives, then in time VHS rentals, laserdiscs, and DVDs – but always, always I knew movies were their best in a dark cinema. 

The visions, dreams, stories and songs, were a place I could escape. Where I could find hope, joy, and worlds of adventure for a dollar matinee and a bike ride. In time, I would attend previews, revivals and world premieres; visiting Grauman’s Chinese, the movie palaces of downtown LA built by Charlie Chaplin and countless visits to multiplexes, many now converted to retail or RV showrooms or torn down. 

A 1953 movie premiere at the Chinese – the “golden age” – before my time.

I was often – correction, nearly always – alone, even in a crowded theater. Sometimes I would chat with strangers about the film as we waited, but most were with others, and I was more comfortable waiting for the lights to dim and to leave my neighbors behind. I learned about the artists of screenwriting, direction, production design, editing, scoring and of course the stars. My parents in shared their memories – my Mom of trips to see musicals (and going on a bowling double date with Mickey Rooney), my Dad of being terrified by Karloff as the Frankenstein monster. In time I took my younger brother to Superman and Star Wars; and his first R rated movie, Die Hard; more recently, with his wife and kids, and now my husband, to see even more Star Wars.  Funny how I can remember many of these screenings, theaters, and those times when others enjoyed or hated the film along with me as we chatted after some blockbuster or art film. Too many memories to begin to share – and in recent years, new memories with my husband, a reality beyond even my own romance inspired imagination that no screenwriter could have sold to a studio. 

But earlier this year, of course, no new memories could be created. Theaters like our beautiful Castro, dark for months for the first time in its nearly century long life. Others closed forever, now; chains in bankruptcy, studios ceasing production and deferring release, selling new films direct to Amazon that had been created for audiences to enjoy in the crowded darkness, their drinks and popcorn left in cases. The seats cold.  Like so many lives and businesses – the future uncertain, but the present, silent – more so than any DW Griffith epic or Harold Lloyd comedy. The lights off, the doors locked.

If you EVER get a chance again … go to the Castro Theater. History, magic and more.

Recently, the powers that be in their unknowable wisdom deigned it safe to allow some there to reopen. Sadly, here in SF most remain shuttered; unlike their neighboring cities, they are not being allowed to sell refreshments, which for years has been the only source of profits, especially for independent cinemas; the studios take most of the ticket cut, which is more meager than ever.  Somehow, other sources of food and drink are safe, including restaurants recently reopened for indoor service, but that part of the cinema experience is not permitted here – and so our local theaters remain dark for now. 

But nearby cities had been screening for a few weeks, and now that I could at last get out, I knew exactly what I wanted to see! With all the closures and delays in movie releases, most of the “summer blockbusters” were, well, either not summer, or bust. But one filmmaker whose works have always been creative, and sometimes breathtaking, insisted his project be released in theaters as planned – if delayed – and I wanted very much to see Christopher Nolan’s “Tenet” in IMAX.   A theater nearby, south of the city itself, had it on IMAX matinee for the final day the first day of my “release” – and my husband having opted out, I drove to the BART parking structure adjacent.  Usually crowded up to multiple levels, it was nearly deserted – as was the sidewalk past the some open, some closed eateries featuring pizzas, ice cream, sandwiches and more.My ticket was “touchless” with an assigned seat, no adjacent viewers – in fact, only 4 seats were showing as sold that morning out of the entire theater.  The concession area was open, but semi deserted – and entering the theater itself, a hand cleansing station greeted me as I found my seat in silence.  There was no typical “pre-show” with ads, promotions, etc. – but a few “previews of coming attractions” with dates that have now been pushed into 2021.  

You don’t need my evaluation of the film itself – there are plenty of those online.  Rather, I invite you to remember what it was like to go, perhaps with a date, or your family, or a group of friends, to see some film you love to watch even today – whether it was Forrest Gump or Star Wars, James Bond or a Disney classic.  The joy you felt, or the fear or surprises you shared; the music that soared.  These were magic carpets taking us to new worlds in the dark;  showing us what life might have to offer, promising us a future we might never know, and for some, the promise of what discovering what it is to love, be loved, and even lose love. We may see ourselves, or perhaps not – perhaps we will get a glimpse of who we want to become. Films are not always a true representation of life, but they capture the energy of our spirit in a way that combines imagery, sound, story and more that is unique to sitting in that dark room, climbing on the carpet, and letting it take us where it will.  When the ride ends, and we walk out, we may not remember those moments consciously – but they are a part of our common cultural heritage now.  

