Not just another valentine

I would never claim to have anything original to say about love.  No memorable new quotes, no revolutionary observations, no insights for those reading this who are asking themselves that question right now.   I only have, as with all things, my story … one still being written; just like yours.  So, for this Valentine’s day, this is just a little piece of my heart in hopes it touches some of you, out there.  By now, if you have read any of my posts, this won’t be much different – Like life, I sometimes know where I start and have an idea of where I want to end, but the road is something I discover along the way.  Shall we? 

I still have Valentine’s day cards from my childhood, and some from later years – from my Mom, of course.  She kept not everything, but bits of most things, and I am glad for that.  Back in the 60’s, kids valentines were pretty routine, you’d buy a box for $2 and give one to your friends in class – maybe themed to pets, or rocket ships, or cartoon characters.  As a shy child, with a single disabled parent, my path to not fitting in was only beginning then; in junior and senior high, my sense of not belonging only grew deeper, there was no dates, there were virtually no encounters with my peers outside of school; and there certainly was no LGBT youth outreach at church, or even adults who I could tell what I was feeling, to seek help through all the confusion and conflict.  The road to “being an adult” was filled with mile markers that didn’t apply to my trip. 

This is what was upheld as ideal in my childhood – what happiness would look like.

I was alone.  Or at least, I felt very alone – like many boys and girls in that era, we had no place to “belong” as ourselves.  So, when I reached the age where dating was expected, I made some awkward attempts, including one at the encouragement of a well-meaning counselor that resulted in deeply wounded feelings for a woman in my church who, like me, didn’t belong; wasn’t part of the crowd.  I think perhaps church groups were a refuge for those who felt rejected – and yet there was still an effort to achieve the standards of, if not perfection, conformity.  I knew well enough that as much as I wanted to be “normal” – heterosexual, straight, whatever words fit – that I wasn’t, and that pretending to be so was something I could not fulfill.  My withdrawal grew deeper. 

Every February, when Valentine’s day would come around, I would give candy to my Mom, and sometimes take goodies to work; I admit there were years I bought boxes of Sees in a tuxedo box, their Valentine’s gifts for men, for myself.  Recently, I reconnected with a friend who knew me from kindergarten through high school – we had not seen one another in over 40 years and had a lot of catching up to do.  She had the most insightful observation – that during our high school years, I had simply kind of disappeared. I was there, but not there like everyone else – not at the dances or the games, certainly not at the prom.  She shared that sometimes, over the years, my name would come up – but no one knew what had become of me.  I had left all those connections behind, because I could not be honest about myself and feel safe or accepted – that was impossible to conceive.  So, too, was the idea that I could be loved for me. 

We all know loneliness during our lives – sometimes we feel like we live in a private wilderness.
Photo by Markus Spiske on Pexels.com

The only source of love that somehow kept creeping through the walls I had built around myself was my spirituality.  Somehow, despite the heartfelt assurances of the sermons in the churches I still occasionally tried to belong within, I found a way to believe that God’s love was bigger than what I had been told. I am eternally grateful to Alan, my straight, Christian counselor who held onto the belief that the creator he knew had a love greater than the one I had come to believe in. Unlike many who are wounded, deeply, by the hypocrisy and ignorance that so many people of faith still embrace, I found a way to see that God’s love could not be confined by the traditions and models and standards that were paraded as the only way to live;  that there was a greater love, and a source, that pushed beyond those artificial walls and shined brighter even though my eyes might be so blind that I could only occasionally see a glimmer through the cracks in my lonely fortress. 

Today, I am gifted, graced and blessed with real, honest to goodness love from my husband.  His life path has been very different from mine – and yet, in some ways, alike, just alternate roads until ours crossed and we realized that our hearts belonged together.  I had never been in a real relationship; he had been with his late husband for over 35 years; he had come out in the 70’s, I had come out only shortly before we met; he had lived in San Francisco through all the changes that eventually brought the right for all to marry and have their love recognized; I had lived in towns where gay was a four letter word, and there were no rainbow flags fluttering from windows.  

Our Valentine’s cards to one another today.

And yet, love found us.  Love indeed brought us together, like so many from around the world, in ways we didn’t plan or predict.  So on Valentine’s day, today, we exchange cards – mine a Hallmark, his an American greetings – that are from a husband, to a husband.  How remarkable that is to me, and yet, seemingly unremarkable as our culture has shifted, at least here and now; for others, they still hide in the shadows, many alone, fearful of the consequences of sharing their hearts openly, and the risks of being known for who they are at the most basic level of existence and identity. 

