Old Words, new understanding

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In my last post I talked a little bit about prayer, and what many historically call the “Lord’s prayer” (in Christian tradition).  My thoughts were generated by the “group recitation” of those words at the funeral of Queen Elizabeth 2; the crowd quietly repeating them raised a question in my mind as to how much they really had thought about their meaning – and then, considering what they mean to me. I decided it was time to share about that here, and it leaves me feeling – vulnerable, inadequate and nonqualified! As I approach 65, with a lot of life changes in my last few years and more than one reminder recently that life is unpredictable, I am more aware than ever that we can never know the answers to many questions that individuals and societies have asked throughout history.  But being raised in what, back in the 60’s, in a “conservative” church, the lessons of Sunday school, and later Bible studies, continue to resonate in my memory and to color much of how I see our world, and my life, and our place in it.  They are a part of my tapestry of life, and those colors still are vibrant, and the harmonies still echo. 

I don’t know how to write about spiritual matters; I don’t have a theological background.  I would never pretend to be certain about anything, or to try to defend my own precariously balanced beliefs through debate; there are people I love in my life who think and feel very differently on many issues, and I treasure them and our relationships much more than “being right”. Perhaps that guiding principle is one we need to seek more in this time of divide, and yet … I feel like somehow, sharing my reflections on what is, for many “people of faith” who follow Christian tenets, is foundational scripture … is worth expressing.  So … this is very much just “me”, ahead.  Just what comes into my heart when there is quiet, or when I try to find some sense of order and hope in all the jumble of a life that seems to be constantly shifting.  Lately, that is happening more than I would like.

A point of reference – I use the word “God”, and the “He/His” pronouns, primarily because that is what I was raised with – but I realize there are many words, many names and that gender is just another frame of reference with many cultural implications.  I would hope that the reader would be kind and overlook differences they may have with this approach, because ultimately, it’s not those words are not what we should be focused on but, individually or together, seeking truths our hearts can acknowledge. Truths that lead to a better life for us, and for those we love. My reflections will be segmented in the way that makes sense to me; I see four major components to the prayer – Identity; relationship; entreaty; and praise. 

“Our father, who art in heaven; hallowed be thy name.  Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven”. 

The prayer begins not with focusing on what we want, but a recognition, a statement of overriding truth – that there is a Creator, and that our relationship with Him is likened to a parent and child – one based in love. These few words comprise a foundational acknowledgement that there is something greater than my understanding, known by many names, that brought me and all of us into being.  Admitting this includes turning to that source of life with reverence, and in worship. Following this statement of faith, is another acknowledgement – that seeking His kingdom is meant to be a focus in our life – but what is the Kingdom of God? So many have claimed that their vision of the “kingdom of God” justifies war, hatred, exclusion – but if we just look at this as a whole, I see a different perspective. The “kingdom” of God on this earth is not one made of buildings, or systems, or churches or corporations or cults; it is our spirits, which we choose to surrender, ongoing, as we seek our way through life. To let that kingdom “come”, to have His “will be done”, is each of us making a choice – to give that loving source of life our acceptance, our broken, tender and lost little hearts, as best we can, and sharing it with others while we are able. To give God, as we understand God, that authority in our life daily, is the closest to heaven on earth that we can, for now, experience and offer one another.  For His kingdom on earth to be realized, His will to be accomplished, requires our choice to be His agents; to give Him our hearts, and to let them be used as channels of that greater Life.  A firm declaration of God’s nature, and our place in His kingdom.

Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors

After this statement, an acknowledgment of God’s identity, comes an admission, an acceptance of our relationship to Him.   First – we will always be dependent on our Creator for our needs.  We are not and never were in control; we can only work towards what we are able but there will always be a gap between our hopes and our realities, and it is to God we must turn, in faith, to bridge that gap. It is a daily hunger, it is a daily need, it is a daily journey, one step at a time. It is a willingness to say, yes, this is my way of life; in a culture that elevates knowledge and certainty and self-sufficiency, this is a daring refutation, a defiant reshaping of our thinking and expectations – that our relationship with our Creator is fundamentally walking in trust without answers and dependence instead of strength.  As to how we relate to those who enter our lives in many ways – we must recognize and live out the truth that our relationship with others requires forgiveness, from us, and to us.  We need one another, and only with forgiveness can we create the world we long for; only by acknowledging our imperfect, often failing, humanity, can we turn to one another and together build anew.  Receiving forgiveness, in wholeness, requires our sharing it freely as well; our standing in love and trust with that source of life, cannot be complete without offering it to one another. Can there be a greater challenge to our ego than to admit I have failed, and to accept that others have failed me?  It is the deepest forgiveness that comes at the highest price, but that we yearn for. In two simple phrases, filled with powerful truths, we are challenged to live in dependence and trust towards a Creator beyond our fully knowing – and to give others forgiveness without demanding more, in order to know that grace ourselves fully.

And lead us not into temptation; but deliver us from evil.

Finally, after acknowledging, confessing truths that may not fit what we were taught, or represent the dreams and wishes we desire – it is time to ask. I like the word “entreaty”; it is defined as an earnest and humble request. It’s more than a hope, or a wish; it is a plea, one that acknowledges we need help. How odd that we should have to ask God to NOT lead us into temptations; after all the shaming and lecturing and moralizing about our evil natures, for centuries this phrases has challenged our understanding.  Funny, in a way, because when you sit down and go honestly through most of the narrative stories in what is called our Bible, there are so many instances of God defying expectation, seemingly even delighting is disappointing hopes, in refusing to be predictable and yet, demanding faith.  Why on earth would we need to ask God to not lead us into temptation?  I cannot say with certainty, and apparently neither can the recent announcement by the Pope that this should be rephrased (you can find more about this here).  But experts in those ancient texts are adamant that this is exactly what it says – please, God, don’t tempt me.  Perhaps the best I can take from this is some comfort in knowing, as it says elsewhere in scripture, that temptation is (gasp) normal; failure to be perfect is pretty much standard (No!); that my weakness is a fact of life that God’s love is big enough to overlook. Perhaps it somehow makes a difference as we struggle with our weaknesses to acknowledge that daily, to admit I need help. As far as deliverance from evil – historically, evil has done pretty well on this planet, and again sometimes I have to admit I am a part of that – with anger, with selfishness, with bitterness. I find myself asking – could it be that this plea for “deliverance” is not one of “save me from someone else’s evil towards me”, but … “free me from that within me that seeks to commit evil, and help me to be a greater agent of Your love despite my imperfect heart”?  In short – these few, mysterious words acknowledge that I need help to find my way – I need light in the darkness.  Right now, that seems truer than ever, for us all.  We seek that light in many different ways, but there is one ultimate source….

For Thine is the Kingdom, and the Glory, and the Power, Forever – Amen. 

