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.
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.
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.
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.
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.