Perhaps you recall the wonderful, Oscar winning theme music for “Chariots of Fire” created by Vangelis. He also had several albums as part of the team “Jon and Vangelis” – one, “The Friends of Mr. Cairo”, is titled for their evocative, and very lengthy, tribute to how film captures our spirits, our hearts, and creates a shared experience that can last a lifetime.  Of course, it refers to “The Maltese Falcon” but moves into other moments that you may recognize as well.  

Silent gold movies, talkies, technicolor, long ago; my younger ways stand clearer, clearer than my footprints. Stardom greats I’ve followed closely, closer than the nearest heartbeat; longer than expected – they were great. Oh love oh love; just to see them; acting on the silver screen, oh my. Clark Gable, Fairbanks, Maureen O’Sullivan; fantasy would fill my life – and I love fantasy so much. Did you see? In the morning light? I really talked, yes I did, to God’s early morning light – and I was privileged then, as I am to this day, to be with you.

Closing lyrics, “Friends of Mr. Cairo”, Jon and Vangelis, 1981.

I hope you will take the time to view this in one sitting, quietly – the creator of this video clearly loves the music, and the films, and melded the two into this hymn to how films find a place deep in our hearts. 

Turn off the lights, turn off the world around you, and remember what it is to dream.

My wish for you is that one day, perhaps soon but one day, you will again be able to enjoy a movie you love – whether new, or old – in a darkened theater full of strangers, on a screen larger than any in your home, without distraction, and with all the popcorn and soda you have missed.  I hope Bob and I, with our friends and families, will have those moments ahead as well, at the Castro theater with it’s beautiful pipe organ and cavernous edifice, inviting passersby “Come, enter the temple – see the light dance and the hear the angels sing”. The flickering spirits are waiting for you to join them again in the darkness.  As my old film mentors Siskel and Ebert used to say every Sunday evening on TV as they shared thoughts on what magic film offers us – save me the aisle seat. 

Six months, 25 posts, and the future

Do you ever put off doing things? I sure do. Especially the things that I think I don’t know how to do, or may not do well. I put off starting this blog for a long time after the idea entered my head; I put off actually posting for nearly 4 months after I paid the WordPress subscription in November of 2019. I had just the month prior made the decision to end my ongoing job search and retire early; in large part that was driven by my desire to spend more time with my husband and building our life together rather than another few years of professional employment.

Photo by Darwis Alwan on Pexels.com

But, I finally started writing – six months ago, yesterday. And I knew that there were a few other things I had put off – like getting more familiar with WordPress “mechanics”, how to show things on the table of contents, how to make it a little easier for visitors to see what I was sharing. So, this morning, with a goal of getting that long on my to do list item finished, I toyed with WordPress a bit – exploring, getting lost, getting frustrated but … getting back on board and sticking with it.

You know, it’s a good feeling to do something you have put off. This summer I spent many hours on a home improvement project that most will never see or notice; but it’s just about done, and our life is a little better for it. I have a lot left to learn about using WordPress, and writing; about guiding people to my site, or promoting it (thank you, followers I have never met, I am humbled!).

But learning is what keeps life challenging, I think. As we have political discussions with friends – which unfortunately seems to be the gigantic gravitational center of all thought these days – I often remark that questioning what we believe, our priorities and choices is a lot harder than just doing what we did the day before. And hey, maybe that’s great for now – maybe that’s all we can do. I am grateful, and challenged, to have the luxury (or burden?) of time to reconsider my focus – how to spend the precious hours of this day, and the unknown number of days to come.

We cannot take the number of days ahead for granted – never could, but maybe we believed it and now realize that untruth. Last week, my husband and I were exposed to Covid, six months after all the guidelines we followed, and precautions we took, by a visiting home improvement representative who felt ill the next day and went for a test. Less than 48 hours after his short stop to check out our kitchen needs and plan for the beginning of work, we had each received a call from SF City health that we needed to quarantine for two weeks, and test; less than 6 hours after that call, we were at a Kaiser drive through for a memorable swabbing session, and soon on our way home.

For whatever reason, my husband’s negative test results arrived a little more than a day later – but mine did not. More than 30 hours after his email, I finally got a notice at 3 am on a Monday morning that I too was negative; it was a relief, but that gap in communication left me with many thoughts about its implications. Thankfully, we have no symptoms, and in roughly 6 more days we will again be “free” to roam our still mostly shuttered streets, and visit the socially distanced by reservation only gym, and maybe even in time to go see a movie. These are all things we took for granted a few months ago, and yet for some on our globe, are pleasures they might never know. If nothing else, this is a time to nature our appreciation for the gifts we hold today.