And so we close with a final, full statement of the ultimate authority and power of our Creator, as best we can know Him and His will. Apparently, this is considered by some to be “added on” doxology.  Perhaps so!  Perhaps someone who thought they were doing good felt it added an exclamation point of sorts for dramatic effect.  It sure makes for a crescendo in that closing hymn arrangement!  I’ll never know – but it speaks to me.  It is a towering, overriding exclamation of faith – one that says let go of trying to have it all, because He already does.  He holds the keys to the kingdom, He has the answers.  Sure, for some, that can be seen as an easy “cop out” – just give up.  But I see it as an act of worship and faith – acknowledging that whatever greater Power is out there, by whatever name we might best understand it, endures, and that a purpose which we may never know is working in us, through us, loving us and one another beyond.   All the things that I often am drawn to strive for, to worry about, to bicker over, fade away when bathed in the brilliant light I just need to stop and look up to realize surrounds it, and us, all.  This final statement is one of undiluted, unlimited, and honest praise.   

One final observation, for now …. As I pointed out, there is really only one “ask” in this prayer. It’s not about wish fulfillment or the kindly old grandpa in the stars granting requests of the pious. Of course, there are many times in Christian scripture where people of faith asked for more specific needs, but … perhaps prayer isn’t really about asking for something as much as it is trying to connect with that source which is itself, the only answer we really long for? And … did you notice that, outside of the references to God, the Divine, the Creator – everything else isn’t “me”, it isn’t “I” – but us. OUR father; give US this day OUR daily bread; forgive US; WE forgive OTHERS. Prayer is as much of an acknowledgement that we exist together in community, we seek answers together, we struggle together – not alone. Again, we need one another.

Friends, remember this – faith only really matters when you have doubts without “proof”, questions without certainly. There are, as with any matter of faith, countless perspectives on whether the individual we call Jesus said these words, or which words, or to whom and when. All valid questions, that cannot be answered with factual documentation, really; out of the four “gospels” which have different histories and inconsistencies of many events of Christ, only two have the prayer, one at the crowds attending the “Sermon on the Mount” and another at a gathering of Christ with only his disciples. The two have differing phrases, the “original Greek” texts are inconsistent (and were themselves hardly contemporary), the Catholics and Protestants of course have their own versions, and of course there are numerous translations of the Bible. Talk about a multiverse, Marvel does not have the only claim to different representations of reality!  Here is a link to a 1988 article about doubts as to veracity of just about everything I just commented on – https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-1988-10-18-mn-4561-story.html

For your reference and perhaps edification, or to raise even more questions that evade simple answers, I am providing links to two resources – first, a “comparative” presentation of different Bible “translations” of these passages – you can download the pdf here …. https://wartburgproject.org/mdocs-posts/the-lords-prayer-in-five-versions/

And, a fascinating history of the “evolution” of translations over the centuries … food for thought, or perhaps evidence that there is ultimately no final “right” answers … https://www.csdirectory.com/biblestudy/lords-prayer.pdf

For now – as I write, tomorrow is Thanksgiving. Just as we sometimes rush through a day that, at least in someone’s original intent, was to take time to remember our blessings – setting that aside to check the upcoming sales, and plan for social events – it is far too easy to avoid thinking about issues that raise hard questions; disappointments and bitterness with teachings that didn’t seem to fit reality; pain from the loss of love that we had held dear, and regrets for choices that we thought would make dreams come true.  It is hard to be thankful when our challenges engulf us.  Perhaps, it is now, we need to pray the most.  I hope my simple reflections perhaps raise questions, even tough ones, that ultimately you can choose to face and work through – or, to ignore. Choices are what create our own, ultimately personal, truths – our lives are our prayers, lived out, shared, or hoarded and kept shut away. Ultimately prayer has the power to change our hearts, and through us, to give hope and love to others seeking the same.

I will write more soon about my own battles with prayer, with faith; my own unanswered cries and beyond that, my choices to continue to shape and define me. Until then …. thank you for sitting a while with me, wherever, whenever you are; I hope you never give up seeking answers, and finding those that help you share just a little bit more of whatever light you find. I’ll be looking alongside you.

Words at a funeral – or something more?

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Recently, the world watched as a long-lived monarch was mourned and laid to rest, with the kind of ceremony that we rarely see; it was in a way a spectacle more than a memorial. There is something about the rituals of mourning, in all their expressions and customs, that comforts the hearts of many;  perhaps because it takes the thought out of the process, makes it easy in a way, requires less thought;  or perhaps because the familiarity of the words lets us bring them back when we need some sense of peace, or normalcy.  I supposed some faiths, and some congregations within those faiths, all have their differing degrees of formality; being raised in a Methodist church, the habits and customs of Catholicism and the Episcopalians or even Presbyterians are not familiar to me.  But my life has always orbited around seeing a larger reality through eyes filtered through beliefs – some taught, some retained, some still emerging within my own soul. 

Like many of my generation – and apparently, a smaller percentage of the generations since – I went to Sunday school.  For whatever reason, I could never really leave behind those childhood lessons, that way of looking at life, that seeking of understanding that was ultimately unquenchable.  My desire to grasp at something more spiritual than intellectual is far from unique; seeking “answers” is common throughout all cultures, all peoples, all history – in different forms, with different stories – stronger for some than others. Fool, perhaps, but I still reach out from somewhere inside me, calling out to what others have given many names to, in many languages.  This seeking voice, this hungry heart, whispers in all the corners of my life. 

I often wonder about word origins, and history – in this case, I think on the word Christian, which originates from Greek translations of a Hebrew word for what the members of that faith might call the Messiah, or promised one; deliverer.  So many words; it strikes me as ironic that the narratives that form the basis of the Christian faith were never uttered in the form we know them by those whose lives we read of in the New Testament.  There are far too many out there, in every faith, claiming they alone know the whole truth, and all the answers. It’s been a cause for struggle, internally – all the different perspectives about what is “right” and “wrong” – conflicting with my undeniable, and what I was taught was unnatural, attraction to men, instead of women.  For many like me, they abandon any effort to embrace the faiths of their earlier years, having endured the rejection and judgement, the condemnation and hatred as outsiders, some find greater freedom by simply walking away, and never looking back.  For many, faith is no longer even a factor in their daily life. 

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Perhaps that is why what struck me, among all the coverage of the “royal funeral” in Britain last week, was a moment where the luxuriously bedecked coffin lay surrounded by the elegantly dressed elite, and the family – the moment when, as part of the no doubt well-orchestrated ritual, those present joined in “The Lord’s Prayer”.  In my decades of life I have sat in many, many services of different congregations of faiths, large and small, diverse in various ways of practice and belief and conduct, where these words were spoken.  The reading of the “Lord’s prayer” in a congregation has always appeared to me to be somewhat of a mechanical response – perhaps less committed to memory than it used to be in common practice, perhaps read – but just sort of “run through”, chanted, like a magical incantation that somehow, by being spoken, satisfied the need to provide a blessing, an appeasement to a great spirit, or a freeing of whatever burden was carried. Having grown up in my church chorus, or even school chorus, I had learned the “traditional” musical setting of the words, which committed them to my memory well –  “Our Fahhhhhtherrrrr … which are in Heaaaaaaaaavennnnnnnnn…… hallowed beeeeeee … thy name……..” 

