Friends, I want to apologize right off the bat. This is not a “well written” blog post (if any of mine are, but this certainly is not). It lacks structure and focus; it has no theme; it is more for me, than for anyone reading it. But my feelings are jumbled, my focus blurred, my questions drown out the answers that used to be enough; and if it has no worth to anyone but myself, well – no one paid for this blog but me. So, I added this paragraph at the beginning, just to say – I am not editing this. I will not screen my feelings, my wandering mind, or my questioning heart. This is where I am today; read on.
Summer is opening its doors, two months since my last post – about my relief, and gratitude, at getting a COVID vaccine, due to the kindness of a stranger. Miraculously, perhaps even incredulously, in those few weeks demand for vaccines has dropped; state regulations have been withdrawn; infection rates are down, while some cling to a kind of hope, I guess, that the Delta variant will come and wipe out more, justifying their suspicions of the end of restrictions. Sadly, I have friends that seem to almost want COVID to resurge to justify their fears and precautions, and to enable them to gleefully declare they were right, and we got what we deserved. Perhaps we will.
In many groceries and other stores I visit, there is a mix of folks with masks, and those without – it is kind of eerie. The same with restaurants, the gym, and I suspect bars and theaters, although I haven’t visited either lately. Many just want it to be “over” – I saw a headline implying that, like the AIDS pandemic, this will be with us for years to come, but people just don’t want to make it their focus anymore. And, the finger pointing and blame shifting will be with us interminably as well, I think.
Regrettably, I haven’t been very disciplined about writing, instead, kind of swimming in thought and reflection, mostly alone. I do talk with friends, my husband, and family, a bit – but somehow, it’s like being in a big indoor pool at night, alone, just feeling the water envelop you, the quiet, the darkness. Perhaps it makes the shadows bigger and the silence deeper. Perhaps it is not the best place to go swimming right now, that sea of uncertainty – but I think avoiding it is worse. To pretend we are all just going to shake off what happened, collectively and individually, is to both fail to grasp the opportunity to find and create new meaning – and, to embrace denial and avoidance and just pretend. Pretend is comforting – but it is not life.
I talked with my husband last weekend about how he felt COVID had changed him, or us; I don’t know that I can provide any better answer than he, or someone else. But I do feel changed, somehow, and if I am changed, so are my relationships, and my heart. So I have been quiet here on “The New NormL” because ….. Norm L is feeling a little bit unanchored as I survey the waters around me, like a sea captain of old, but lacking the compass and the knowledge of the stars to guide him.
I imagine you, like me, had some very painful experiences during the past 18 months or so. For me, the repercussions, the reverberations of those moments, those feelings, those encounters, are still echoing, perhaps a little quieter but not silent, in my thoughts, my feelings. Returning to the seafaring analogy, I am trying to get my bearings. I got knocked off my feet here and there, and as I write, I think – I need to find a way to “shake it off”. To say, yes, those things happened, and I didn’t like them, and I can’t do a thing about it. As the British bobby in the old movies used to say, “Move along, move along – nothing to see here”. And the crowd may move on … but I am still trying to get my feet back on the ground, and walk again.
When I started this blog, early in the confinement imposed by COVID, it was a response to a longer held calling in my heart – a sense that, somehow, by writing, my experiences could maybe add some hope or insight to someone else’s life – the way I wish someone could have reached out to me during the years my heart cried alone. I honestly know only a few of the people who read my blog – I am not even sure where the other followers come from, why they read it or follow it – I don’t hear from them, mostly. And they are all few; so when I take the time to write, I wonder if I am using my time well, or wasting it. I wonder, too, if I am just spilling my guts, so to speak, for a kind of self therapy as I try to make sense of my existence, and sift through all the promises and certainties made to me by “those in the know” over the decades, not always finding many that I can still cling to for reassurance; for comfort.
I have thought often about what I would like to write here – but I always end up thinking it won’t mean anything to anyone. I don’t start out trying to be negative; perhaps it is a function of the lingering effects of isolation, but I think it goes deeper than that. I have written about how I struggled to come to terms with a lifetime of alienation and shame because of my “differentness” – there are lots of people with those feelings, not just repressed gay men of the baby boom generation. When I share my heart, I feel exposed; yet, as I often tell friends, and sometimes strangers, I do believe that the struggles we each have offer the most for others to learn from.
In many cases, I think about my ongoing exploration of what I term spiritual understanding and growth. I readily admit greater minds than mind over centuries and throughout many cultures have done more on that front than I could ever offer; but I often reflect on what I was taught, and what I know to be true, and how they differ. I ponder what prayer is about; I question the tendency that many people of faith have to avoid questions, to want certainty, and their – our – willingness to cling to just about anything rather than open the door a crack to the possibility that the answers they embrace might dissolve and they would be left with nothing to hold on to. That fear has driven much oppression and ugliness, and still does – not just in the form of traditional religion, but in new forms, technological battlefields and socio political shouting matches.
About two weeks ago, I had the opportunity to drive a few hundred miles and see the faces, and touch the hands, and hug quietly, friends and family who I left behind, physically, when I moved north. The drive seemed longer; I was alone, my husband of nearly 3 years now stayed behind to tend to things at home while I reconnected. We had spent a great deal of time together, with occasional interactions with others, mostly very limited; in a few weeks, we will travel together on a farther journey by air, to see his family on the other side of the continent, and then he will have a similar trip away while I tend to the cats demands here.