But I thought during those 30 hours, and since, again about my priorities. One of our cats has a habit of “campaigning” for his canned food dinner earlier each day – wandering, following, and letting us (mostly, me, since I open the cans) know that he is ready. For up to two hours ahead of time, some days – and then, in moments, his enjoyment of the food itself is over. And I see this in myself, and perhaps we all do it – waiting, yearning, longing and dreaming for something we so desperately want, or think we need – and then, perhaps that experience comes, that dream comes true – and it is over. We put so much time into it, and it passes – and life goes on.

Today, we are all longing for something imminent – maybe for some it is the election and a hoped for change or end to whatever antagonizes us most at the moment; for others, a “return to normal” that probably is never going to be fully realized – the new world is going to be shifting in ways we cannot predict, and in ways we may not even see as they come to pass. I certainly have my frustrations with both; and yet the best I can manage my life right now, for me, my husband, and my loved ones who I cannot be with at the moment, is to just do what I can do now and move on.

So, six months in to my little blog, after 25 entries, and countless hours of thought and reflection, I feel a glimmer of anticipation of where “The New NormL” goes from here. Between thought, writing, reflection and the mechanics of creating a post (along with the learning curve), the amount of time I spend on these posts is, well, more than you might guess. Foremost, my priority remains our shared lives, building what we have and like everyone else just trying to manage the details; but writing here, for you few who read these words, has been in a way both clarifying and freeing for me. So, there will be more to share, although I sense I may be shifting my focus, or my approach, a bit over time. There is much to explore in our world, wonderful things to discover and give to others in turn, when we open our eyes. I will continue to write from the heart, about the present, past and future, and my weird little questions and peculiar explorations – in the hopes that some of what I share will resonate with those few who may find encouragement from my words.

A friend asked me recently if I had changed my blog format a bit, having noticed some of the photos, links etc. that I was tweaking (and which will continue). I think the most noticeable is probably the now routine inclusion of the portrait you see below, although I think I often used the words shown in closing many posts. Those words are both a sentimental wish, and an imperative I try to achieve – imperfectly. We all strive towards ideals we cannot reach, but in that effort, we get closer. Keep on climbing; lend a hand to others near you on that path, or their own – you may not share the same goals, or much else, but we all share the same hopes and needs. Thank you for spending some time with me here – I look forward to our next visit.

Talk to the chair

As I have written the past few months, I have been gifted with very kind and encouraging feedback.  Strangers have started to subscribe to my blog; I hope it is because there is something that touched them or encouraged them.  But my family and friends have, at times, expressed concern – that my sharing, my openness and recollection may be stirring more pain within myself.  Their words are, I am certain, coming from love, and I appreciate and understand their responses. 

It’s absolutely true that writing from the heart is sometimes very difficult; it takes a lot of soul searching, and sifting through repeatedly, trying to determine what is the hoped for “wisdom” that I might share from my experiences.  My goal is not to evoke sympathy or pity, but by honestly opening up about some of my history, to provide you, the reader – whether you know me, or never meet me – something that you can grasp and use, that you can say – yes, yes, there is a truth here, a discovery that has meaning, in your life, now.  My reward – your gain from the price I paid.

I have realized the past few weeks that one of the most difficult entries I shared needed … a sequel. A follow up to show that what I laid bare in those words back in May led to something better, in my life – peace, in my heart, and hopefully in time through that for others in my circle, through how we care for one another.  Ripples in the pond between our joined lives, wherever they may connect.

“Sometimes I cry when I see the boys” original post here ……

The title of that May post, taken from one of my father’s letters to my Mom, revealed bluntly some of the less than wonderful, far from ideal facts about my relationship with my Dad.  Some aspects, not all – there were chapters to our shared lives that there is no point in shining a light on here, which impacted not only me, but other family members. Our shattered natures often lead to chasms, and in my case, there was a period of several years where, except for my Mom, my direct family was not present in my life.  But despite those moments, which were desperately painful in many ways – in time, there was healing.  Today, I realize how important it is to share some of how that came about, with you – for whatever meaning it might have in perhaps not your own relationships, but possibly someone you love, or someone you have yet to meet.  