In times of crisis, I too would mouth the words of the “Lord’s Prayer” like something Harry Potter would say to cast out evil spirits.  In the years since my youth, my own quest to understand, to find peace, has taken many forms, and many times I have prayed – desperate prayers, seeking help to be made “right”; to overcome fears; to not be exposed.  How sad that religious practice for many leads us to find ways to hide, instead of ways to accept ourselves and one another as flawed but loveable! And I have studied the books of the Bible, sat through many sermons, listened to broadcasts, read the thoughts of long dead theologians and some still living – only to find that answers were not easy to come by, but questions would spring up like weeds. That was the simplistic, desperate, childish belief that was my indoctrination – not all that different from aspects of many other faiths – just say the words; just go through the motions.  I suspect for many, that is the substance of what hope they have – not wanting to question further, just perhaps to get by, enough. 

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Today, when I consider what traditionally Christians call the “New Testament” – knowing enough of the history of its development, translation, and contradictions to see that it too is incomplete, and but a shadow of whatever inspired its writers to try to capture their own understanding of “Truth” – I tend to think through things a little more deeply than just mouthing the words.  Even though I probably never will fully know, or understand – the reaching out for something beyond my comprehension seems to be hard wired into the deepest part of my being. Many people see those who call themselves Christians as liars and sinners, petty and shallow – and we often are, probably like those of other faiths, including those now long forgotten of ancient civilizations.  Many people do not like the word “God”.  And I am among them – because something so generic, so casually discarded or held up with pride, could hardly begin to capture the vastness and power of whatever forces created the beauty of our universe, the intricacy of our bodies and every living thing and creature on this globe, the delicate balance of so many elements that keeps our world turning.  

I have written about many things on this blog – my family, my challenges with growing up gay, tours of San Francisco, and sprinkled into many of those posts were glimpses of the spiritual lessons that bubbled up through all those fragments of my life.  My days of attending services, seeking “healing”, are distant; but the words I read there, and the songs that echo from those days, still bring comfort along with mystery. I have never fully confessed my own questions, or perspectives on faith and prayer with anyone – any pastor I turned to for deliverance or understanding; any caring friend who knew I was hurting and seeking answers; I kept them “hidden in my heart” for the most part.  There were times I held myself forth as a Christian, of various stripes, but the suit never fully seemed to fit, and I would never claim to be a source of inspiration.  But – seeing life through a lens of not religion, but an emerging faith – struggling to be born, to be acknowledged, to be heard and lived out daily – has been simmering in my soul for so long, I cannot remember when it was not present, in the foreground or background of my life – always there, sometimes buried among all the other chaos that comprises our existence.  And I am certain that in that lonely quest, I am far from alone; others silently wondering, reaching for answers, reaching for light but not quite finding enough. 

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My sense today is that I need to take a leap of faith, here, among the strangers who see these words, most of whom never will meet me.  A kind of anonymous opening of my soul – with its quiet voice asking questions, when I awake at 2 and 3 am and the stars are silent, the cats at our feet, my husband sound asleep. It is often then that I try to pray, but struggle with knowing exactly how to go about it – despite the years of sermons and bible studies.  But I always return, eventually, to … “The Lord’s Prayer”.  If you were to pull out a bible, or lacking one go online, you could find the scriptural reference, in many translations, where Jesus, as we call him, was asked – Lord, how should we pray?  His followers, his disciples and others, were mostly non educated commoners who followed him, one of many itinerant teachers common to that era; they, like us in a way, would go to their sabbath meetings and hear one who had been trained read from their holy writings, designated segments, ritual, words.  But for some reason, they sensed that this man, performing acts of wonder and speaking of “Yahweh” in ways they had never heard before, could tell them something about communicating with their Creator in a way that no one ever had before.  

When the rush of the daily is muffled, my heart speaks loudly enough to guide me to that inner place where I want to speak with the eternal – I think about those words.  I don’t pretend to be wise, or mature, or have answers – the older I get, the less I am certain.  Even my profession, accounting, was centered around trying to find something measurable, something final – but faith is far from knowledge, and belief is a very distant cousin to science.  The majority of peoples around the earth over time might never hear these words, but others – other beliefs, other traditions.  Let me be first to acknowledge that perhaps no one has anything to gain from reading what I think, or my questions or weird little perspectives.   But my heart, or something speaking through it, is telling me that this is the time, and place, for me to open up – share my questions, my perspectives, my anger and my joy.  So, my commitment, for my next post – the words of the “Lord’s prayer” – treasured by many, changed over time, meaningless to others – filtered through my curious, questioning, seeking heart.  I hope you might join me then.          

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An addendum, before I say “until next time” – I actually wrote this several weeks ago. I have held off posting because … it feels unfinished. But isn’t that the point? We all have questions, we are all looking for answers, hungering for “certainty” or something close to it. The pursuit of perfection sometimes only leads to delay; I admit I also have a kind of apprehension that by continuing to open up my heart here, to those who know me, or part of me – and to strangers – I will stumble, somehow. But the path ahead isn’t always clear in life; and sometimes, when we fall, we discover a better way. That will be my hope, when I write next. Until then … love, always.

10 years out

Today, October 11, is National Coming Out day. In my lifetime, I have seen the concept of being “outed” change so much, it would be difficult to describe to someone who didn’t live through the events of the past 50 years that have changed our country, our world, so much. There is debate on many fronts – about the nature of what it is to be human; about what should be taught in schools; about what is “true” and what is “science”; even the nature of faith. Much of my life has been spent in recovery from lessons I would hope fewer children are taught now; but I know there will always be opportunities to give others encouragement to accept themselves, to stand up for others who need support, and to tell someone that they are loved.

Perhaps time doesn’t heal all wounds, but instead allows us to move beyond them and honor their lessons. I will probably spend the rest of my life continuing to learn and grow, and occasionally contribute to that in others; one of the reasons I write here is to try to share something with strangers out there who might be facing challenges that I faced, similar if different – and to say, hold on. Hold on to hope, to faith, to love – they are all real, they are eternal, and they surround you. But today the hours are winding down, and for the moment, I feel the best I can offer, now at least, is to share the letter I sent to friends and family on October 11, 2012 – like everything I write, it came from the heart. Since then – life has indeed changed. Life has truly become better – not easy, not carefree, not without challenges – but better. In that spirit – a look back at how my own path to becoming the best I can be took a big step towards growth, 10 years ago, today. The title to my email was –

A Voice in the wilderness no more

Family and Friends, far and wide, close and distant – Today is a day for sharing. I have exciting news to share – news I could not have imagined just a few years ago. Behind the headline is a larger story, one I wish I could convey in a more personal way but my hope is you will accept my offer to journey through with me. In it, perhaps, is something that will touch your life or the lives of those you love, and it is my gift and privilege to invite you to pause, listen, and perhaps see my life in a different light.