I have many friends that are single, still; straight, gay, whatever. Some have found happiness alone, others wonder why they are not finding someone who is their life partner, and still more are perhaps in relationships that have evolved, where the fires of love have cooled but the comfort of being together is better than parting.  Some will have no calls, candy or cards today, others might be looking for a short-term escape from solitary to numb the sense of uncertainty whether they are the problem.  Whether they will ever find someone to say “I love you” to, and hear it in return, and know it is true. 

Perhaps, as Paul writes, Faith, Hope and Love are all gifts – or a single gift with many forms?
Photo by Yelena Odintsova on Pexels.com

I am not an eloquent man, and I have no editor to help me better share something rising from deep within my spirit.  I have only the longings of my heart to find a way to express something meaningful in my entries here.  But those feelings run deep, deeper than my faith or whatever it is that calls me to reach out beyond what I understand factually and yet is just as real to my spirit.  And in my heart, I write to anyone out there reading this on Valentine’s day, or any other day, who is looking for love – trying to figure out what it is, where it comes from, and how to get more of it.  I don’t have those answers, and never will – but if a repressed gay Christian man in his 50’s can find a way to work through the mounds of muck that engulfed my life for too many years, and encounter someone from such a different walk of life and together, discover love and joy, hope and intimacy – not just for ourselves, but giving that through our love to others in our life – then I offer this a just a little bit of light, perhaps a minor miracle.  Not proof of God, or right and wrong; not a formula for success; no Hallmark channel movie.  Just me telling you – it happened; we love one another; we are blessed.  I truly believe – yes, I even dare to say I know – that love exists for all of us, sometimes in ways we don’t realize or perceive, but it is there for us to reach out and know – and to share. There is no perfect love on this planet, just our awareness that something better exists, built into our codes somehow from childhood; if we dare to let it speak to us, it challenges us to step out without answers, and just find a way to give.  Better to give, than receive, someone said; perhaps by focusing on giving, the promise of receiving begins to form.   

I often include links to music here – music has been a way for the better angels of that great unknown to reach my heart.  The music of my childhood in school chorus, and church choir; the music of the men’s gay choruses around the world; old hymns, new anthems, longings and wishes expressed by talents I will never be able to thank.  As I thought of which song I might want to include today, “Where is Love” from the musical “Oliver” came to mind; sung by the title character, an orphan in a seemingly hopeless world of loneliness and rejection, it is timeless in capturing that sense of asking not only where, but why, and when, and how.  I found this version – it may not be obvious from the video itself, but from what I could find online, the young boy performing here is blind.  Filmed in 2009, he would now be a young man – with challenges I, and many of us, will never know.  Perhaps he still sings, perhaps he has forgotten this moment – it has less than 300 views, and there are many others, by well known names, and with more technical polish. It is, in a way, unremarkable.

And yet, it is just that commonality that captures perhaps what my heart and my mind is doing a poor job of communicating; that we all just want love.  We just want to be loved for who we are, and get past all the mountains and all the chaos, we can’t answer the whys, we will never be able to predict the future and much of the time we can’t understand the past – we certainly don’t control the present (and often wonder if anyone does).  We muddle through and when love happens, whether for a brief glimmer in time like a candle that burns brightly and fades, or whether for decades surviving whatever life throws at us – love is worth celebrating and sharing.  It is worth being laughed at for; it is worth fighting for; it is even worth forgiving for.  It is worth giving away without question.  It is worth believing in when we seemingly stand alone. 

Wherever you are, my wish for you is that somehow, today, you can look at your life and see that love has been there, and is there now – mysterious, immeasurable, but real.  It may ebb and flow, but it is alive, and real – and timeless. Whether you read this today, or on a hot summer afternoon, or Halloween or whatever – for the few who read this – you have the power to reach out to someone else and give them some love that they may be longing for, missing, in ways you could not imagine.  This is my little effort to offer you that hope, just as the love I share with my husband was a gift to my life – and ours.  Undeserved, perhaps; unplanned, certainly; amazing to me, always.  I will be reading this to him tonight, as we share a quiet few moments reflecting.   And I will continue to learn how to love, and to be loved – albeit imperfectly – from the heart. 

San Francisco, January, 2022.