We do things to protect our bruised and wounded hearts.  We hide, we bury, we put on emotional masks and learn to present the self we want others to see, to love and accept.  Yes, in my case there were elements that had not only to do with the deepest parts of how I connect with others, but also very old, and very fully woven into my spirit, habits of thought and feeling.  In my work with the first counselor who helped me come to a place of greater acceptance and understanding of grace than what I had been taught, I grew into new freedoms.  In time, I sought out another counselor, one who could relate more fully from his own experience and insight to my history; his name was Patrick.  He passed a few years ago, but he gave me a gift to share, and I will do my best, today. 

I make no apologies for my upbringing in faith, knowing full well that many have different backgrounds, beliefs and understandings – finding comfort in accepting that I will never have all the answers, and don’t need to beyond those which work for me, and bring me to a place of continuing to grow in caring and acceptance of others who enter my life.  Patrick was not a particularly spiritual person; in fact, I would go so far as to say he might have described himself as agnostic.  But he accepted that a huge portion of the challenges I faced to growth was reconciling what I had been taught, what I desired and felt, and that finding some balance between those was critical for my own peace of mind. He respected what was important to me. 

What came as a surprise to me was his insights, in time, into my father’s alcoholism; Patrick was very experienced in addiction treatment, theory and related issues.  I did not feel that addiction was a problem in my life; I had been studious to avoid drink for many reasons; I was well aware that studies indicated there were genetic factors that impact predisposition to intergenerational addictive behaviors.  Eventually I came to realize that there were other escape routes that I had learned to embrace, that did not provide the answers I sought; they were not to be found in a bottle but had their own power over me.  I suspect we all face those illusory mirages of hope at times; our culture, and many others, is filled with stories of miracles and magic that at their best create unrealistic desires for wish fulfillment, and at their worst, deception and destruction.  Sometimes even in the “answers” that we turn to for hope, disappointment lurks.  Turning from those false solutions to truth is not an easy process. 

I did not think that my father’s alcoholism was an ongoing issue for me; by the time I began working with Patrick, it was maybe 6 years since Dad’s passing; I was “out”, I was making friends, and dealing with the stresses of everyday life.  But Patrick recognized in me the echoes of the ravages of disfunction, and the coping habits which at the time seemed to protect me, which actually were now working against a fuller life.  He recommended an extremely technical volume on addiction, and I am thankful for his faith in my intellect to work through it – I began to see that my own behaviors were built in some ways on a foundation of just surviving those problems that impacted me deeply at a young age, but which I still carried long after those years into my ongoing life – and they were not working for me, but against me. 

But what really surprised me was his suggestion that I spend a week at the Betty Ford program in Palm Desert, CA. 

Betty Ford, whose Center, now joined with Hazelden, still changes lives

Now, before you jump to conclusions (I sure did, initially), know this – he felt it would give me insight to attend “family week”, not the program itself – a sort of “day camp” for those whose loved ones were in the residential program could learn about their own behavior and how to support their family member after they left the facility.  Of course – my father was not in the facility – but Patrick knew the administrator and after discussion with them, I agreed to attend for a 5-day program.  We reviewed a lot of material about the nature of addiction, but also heard presentations by experts in the field, about codependence and how the family unit is impacted, short term and long term, by the damage and pain they seek relief from. 

I felt out of place; I was newly “out”, trying to deal with a lot in my own personal life, and facing some pretty severe challenges in my career as well.  The others in the program, well, they were pretty – “normal”, I guess – parents, spouses, children.  I did not feel connected with them at all.  And then, there was the fact that I was the only one who had no family in the program itself; once again, in more than one ways, I was reminded of my differentness, my outsider status. 

One of the key components of the week, for everyone but me, was for them to sit down with their loved one who was a residential participant, and have an honest discussion – sharing their feelings; being open; being vulnerable;  trying to find a bridge ahead for everyone in the family, patient and supporters.  I was impressed with the program, and more so with their courage – but again, I felt – weird.  The administrator had told me that participating in one of the central aspects of the program was up to me …. Did I want to have an opportunity to talk?  Not with the other participants – we did some of that, for sure, in the program; but … with my father.  No, not in some “séance”; but in a way that would allow me to express what I felt, what I carried inside, that I never had with him, fully, in real life. 

In the last year of his life, after the passing of both my stepmother and mother, we had built bridges; my Dad had accepted my coming out, and as I will share more fully in another entry one day, he supported me in ways that no one else in my family could, or perhaps would, as we both dealt with our individual grief as best we were able.   In a way, we healed together. After his passing, and all that had happened in my life in the years since, I didn’t think there was ground left to cover; but I talked with Patrick – and decided I needed whatever I could get from this program, from this experience, that I could take with me into the future.  For me. 