My news is that as of last month I am one of the newest members of the Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles, or GMCLA. About 16 months ago I first attended one of their performances, and when they came out on stage – before even singing a note – I felt my heart welling up with tears. When I saw these men walking out in front of an audience, something about their openness and their pride spoke to my soul in a very deep way – because of the wounds that still lay deep within me. Later on, I heard a concert of spirituals that lifted my heart, and finally last June when I attended with a friend, he encouraged me to try out. When I auditioned, I knew that if I was selected, to stand with these men, to openly share not only my identity as a member of a chorus but as a representative of thousands, millions of voices that are not always heard – that I would take that privilege as a sign to fully share my story with you.  It isn’t brief, but I hope you will take the time to find the meaning it offers. 

It probably isn’t a surprise for me to tell you I am gay. It’s kind of funny for me to say that, still – when I was a kid, and I knew my feelings even then, gay was not a word in common use for that population. The words were uglier, and it was the 70’s, and at least in my sheltered world, there were no homosexuals – none that I knew of. They were solely characters whispered about in obscure movies and condemned in Old Testament stories. I remember my Mom complaining bitterly about how “they were stealing that beautiful word and making it ugly!” In any case, you may have assumed years ago that I am a fairy, a faggot, a queer, a homosexual (I don’t think many use the term sodomite anymore, but, whatever). But this isn’t about labels or names. 

What is more important for me to tell you is how I came to the point of being able to finally embrace, willingly, and accept a part of me that I was taught, indoctrinated, even brainwashed to hate, reject, despise, and try to destroy. Because in that history is the core of whatever I have to share with you that really matters.

Many of you receiving this directly, today, “National Coming Out Day” 2012, have known something of my family life; some are family. But, unfortunately, my family life was a lot more destructive, in a well-intentioned way, than those of you who might have been a distant part of it could have known even then. It’s nothing too different from many children, but through whatever set of circumstances, disparate threads weaved together over time to form a rope, a net, and in some ways a noose that bound me more effectively than any prison. It’s not necessary to go into details; I know my parents loved me, but like all parents, they had their own brokenness and challenges. With my Dad out of the picture at a young age –probably for the best, for me – and my Mom impacted by disabilities and emotionally shattered – I was a child alone, and poorly prepared to face being different in addition to the rejection I already felt. 

I don’t regret that I was brought up in a home where faith – or a form thereof – was a central facet of life. I was, as I see it, blessed with a gift of intelligence that allowed me to burrow away from the loneliness of rejection by my peers, and economic limitations, into a world of books and imagination. I could get “good grades” and be a “good boy”. But even though I am today thankful for all the good things that were a part of my growing up, and my family structure, I realized early on that a central fact about my being was the worst thing that anyone could be (in my insulated world) – I was attracted to other boys. I hated myself for it, and read books about it; I prayed for it to change, even as I left home for college; and my overall shame about not only that facet of my being, but an all-encompassing sense of alienation and worthlessness, kept me from stepping outside the safety of my pretend world, and my straight church boy alter ego, to even attempt to find my place in that other world. From what I saw in the porn I occasionally viewed, and then destroyed, I was not good enough to be attractive to other guys, and in any case, it was a sin worse than death. I also watched in the papers as news began to spread of a “gay plague” and the fear and condemnation that came from my world towards that group of “other people” was enough to keep me safely closeted.

When I finally, due to job requirements, left the safe but cold and lonely womb of my home, despite my Mom’s pleadings to remain, I started to cautiously but still shamefully and full of self-hatred step into the world I had only viewed from a distance. What happened at that point changed my destiny in a single night at age 26, when I was held at gunpoint, tied up, and my home ransacked and car stolen by a stranger I had brought home for what, in my twisted perception, passed for intimacy. I called the police, who ridiculed me behind my back and made no effective effort to find my car; more importantly, I called my Dad who came to bring me back home – to “safety”. There, after tearful confessions, I told my parents (separately) my horrible secret. My Dad was not overly reactive – he was not someone equipped with much in the way of caring skills – but my Mom prayed for my deliverance. And that is when the threads began to tighten around me.

For several years, I was in therapy, and eventually happily and hopefully participating in what was called “Ex gay deliverance” ministries, aka conversion therapy. I reached for the promise of being “healed” – of becoming straight, or like Pinocchio, a real boy. I attended groups where were prayed for God’s help in overcoming our “brokenness” and sin; I was prayed over for deliverance from demons; I confessed my temptations, I fasted, I read books. I even travelled to San Francisco for consideration in a yearlong residency at a home where young gay men could be taught how to become straight, through faith in God and the support of others. The only problem was … God wasn’t answering those prayers, and the support of the few believers that I turned to wasn’t enough to matter. The counseling failed to provide any consolation; and after several years, I just gave up – on living, on believing I could matter, or that there was any hope for love. Fortunately, for me, even though I made weak attempts at a typical straight life, I did not take it so far as to carry the deception into the life of another through a sham relationship and marriage. I poured myself into my work, my education, and artificial happiness. Alone. Always, alone. 

When my Mom reached a point of decline that she needed to be moved from home in my 40’s, I literally returned to that original site of isolation and loneliness. Oddly, in working for literally years to clean my childhood home of my Mom’s hoarded treasures, I found in the stacks of old family photos, forgotten letters, journals and albums a message of hope. I saw that my life was a part of a chain of events, of other people – and I learned that their lives had tragedy and loss as well as the joy and happiness in the faded black and white snapshots. I learned that my family had lost members crossing the US to settle the west, that they had died in flu epidemics, and that they were separated by wars and fought many trials to stay alive. Out of that … I was born. My life was not some random occurrence; I was a part of a larger stream of life – and not only a leftover, or a mistake. For whatever reason, out of that I began to feel that my life had to have meaning beyond just taking care of others, beyond just working. 

I had never abandoned my sense that my life was part of a larger whole, or a foundational belief that a Creator existed; but I had reached a place of desperation where I felt abandoned by a God who never responded to my pleas, and that must mean I did something wrong. I saw myself only as a failure who could not achieve what he was created to achieve – conformity with social expectations and gender roles, sexual roles, that were shouted all around me, along with that ongoing hatred of perversion shared by those who sat in the pews and sang the praise and worship songs, whether to an organ or a guitar with drum backups. The healing deliverance never came. There certainly was no one I could be honest with about what I felt; my prior counseling for years had produced only a sense of futility and hopelessness, and I clearly was not doing something right with all the ex-gay ministries. But as I delved into my family history, I reconnected with a member who had been scorned by my father, and effectively abandoned by the rest of the family – his gay cousin Bill.

Bill was an irresponsible man who took advantage of others while, at times, putting on airs of sophistication and living for the moment. He had come out during the 40’s as a teenager and lived as a hairdresser in Hollywood and Hawaii during a time of social change; I had only met him twice, briefly. When I visited Hawaii due to a business trip in the 80’s I was relieved that he and his partner were gone on a trip. When I went to visit him 20 years later in Palm Springs, and shortly thereafter his partner passed, I eventually became legally responsible for his care. I will never forget the Thanksgiving I asked my Dad if I could bring Bill to Corona for dinner, and he refused immediately. I visited him occasionally; he took me to a brunch one Sunday at a gay resort, and I remember feeling extremely uncomfortable and out of place. But Bill never asked me about my life; I made excuses for being single.  Years later, I learned that he told his friends I would come to my senses one day, and he hoped they would help me.