“The dreams that stuff is made of”

Dreams can be amazingly vivid; more intense, somehow, than real life, at least for a few moments before you become aware of your “true” surroundings, the blankets over you, the slowly brightening sky.  Perhaps in that moment you feel a kind of astonishment – that something so powerful, emotions flowing that arose from points unknown, only to disappear with the realization that it was all a kind of fantasy.  Lately, most of my own dreams seem to be in an alternate reality, where people from different chapters of my life interact, where business meetings are incredibly stressful and the pressure of deadlines seem to portend doom, until I become again aware that, no, I don’t work anymore; those faces and places are only shadows. Shadows that seem so real before awareness banishes them, often entirely, from memory.

Our dreams call us to wander an unknown land with dark, and light, and all that lies in between.

Then, there are the nightmares – elements added to the brew of deep sleep that were never a part of daily life, even bizarre situations that seem to spring from some unrealized desire within me to write a script for a thriller.  Some are recurring, like the one I have every few years about being awakened by groups of strangers walking through the house with a real estate agent, with me protesting that they don’t belong there.  Others verge on the surreal, with elements of time travel; recently, I dreamt that I was in my childhood home – purchased by my parents in the 60s, and sold after my mother’s passing in 2006, it was a place filled with memory and emotion, even now 15 years after I walked out the door.  In the dream, the neighbors on the “bedroom” side had pushed the rickety wooden fence between our side yards further into our backyard, expanding their own footprint; but they were not home when the workers did this, and I could not find anyone to listen to me.  Finally, their real estate agent (seems like I have a phobia there of some kind!) showed up, but refused to stop the fence building, and as she decided to drive away ignoring my pleas for understanding, a vibrator fell out of her car and rolled onto the street behind her fleeing sedan as I called to her in vain to let her know of her loss. What does that all mean?  I have no idea – but it seemed so real, and my emotions, my frustration and sense of being ignored were real even if the scenario was imaginary. 

Now that I think about it, many films and programs of my childhood were tied to the “it was just a dream” motif – “Invaders from Mars”, the only film directed by William Cameron Menzies, which terrified me; “The boy and the pirates”, a very cheap film featuring a no name cast, but with a boy my age, then, in peril;  “The 5000 fingers of Dr. T” which features Hans Conreid as a megalomaniacal piano teacher; and probably countless others (including, eventually, Bobby in the shower on Dallas!).  Where do my own vivid dreams come from? What is their genesis – my overactive imagination, some Freudian dream machine hiding in my unconscious, or hidden meanings trying to get me to pay attention?  

Now, decades later, this film is considered a classic of childhood paranoia and the “Red Scare”

The answer to those questions eludes me, like so many others from my walking, daily life.  The phantasms of my darker hours may, however, soon become less present.  Sleep is important for so many reasons – not just lying down with your eyes closed, but for chemical reactions that occur in our mind and body when the system is in “pause”, so to speak. I have struggled with restlessness for years, now, and the related exhaustion during waking hours. I often find it difficult to return to sleep after awakening in the “wee small hours of the morning” – whether it is music running through my memory, or plans for the next day, or pondering the great mysteries of the universe – my brain doesn’t want to turn off.  Sometimes I picture a bank of dials and levers, not unlike the wall of controls that Dr. Morbius had at his disposal in “Forbidden Planet”, and I try to slowly switch them all off.  It doesn’t work – whatever “Id monster” is wandering through my intellect refuses to be evicted, only to hide for a while. 

In “Forbidden Planet”, the alien technology was based on 50’s industrial design.

Sleep is important for so many reasons – not just lying down with your eyes closed, but for chemical reactions that occur in our mind and body when the system is in “pause”, so to speak. There is some point where our consciousness moves from awareness into that place of magic where dreams arise like mist, and disappear – and when we do not reach that level of rest, it comes at a cost to our overall health and well-being, in ways that science still works to understand.  After my recent annual physical, my dr. surprised me with a suggestion that we do a “sleep study”, for possible issues with apnea; this was not a welcome idea.  More than two decades ago, when I carried much more baggage – physically and mentally – in my body, I weighed about 25% more than I do now, and had ended up with a device attached to my head that made me feel like Lloyd Bridges in Sea Hunt, and look like Steve Martin as the dentist in Little Shop of Horrors.  It didn’t help then, and I doubted after my weight loss and efforts to gain and retain fitness that apnea could be a factor in my life – could it? 