So I said “yes”. After the other “family sharing” times were pretty much complete – I sat down, surrounded by a circle of strangers who knew a little, but not much, of my life and challenges – facing an empty chair.  I cannot tell you today exactly what came out of my mouth, or shall I say my heart – it was painful; there were tears.  There was release.  But I promise you this – for me, my Dad was sitting there.  He heard me;  we connected.  As I told him from those deeply wounded parts of my own childhood spirit still hovering inside me, as they do for us all, the pain of what had happened began to be, somehow, released; and being surrounded by, as some might say, “clouds of witnesses” whose own journey might be not entirely similar but not entirely different – I knew, finally – I was not alone.  There was nothing wrong with me, back in those years, or in that moment where we connected, somehow, even across the barrier of eternity. 

And from there … I moved on; I grew, and still am. I tell you honestly, even just in writing this to you – there is healing. There are still tears, but I know now tears are not my enemy. 

At the time, I did not talk of these events with hardly anyone in my life; family reading this now, may be disappointed I did not share with them.  But I am sharing with you because …. In writing about my father’s pain; his issues, his failures – first, it was important to say there was more to him than those disappointments. There is more to all of us, even though we too have let others down; we have caused our loved ones disappointment.  I was given a chance to find some peace in a way I would never have thought possible.  Yes, there were moments of reconciliation while he was still living;  but in a way, I believe, my experience illustrates that it is never too late to reach into our own hearts and search, through sludge and mire, through all the lies we embraced and the shadows we hid behind – to walk forward, in forgiveness.  

As I get older, retired now, much of my life now consists of quieter times, especially staying at home and not seeing our family and friends as much; perhaps particularly because I am somewhat the family historian, and going through old papers and photos brings up memories. I appreciate the loving concern of those of you who read some of my entries and wonder if sharing these moments might not be worth the cost, emotionally, to me in writing them.  My answer is a resounding YES – if only one person out there finds some encouragement, some hope in what you are facing today because my words somehow ring true for you – yes, yes yes. I did not always have someone in my life at the darkest times; I know what loneliness and desperation are.  There is HOPE.  I found it – believe me friends, you can too.  It is there, waiting.

One does not have to be a member of the Christian faith, or part of that heritage that has become buried under countless traditions, arguments and myths – to see the wisdom of the words that have been called “the beatitudes”.  I am sure there are similar passages in other faiths, perhaps some that have meaning for you that I will never hear.  Those words, spoken on a hill to a crowd that came with their own hopes of miracles, freedoms, or promised deliverance – that did not, for most, come to pass they way they expected, and for the Teacher, led to a painful end of life – they hold for many a kind of mystical poetic power beyond understanding.  This is why I am reminded of the passage in the gospel of Matthew, chapter 5, verse 9 – “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God”.  These few words are quietly nestled between similar blessings for those who are pure of heart, and those who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness.   And yet – of all these words now called the “sermon on the mount”, of all the characteristics that are described and the outcomes promised for those who embrace them – I only now realize that only the peacemaker has the blessing of joining in harmony with the very nature, the essence, of God.  Children, of God. 

Over the years, I, like you perhaps, have questioned most of what I was taught to simply accept, including translation, historical accuracy, documentation and the impact of mostly now forgotten ancient traditions in interpreting what we call “scripture”.  But for me … I believe there is a special kind of peace in seeking reconciliation.  With those in our life now; with those no longer in our life; and with that Power, however we define it, that exists outside the scope of our comprehension and understanding, for now at least, perhaps forever.  We may sense those aspects of a larger spirit that we struggle to put into words, in whatever language – faith, hope, love, forgiveness; reaching out, to make peace, when we can – in what little way we are able. 

We cannot always reconcile, or find peace, with everyone in our life; it’s not fully within our power.  But our willingness to seek it out, is. The realization that the making of that effort is of itself a reflection of the very nature of the Eternal, of our spirit, and that which exists outside time itself – came to life for me, facing a seemingly empty chair, in a room filled with strangers I never saw again.  Perhaps there is a chair you need to face – even if, like mine, empty for now.

Today I know and appreciate the love – imperfect but real – of my father in a way I was unable to grasp before those moments of healing.  We each have our own seasons and paths in life; we must choose for ourselves as best we can and trust that in time good will come of it.  I know there remain bridges to be built, and I have hope they can and will be.  Thank you for taking the time to listen to this moment of my journey, as I continue hopefully to grow.  Perhaps my words will give you hope, as well.   Blessed be, indeed, the peacemakers, all of us, children of God.