Beginning in early 2006 with the loss of my stepmother, May of that year with my Mom’s passing, Bill’s death in October of that year and my Dad following in May of 2007, my world changed. Everything that had kept me in place was gone. I was in a new job; I had finished my second master’s and bought a beautiful home where I could at last display all the things I had spent time and money accumulating. I turned 50; I was utterly alone, I knew nothing about love, and I had to finally accept that unless I was ok with spending whatever time I had left isolated and uncared for, I had to find a way to accept that part of me that I had worked so hard to kill. I had to try to find a way to accept being gay, even though the teachings embedded in my brain and heart for 4 decades still shouted at me that they must be obeyed. The noose was beginning to unravel along with the lies that came from it.

It would not be true to say I had no friends in my life, but those that were did not know that part of me of which I was so ashamed – with one exception, Helen, a friend a fellow person of faith who did not condemn me. She didn’t pretend to have answers like most, but she knew enough to be sure that God did not hate me, or any of those who like me failed to meet that standard of purity and conformity. I made a friend in Alan, who taught me to ride horse back and who had himself followed a very different path, one of accepting himself early on and pursuing the life that I had denied. I started taking tentative steps and went to a gay bar for the first time in April of 2010; that summer was a time of confusion as I walked into a world very different from anything I had known. I made more friends, some of which lasted and some of which turned out to be ones that I needed to move on from. I began to come out to people I had spent my life lying to, out of desperation, because of the confusion I was experiencing as I tried to bridge my earlier perspective with the realities confronting me with each excursion beyond the prison of lies. 

In time I found my way to the LA Gay and Lesbian Center, where for about six months in 2011 I spent time each week in a men’s group where others of all ages, races and backgrounds shared their process of accepting where they were, and finding that acceptance, sometimes, from others as well. I gradually shared my story with varying degrees of acceptance, some unsurprised, others shocked. I began with the people I felt I had lied to the most; the ones who I did not trust to accept me, and from whom I had hidden in shame. As I told one dear friend – I don’t have the answers; I don’t know why. But I know that God – and yes, I still believe in a creator that cares – loves me, and everyone like me, even though those who claim to be his representatives shout down any suggestion otherwise. I wanted her to know that anytime she heard someone share that lie, that she knew someone who loved her and who she loved, who had been a part of her life, who she knew to be a caring and decent man, was one of those being condemned and rejected –and that God wanted that to change. 

I would be remiss if I failed to share the impact that another change has had on my life. Against any expectation on my own or from others, I find myself riding a beautiful, black, loud, shiny and at times unreliable beast I have named Prometheus – my 2001 centennial edition Indian Chief. It was brought into my life, of that I am sure. My courtship has been tentative, but I have not given up taming the beast. One of the proudest moments of my life was riding last December with the Satyrs Motorcycle club – my first group ride – the oldest continuously operating gay organization of any kind, in the world. And a few weeks ago, I rode into San Francisco – for the first time, as a man who accepts himself as he is, without shame, without lies. It has been transformative. In a way, it typifies my resolve to pursue what my heart desires against all the self-doubts and uncertainties – to take hold and not let go, regardless of what others think.  The attached photo is from the Long Beach Pride parade I was able to ride in this past June. 

In the past 30 months I have seen things and been on a journey to places that polite conversation would not welcome, and that’s as it should be. I don’t pretend that my experiences or desires are those common to all who walk the earth. But I have learned to not hate myself for it. And in that time, I have made many mistakes, blundered into situations for which my life of isolation did not prepare me, and frequently walked away feeling desperately out of place. And yet … for the first time in my life, I feel a sense of rightness. That instead of crushing my own heart, it breathes and beats the truth. When during the course of conversation an older gentleman proclaimed “Oh, so you are just coming out”, I responded that I feel it is more than coming out – it is, for me, comingtogether. Accepting pieces I tried to crush, to burn, to kill, to destroy – not knowing, not realizing that it was those very pieces which I needed to at last reach out and touch, and be touched, by others in the way that we all so deeply desire. At last I can say without doubt – what I feel is natural. It is normal. It is whole. And for me, for how I see the broader realities, it is blessed. 

Beyond all these passages, I remain profoundly grateful. Grateful to be alive; grateful, at 54 in a world that values youth and in a life where I lost decades from living in a box, bound by fear shame and lies … to be able to stand. Able to choose. I never thought I had choices in life; it was all so very well defined. No thinking was necessary, or welcome; it was all set out for me, to follow the dotted lines. But I didn’t fit. I wasn’t created to fit. I now see we are all created ultimately to be true to ourselves and in that to honor the source of our life with that truth. And that only in accepting that truth – the whole of it, not just the pretty parts – can we fully realize, and then share, the most powerful resource our hearts can embrace –unconditional love. Not love that says “First you must” or “Only if you” … but love that comes from knowing we are ok JUST AS WE ARE. 

For those of you out there reading this who want to respond with theological positions or scriptures … don’t know you I have spent my life on those questions? Don’t you realize I have cried in the darkness, alone, begging God to please change me? I have often wanted to stand in front of the bodies of believers who have been taught, thoughtlessly, to hate the different ones and ask – how much more did Jesus need to die, to bleed, for me to be forgiven and accepted? No … I am not straight. And don’t you believe that if God wanted me to become something I am not – he would or could zap me and make me conform to that? I reject those arguments. I will not participate in them. I will not waste one more moment hating myself or anyone else, or stand by while anyone shares lies and judgment, telling anyone that they are not good enough to stand up in the sunlight and be accepted and live as they choose, as they are, as they were created. We may not be able to choose who we are but we can damn well choose how we live. I stand today having to remind myself, just like any other man of character, that regardless of how others respond to me, regardless of how they view or accept or embrace or reject me – I must be true to what values and priorities that I want to define me.

This Saturday, I am so moved, so grateful, so blessed to be able to stand with nearly 50 other men and sing for an audience of 1500 teens, young adults and their parents who are hearing, freely, what I was never told – that it is ok to be gay. It’s ok to be lesbian. It’s ok to be unsure. It’s ok to not have answers – and that no one has the right to tell them to change. No one can tell them they are “wrong”. I hope that I won’t break down in tears. I hope that my smile will shine through as I stand before them, free to be myself, accept myself, and reach out with that hope for them. 

I am not coming out to you today for you; I’m doing it for me and for anyone in your life that may need you to accept them as well. This isn’t about me seeking your acceptance or blessing; it’s about me at last, at last, having the strength to accept myself and step fully into the light without shame. I am so grateful to those who have stood with me in this passage; the trials are not over. So many who have led the way, so many who were braver than I, who fought and created the programs and the places and the freedoms so that I could take these steps. I want to thank them all. I especially want to thank the men who have listened, who have held me, who have encouraged me, who have accepted me. My promise is to live up to their hopes. My promise is to keep fighting. My promise, my choice, is to walk out of the shadows, and love. 