Technology has advanced, of course, and the device I wore on my finger one night indicated that I indeed had severe apnea – with my breathing interrupted more than 40 times an hour, something related to my nose and throat structure having nothing to do with weight or fitness. So, shortly thereafter, I find myself using a somewhat sleeker device by my head at night, and a noticeably quieter and less bulky apparatus to adorn my head upon the pillow – and I have to admit – my sleep does seem to be improving. Of course, there are still instances of awakening at 2 am for non-apnea factors, including our cat Chaps demanding my service as a trampoline and punching bag, or my husband’s sometimes lively conversations with someone at a work meeting or party in his own dreamland. But the results are undeniable. The “test” for apnea showed I was having more than 40 instances of breathing interruptions an hour; now, it is regularly less than 5 per my trusty electronic monitor.  

I am hoping my new “little friend” will provide my body, mind, and spirit with the peace it needs – although I don’t expect it will completely quiet those dreams, only muffle if not silence the intensity that awakens me back to the daily reality. I hope to “sleep, perchance to dream”, to paraphrase Hamlet – putting sleep first, hoping that this unwelcome diagnosis – and non-insured medical equipment treatment – will bring a better rest to my life, and better balance and health overall. Still, I do not wish to bid goodbye to dreams, not entirely.  Whether they are nightmares we awaken from gradually, or those hidden dreams we do not remember beyond the moment – there are those who say that dreams are the wishes of an older soul, emerging in our quietest hour, demanding to be heard.  Perhaps they have a point of origin that we sometimes cannot quite place our fingers upon; but the shadows that rise and play out in the space between our closed eyelids and our brain, seeping into the night, carrying our bodies into lands that, if they exist, are not on any map – I think we need those too.  Because, sometimes, dreams last beyond the dawn, in ways we do not realize.  

Just like George Bailey lassoing the moon for Mary … we can bring dreams to reality

Perhaps our wishes are born, seeds floating out from those fields of dreams – and the wishes become goals, and hopes, that we hold deep in our hearts, transporting us almost like one of those “driverless” cars that seem to fill the streets of my home here in San Francisco, taking us to places we did not realize our hearts wanted to reach – by roads we did not know existed, or had to build. I am reminded of the biblical story of Joseph, the interpreter of dreams – so amusingly converted into a lively musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber – a child who did not fit in, was rejected by his family and suffered misery because of his gift of dreaming, and interpreting the dreams of others; eventually raised to powers neither he nor his family could have ever imagined, and then – in time beyond his own – leading his peoples into, and out from, desperation.  His dreams – however much is fact, or fable – changed the world.  I do not flatter myself that my dreams, or any of our dreams, will have that effect – but they can change our little, quiet worlds, and our lives, if we pay heed to their voices. 

When a dream speaks to our hearts, if a wish is born, and grows into a goal – each day holds the promise that a tiny step can take us closer to the dream becoming a reality.  It can be a very long journey. It can be so frustrating to acknowledge that the destination is not for today – just the step ahead, on a path that takes a lifetime to carve. To grasp the promise in just this moment, this “now”, is ultimately a step of faith – the outcome uncertain, but the act of responding to the call, the vision is our choice, alone.  That response needs to be enough, as results may not be seen now, or perhaps ever; we exist in the imperfect now while the hopes of the perfect tomorrow shine like a momentary rainbow, shimmering and then gone only leaving a shadow in our memory.  We must find the beauty, just enough to hold on to in the now – and balance that tenderly against our yearning for the ideal we can only move towards, never holding fully, yet …. The intangible, forming the tangible, until a new dream emerges and the cycle renews.  

And once made real, our dreams can take us on to new adventures ….

Back in 1941, Humphrey Bogart described the Maltese Falcon, the priceless statue that led to multiple murders and greed and loss, as “the stuff that dreams are made of”;  he was paraphrasing, again, Shakespeare in “The Tempest”, when Prospero reflect that “We are such stuff as dreams are made on, and our little life is rounded with a sleep”.   Not to dispute William, or Humphrey – but I believe we can use our dreams to create reality, not the reverse.  Perhaps we can say that our lives at this moment are the product of not only our dreams, but those before us; our today is the result of “the dreams that stuff is made of”.   We may not be able to choose our dreams; whatever the source, or the meaning if any – they arise, and speak, and move on. We move from a consciousness based on what we think, feel, see and “know” – into a place of mystery, where a new creation awaits to be birthed, or discovered.  As you next lay down your head, and the day slips into darkness, and your breathing slows – I hope your dreams will lead to hopes and visions that you can bring into being, dreams that will last.   With, or without, a mask and a machine to carry you into that place of unlimited perhaps, and a million maybes.  

Until next time, friends ….. sweet dreams …..

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