I thought about writing a column on that trip, called something like “Lessons from old men” – because I spoke with several during the visit, and I have to admit, I am becoming a bit of one myself. I knew that this was possibly the last time I might see any one of the loved ones I was hoping to visit; but some, more than others, have been facing health issues and uncertainty. Yet as I talked with them, rather than the stories they shared or the feelings that they expressed, I was struck more by the silences. The words they did not say; the questions I did not ask; somehow, it was the silences that brought us closer together, perhaps for the final time. That which is unspoken is perhaps more deeply felt, and more rarely sensed – but most powerful.
I think the disruption, the chaos that COVID created for so many of us – really, all of us worldwide, but everyone has their own story – has been hellish. Many of us are still dealing with a kind of shock, and fear – it was drilled into us incessantly, and as we learn where that fear was justified – and where it was not – resentment boils up for some. Who to blame? Who lied? Who can we trust? We want safety and certainty – but perhaps the most valuable lesson might be that those are illusory. As the “Serenity prayer” of many twelve step recovery groups states – we need to be able to accept what we cannot change, know what we can change, and have the courage and power to focus on the latter while giving up on the former – even though we may hate that truth.
I’ve lived through more than a decade of disruption in my life, career wise, relationship wise, spiritually, economically and endured a severe health crisis. Yes, Covid, but also another – dating back more than 4 years now, and at its most terrible point almost 30 months ago. I have been gifted at the same time with undeserved love, tolerance, encouragement and support – by my husband, my family, and friends – and strangers; I have also been kicked down by people who claim to care about me, and experienced selfishness on almost unbelievable scales by those who would label me as the one to blame. In have been beaten down and lifted up, I have had dreams and seen them crumble, I have opened my heart and have been wounded, and I have asked questions without finding answers. Join the club, as many might say.
I am sure that many brilliant minds and more loving hearts have written inspiring words that shake the clouds themselves from the sky; that songs have been sung and legends told about heroes facing peril, seeming doom, and rising above. I think often of the versus from the Bible, in all its translations – that among the spiritual gifts are many to be desired, but the most desirable, the most precious, the most sought after are faith, hope and love. These words, documented as written to an early group of believers in what was then a radical and heretic belief in a deliverer who most never met in person, by a convert to that belief who previously had prosecuted and hunted down its proselytes, were trying to communicate that within a body of believers – a church, a family of people who were coming together in faith – the most important things were not certain abilities, or powers, or strengths. Much is written about faith; even more about love; but perhaps we need to think a bit more about hope.
I am not sure what my own definition of hope might be; it would not be traditional, as of course my strange way of looking at life doesn’t ever take the simple route. Hope is, perhaps, a force – no, not like star wars. A force we channel, that we let ourselves step into, that we tie a string to like a kite and as it soars it carries us along, rather than we anchoring it to our gravity. Does that make hope a fantasy? Perhaps, or at least certainly there is that risk. But without hope, can we really have faith -whether in a loving power beyond our knowledge, or in another human walking alongside us? Without hope, can we really know, share, or receive love?
Where do we get hope? Some would say, from a belief in ourselves. From acceptance, from a certainty that “we can do it”. I have heard that is how some cultures see Americans – as confident, self-sufficient, and building through teamwork. Well, friends, that is not me, I have to look for hope not in myself – not solely, anyway, but somehow, along with faith, and clinging to love, as coming from beyond me, and yet awaiting me, like a laughing breeze swaying the blossoms in my window box, crying – come play. Come be my friend, come dance in the sun. Yes, the moon will be back tonight, the rain and wind will return as well – but the sun remains still, and we dance.
I am looking for hope; I am trying to offer hope to others, with a smile, with a hug, with a kiss, or other small kindnesses, even to strangers. Hope is not to be kept to oneself, but to flow. My hope needs an anchor outside of myself, just like a pipe needs a connection to a water supplier to be functional when the knob is turned to on. I am not the water; but I can share it, when I have it. But if I don’t have it, I don’t seek it, I don’t conserve it and treat it with respect – there is nothing to share.
I realize that much of what I turned to in the past for hope – much of what I defined as faith, and more of what I saw as love – were not what they promised. Surely, in a few cases, I was deliberately deceived, but not the majority. What I was shown as truth, was the best that others had to share, and the best I could find, then. Today …. I need to be open to a better way. I can cling to the old – or I can at least open my heart, mind, spirit and body to the possibility that what I held as certain was only an illusion; and that my ability and willingness to ask questions without knowing answers, without being the one sitting in class waiting to be called on to show I am right.
The elders I saw – some in person, some only in shadows of times past and images on paper seen again – they know a truth that they cannot share with me, yet. May I suggest that you avoid anyone who claims to have the certainty to know answers that they cannot be certain are true? I am not old by some standards, but ancient by others; I have lived a longer life than most statistically will know, not always happily, and sometimes clumsily and perhaps somewhat wasted as well. But, like you out there, strangers perhaps reading my meandering thoughts, I do not know how many days are left. And so now that the shadow of Covid, not vanquished but perhaps pushed farther away, does not loom so large as to darken all that I see – I need to find that compass. I need to read those stars and guide my ship to shore. And there, to dance with the breeze, and sing with the flowers, in the sun. Will you join me there? I will save a place for you. I think there is room for all of us. Let’s go looking – I will see you along the path.