I hope you will do the same. And I hope, wherever you are, whatever you believe, that if nothing else – you will go see a Gay men’s chorus. Listen. Open your heart. Let truth wipe away darkness. Let light dispel lies. Hear them sing. Hear me sing.

In love … Norm

With my husband in Dolores Park, San Francisco, October 2022.

Digging at the roots

Photo by Jeremy Bishop on Pexels.com

It’s hot as I write this.  Very, very hot – for San Francisco, and more so for most of our friends and family across the continent.  It’s not the time of year to plant in the garden – in fact, with water restrictions, I have had to let some of the container plants go, awaiting the proper time for planting, in the fall, or perhaps spring.  We do not have air conditioning in our 19th century “Victorian Cottage” on a hill, where cattle belonging to Leland Stanford use to graze, on property he purchased from Adolph Sutro – they would be amazed at what their city and region has become, in more ways than one.  

I often find a kind of inspiration in working in the garden, going out early today to water before the hose became too hot to hold.   There is never ending change in nature, and in the plants and insects that visit our little space, and in the sky watching us all quietly.  They take little notice of the chaos and confusion that our airwaves batter at our souls with, endlessly; they have their little time on stage, doing as they were designed or created or evolved to do, depending on how you see our world.  And then, they are gone, as we shall be as well one day.  

When it is so hot that there is little escape for us, we close the curtains and shades to wait it out; yesterday, at the height of the blistering oven awaiting outside the door, I spent some time on a different kind of roots – my family tree.  As I have shared before, my heritage amazes me in a way that is difficult to put into words; as life would have it, the bibles and diaries and stacks of photos of ancestors from all sides of my family found their way into my boxes and crannies, and even when I neglect them for that “someday” when I will pull it all together, they call to me.  Services last Ancestry, Family Tree, My Heritage and others flood my email with “clues” and “discoveries”, and they make it so easy to click “accept” so that, boom, hurrah, you have 15 new ancestors!!   But that is not really learning, or understanding – it is just data piling up.  As a friend asked me last week (who also enjoys dabbling in their family research), “What are we doing all this for”??   The only answer I could provide is that it speaks, to my heart; they speak, from long ago, and I lean forward to hear their lessons, their secrets, hoping for answers to my own questions. 

It will take a great deal of work to really develop the research skills, writing, photo restoration, and technical understanding to create a meaningful history of my family;  my hope is that it will have meaning for others, my nieces and nephews and cousins who sometimes ask little questions but whose lives and interest lie elsewhere. I feel a kind of stewardship over these lives lived before mine, their faces looking at me through faded torn photos, their scrawling words on tattered pages.  In a way, it is ironic that the gay childless man has taken on their heritage, but as I age, I come to see more and more than life is filled with irony; our expectations of what the future would look like fall to whatever fate decides, our prayers if any might seem to be unheard.  But I am aging; my memory is starting to blink on and off like a “battery replacement needed” indicator, my body is telling me things I really do not want to hear, and my heart is drawn more and more to reflecting on what is the best way to make something useful of whatever time I have remaining. 

So there is the garden; and there is the family tree, which needs tending; but there is a third set of roots that need my attention.  They are old, and perhaps if not forgotten, I wanted to ignore them.  They are the foundation of the garden of my mind, my spirit;  the lessons I was taught, the seeds I planted slowly over years – beliefs, behaviors, habits;  and the choices I made that brought me to where I stand today.  We all have those hidden gardens, and perhaps we are reluctant to open the gates and see what lies within, and beneath;  it is easier, surely, to find something else to focus on.  Somehow, now that the running to and fro of a career and the unfulfilled wishes of a young man are behind me, and I move into what lies ahead,  I know in a way that has nothing to do with my intellect that those roots, those foundations of so much of my life, need me to find them, and sit before them, and listen to their stories, and under the quiet skies of dawn or the shiny carpet of stars, renew my soul garden, clean up the refuse, give it the sun and food and water to bloom anew. 

When I started this blog, I felt I had a message to share.  In a way, our lives, our daily acts of kindness or anger, giving or selfishness, speak much louder than words.  But words carry power, amazing power to change our own world, and those around us; I felt, perhaps with a false sense of having some wisdom worth passing on, that being open about my life might give someone else who faced struggles of their own, some hope.  I called this blog “my journey towards authenticity” – not “to”, because I haven’t made it.  In fact, as I have grown (fighting all the way) and opened my eyes to see things a little differently, the truths that I have seen are not always pretty about myself; I am realizing how far I have to go in terms of acceptance and forgiveness, responsibility and giving.  It might sound wonderful to say “I am going to be authentic in my life and relationships” but you have to be willing to look in the mirror and really see the truth about what you yourself have to work on, what you have to take ownership of and have the strength to admit you have a very long way to go.  Honesty isn’t always pretty. 

Is blogging about this part of my life appropriate? I am this first to admit, I don’t know.  I spent nearly all of my life from my very earliest years (talking about roots) in hiding.  I hid because I was afraid of being hurt emotionally and physically in a home environment where threats were very real; I hid because those who cared for me taught me that I needed to be someone that I was discovering I was not.  I buried my heart and worked hard to conform, to achieve, to be seen as a success – but in hiding from others, I closed the door on myself as well, and even after reaching a place in life where I could be more honest about my feelings and my orientation, I still tried to fit a mold, instead of letting what was inside my soul garden blossom.  

I was surprised recently to learn of a quote attributed to David Bowie.  I know little of him – my own taste in music tended towards people who were old when I was born, and contemporary artists generally didn’t sing those kinds of songs.  Still, from what I know of his life, he had struggles, he walked a different path than many around him, and his creativity touched lives.  Perhaps he did say these words, or repeat them, but whatever their source, I see their wisdom now more than ever.  He said – 

“Aging is an extraordinary process whereby you become the person you always should have been”.

As attributed to David Bowie

Of course, we all have different opinions on what that “should” might look like – but I think there is some truth in saying that each of us inherently have unique characteristics and gifts, drives and desires – and that it is never too late to be open to discovering, and sharing them, more fully.  I see this in my garden, and in my family history, and in my own spirit harmonizes as though this truth remains – whatever designer and design there may be to our lives, the greatest gift each of us has to offer is to be fully ourselves, human, imperfect, unashamed and without blame towards ourselves or others.  This is the heart of grace and forgiveness, however we might seek them – to be loved and to love one another for who we are, not for who we want to be seen as or for what we expect one another to become later.  Love is for today, as is. 

Friends and strangers who read this, I am a terrible example of any such principle, but if I wait until I can be who I wish I already was or always had hoped to be, there would be no reason for sharing.  Our souls may not be as pretty as we’d like to pretend; we may choose to close our eyes to the light of honesty; but at the same time we shut the door to being ourselves.  Sitting under the branches in my “soul garden”, it is far from the promise of beauty and love that I long to share.  In realizing what I portrayed to the world (through my filtered eyes) needs renewal and refreshing to be any kind of oasis or inspiration, there is a temptation to shut the gate, put up the stage backgrounds again and try to forget the lessons that life is asking me to acknowledge, to live with pretense instead of honesty.  What a tragedy that our world makes it so difficult to trust, to be honest and know we are accepted – and what a powerful gift we each can bestow by becoming that source for others in our lives. 

Just as the seasons require me to care for the plants in our yard through their cycles, year after year; just as the challenge of discovering my family tree of life, my ancestors lessons and gifts and sacrifices to preserve to those who follow; It will take my lifetime to tend to this garden of my soul.  But I sense this realization, as daunting as it seems to loom ahead, is a gift; to open my eyes and know that aging does not mean only closed doors and memories, but paths to discovery and sharing, contributing and creating joy.  Change and growth is not just for children, or perhaps we all remain children even though our bones and muscles age and our brains slow, children in a garden, looking for beauty through aging eyes.  My life has always been called to a path of differentness, I have fought it and tried to walk the road that others picked for me, but I am forging my own way, and will continue to write about that here.  I hope that, occasionally, for someone, my words will resonate and the lessons I am trying to live out can somehow, help them as well. 

Thanks for visiting … until next time!

Sunday Streets and my sore feets

(Yes, I know that is not grammatically correct, I was well taught but a rebel at heart.)

Join me on a stroll through San Francisco’s SOMA district, and more.

This past weekend, San Francisco’s “Sunday Streets” program focused on Folsom street in the South of Market neighborhood.  Sunday Streets is held occasionally throughout the year (after a COVID pause like most of life everywhere) which shuts down traffic and opens up the asphalt for exploration by foot and other wheeled vehicles like bikes, skateboards and baby strollers.  Local merchants, arts groups, civic clubs and just about anything you might think of (and more) can be found, with unique flavors from the heritage and history of the various neighborhoods.  San Francisco has many layers – some not always visible, some forgotten and some we would like to erase; this is a unique way to take to the time to meander through blocks you might otherwise never notice driving by, meet old friends and make new ones, and see a little bit of other niches of life that might otherwise escape your notice.  

Folsom street was shut down from Main (near the bay) to 9th street – but it extends much farther than this 1.5 mile segment which was car free for about 5 hours.  It parallels Market Street – which runs from the Ferry building all the way out to the Castro neighborhood, but unlike Market there are no cable car rails or street car cables.  Folsom itself was named for Joseph Libbey Folsom (1817-1855), of New Hampshire, who served in the Army and came to Yerba Buena, as the area was then known, in March 1847.   Like so many then and now, he started to invest in real estate, became a millionaire, and eventually bought acreage near Sacramento which in time was also named for him.  He died at age 38 – it’s interesting to wonder how he would view the city 175 years after his arrival, and the street bearing his name. 

I didn’t know that about the street when I set out from my gym Sunday morning, taking another parallel street,  Brannan, and walking from 9th all the way to the Embarcadero, so I had already strolled 1.5 miles by the time I reached the bay.  Why not look up the source of that name? Well, it was Samuel Brannan, (1819-1889),  Mormon settler and founder of the first newspaper in SF, the “California Star”.  Might he have known Folsom? Could they have imagined one day thousands of cars would run on asphalt streets bearing their names? 

What would the citizens of San Francisco 1922 have thought could they see their future city?

Along the way, I passed shiny new condo buildings, and older industrial buildings; a few tents on the sidewalk, but not nearly as many as in some parts of the city.  Here, at the pace of my feet instead of traffic, at eye level and not behind a windshield, one can view that which somehow is invisible on any other day;  colorful murals like the red, white and blue quotes from the Statue of Liberty, otherwise blocked by a chain link fence;  the menu from a steakhouse featuring dishes I would never order at prices I will never, ever pay;  the nearby tents along the way where what public officials refer to as our “unhoused” find temporary shelter.  Few pass me along the way; I decide to say hello to some, and good morning – it’s a habit I think I will try to continue, but it seems a little anachronistic these days, sadly.  I realize it is a way of acknowledging their worth, their personhood – and mine – and it only takes a little courage. 

It’s amazing how the view changes when you can get past a chain link fence.

Reaching the Embarcadero – from the Spanish, “to embark”, a place of departure, usually from a waterfront – I see the bay ahead.  It is a sunny morning, much different from the foggy gloom of our home just a handful of miles away.  Here, on the corner, I see a restaurant I have heard of but never visited, another blur from the car as we pass – Delancey Street.  Operated by a foundation that gives substance abusers, ex-convicts, and others who find help there for over 4 decades now, it is part of our city’s legacy of seeking ways to provide opportunity and hope;  some work, some do not – but dreamers keep coming, and I would see more of them today. 

The charming Delancey Street restaurant – an organization that gives people second chances.

Yet just footsteps away as I continue along the way back to Folsom, I see a tall fence, with zero visibility, and what I grew up calling “quonset huts” but probably have a lot more creative name now – it looks kind of like a prison, and not until I see a very plain sign reading “Navigation Center” do I realize this is one of those creative efforts.  One of some notoriety these days, where addicts are invited to safely get access to services relating to homelessness, drug addiction, and more – like many, my life has been spared these challenges for the most part.  Perhaps like you, I am sorry to admit I could be more compassionate; whatever goes on behind those high fences, and blocked walls, I would like to believe some lives find new hope when they come out on the street, but I cannot say.  These are not just problems here, or now. 

What little the public can see of a “Navigation Center”

I spot something across the main boulevard that I have heard about – “Red’s Java House” – and decide this is the perfect time to explore this tiny piece of mid 20th century SF.  Entering the small building filled with SF Giants memorabilia – the stadium is not far away, and fans have been coming here for some time – your eyes are drawn to the hundreds of black and white photos covering the walls and the simple diner furniture.  I decide to order a “double dog” – which is basically two sausages on sourdough with some condiments and cheese, and sets me back $12 before tip – but satisfies my hunger completely.  The back patio overlooks  the bay, with a small bar; this is not a game day, it is not busy, but considering this small haven has been serving up tasty comfort food and beer for almost 70 years, it was the perfect refresher. 

I continue on and stop to admire the view of the bay, the SF Fire department station with their seaworthy equipment, the Bay bridge passing overhead towards Treasure Island, and the giant bow and arrow seemingly shot from the sky above into the earth below, just where Folsom street is about to begin.  This is “Cupid’s Span”, a sculpture from 2002 that relates to a legend with which I am completely unfamiliar, of Eros shooting his arrow into the earth to make it fertile.   

A view of the bay bridge and the Embacadero

I continue on and stop to admire the view of the bay, the SF Fire department station with their seaworthy equipment, the Bay bridge passing overhead towards Treasure Island, and the giant bow and arrow seemingly shot from the sky above into the earth below, just where Folsom street is about to begin.  When I return home, I find this is “Cupid’s Span”, a sculpture from 2002 that relates to a legend with which I am completely unfamiliar, of Eros shooting his arrow into the earth to make it fertile.   

If you ever have a trivia question about where a dinosaur skull is in SF … now you know.

Nearby, a marker explains that where we stand now there used to be creatures who no longer walk this earth – with a replica of a dinosaur head gazing out towards the bay.  Two moments, one of history, one of myth – the base elements of much of what makes up this kaleidoscopic city with all its chaos and joys and desires.  I nod towards the nearby Ferry Building from 1898 – I feel a kind of kinship with it, knowing our home was built that same year, and like many structures that no longer stand, are witnesses to time in a way I can never be. 

Finally, I am at Folsom and Main, and barriers announcing the beginning of the next 1.5 miles of my journey – the “Sunday Streets” event.  A Jazz combo with an awning next to a trailer welcomes locals to have a seat and groove – how many are locals, and how many tourists?  I have no way to tell.  As I stroll block after block, the music shifts – there are rock groups and vocalists, someone with an accordion.  There are skateboard “slalom” courses, and “rock climbing” towers;  indoor gold stations and other businesses I never would have guessed lined these streets.   Nearby, the museum of modern art and other institutions mingle among the shiny new condo towers and the nearly deserted churches whose stained glass windows are covered with protective grating – but from the inside, the light still finds a way through.  The stacks of buildings from different eras seem to push in on one another like children in a lunch line, scrambling for space – there was a time when few suites were empty, but that time is gone.  I admire one of the older “residents” – the E.M. O’Donnell copper works building, just over 100 years old;  it recently sold for $9M to a residential architecture firm.  It is dwarfed by the Sales Force Tower looming over everything in its purvue.  Even in this period of uncertainty, some of our heritage remains, preserved, witnesses. 

SOMA is home to many cultural institutions and communities; there are many stories here.  The SOMA Pilipinas Filipino heritage district shared a model of the current vision for a “gateway” to their history here; everything in this city passes through generations of cultures, each leaving an imprint, but not always remembered or celebrated by all.  Emigrants from the Philippines have been woven into the fabric of our city for over 120 years; like those from China, Italy, and around the world, they have made San Francisco something unique, vibrant, bringing new energy and hope.

The planned span “Gateway” to the Pilipinas Heritage District – inspiring and sacred.

And of course there are politicians – and causes – represented by booths and speakers.  I got a smile from the “Climate Anxiety” booth who asked if they could help me, and explained that their “Lucy” had fallen ill that day;  too bad, as it was one of the first truly beautiful summer days so far in what many here call “Fogust”.   I also stopped to chat with a representative of the LGBT hotline, whose rainbow phone caught my eye;  they have been a resource for people seeking support and community across our country since they started in a broom closet of a gay bathhouse in NYC in the 70’s.  Out of the closet, indeed.   Nearing the end of the route, this is the area included in the Leather/LGBTQ cultural district – a haven for decades of shops, artists, bars, and refuge for another “tribe” of our city, one where many voices and many hearts seek new homes. 

I’ve walked over 3 miles now, and nearly 4 hours, and through 150 years of time; I have seen many faces and heard different voices, but all smiling, all happy to be able to walk in the sun.  Perhaps not all see what I see, or hear what I hear – but the city speaks to me, soft voices, even silent ones.  Here, and in your city, there are places we see but we do not see – and faces, too.  We drive through them – they are not our home, not our block, not our people.  Or are they?  I cannot say this stroll has changed me … nor have I changed much here, either.   But as I make it back to my car with feet aching to be freed from their shoes at home, I realize I want to see what I have not, at ground level, without glass in between, free of the reminders of appointments – to discover, to unearth, to be awed and reminded that beauty remains, waiting to shine, if we only look.  If we only listen.  

“Cupid’s Span”, from 2002; in the distance, the 1898 Ferry Building Clock tower; and, some guy.

Next time I explore our city by foot, I will have to remind myself, again, to say “good morning” to strangers, if that is the world I want to be a part of, again.   Perhaps our paths will cross – do say hello. And join me in walking your own streets, you will find treasures there as well. Until next time …..

Old toys and older boys

Once upon a time, not so long ago, hearing a train whistle was not an uncommon event for those in big cities, or small towns scattered in remote areas.  To some, trains are like noisy, dirty animals … great hulking monsters spewing smoke, crushing what lies before them; but they are also friends, like Thomas, that little boys play with, dreaming of being big boys.  I had those dreams once … and I had a train, too.  Of course, I thought of it as a magical train – the first memories of it are gone, it is more like echoes of my childhood thinking of putting the metal track pieces together in living room on special occasions.   Those echoes are like the steam whistle, and the memories of Judy Garland singing “On the Atchison Topeka and the Santa Fe” while the engine roared into town bringing the Harvey Girls to tame the wild west – all wispy fantasies that fade like the smoke into the sky, but the echoes reside in my soul, with others. 

Judy Garland leading “On the Atchison Topeka and the Santa Fe” in “The Harvey Girls – 1946 – All Aboard!!!

I have written before about my Mom’s tendency to, well, hoard.  She kept things that had value – and things that had no meaning at all.  It took me years after returning to my childhood home to sift through it all – there were treasures to be found among the trinkets.   I had never forgotten the train set – it was a happy memory, like playing children’s records and lying in the bedroom on a quiet afternoon reading.  When I found the box, at first I didn’t realize what it contained, because she had literally kept the shipping box itself, a plain cardboard box which I opened to find another “sleeve”, and under that, the carefully preserved decades old Lionel engine, and accessories – dusty, unused, kept in darkness … it had been years since it ran around the small oval, years since the farm animals had been let out of the barn.  Years in which a large part of my own life too had been put away, kept in darkness, waiting. 

The dusty box with childhood treasures, buried but not forgotten

Memory is an odd creature, too – it moves in ways unpredictable, little eruptions now and then emerging, and the emotions tied to them still.  My mother had always said that I had won the train set from the toy store in Vacaville, California, where a drawing had been held; I would have been 2, so I remember nothing but my brother, 30 months older, retained the memories more.  We would play with it together, and alone; we had those moments of shared joy as children, but they were fewer to be found as the years grew, and we grew apart.  Our home was not the one shown on TV – not the one shared apparently by our classmates in the small town where we moved when I was 5; it was in that house I learned to be alone, to hide my feelings, to put them in a box like the train and put them away.  

Like many brothers, we are very different, and it has not been easy or really entirely successful to bridge the differences between us – a distance greater than a train, toy or otherwise, could shorten.  We shared our younger years but had very different hearts – and diverging paths ahead. He went to live with our father, and was less present in my life, ultimately marrying and having children out of state, with occasional return visits.  In my mother’s final years, spent in a care facility near our childhood home, I returned to that house to deal with those challenges – a single man, in what was probably the loneliest time of my life, not yet having the footing to stand and say who I was, what I felt, who I wanted to be and to love.  I returned to a home without friends, finding pieces of my family, and in a way finding pieces of myself as I tried to bring what had been forgotten into the light – to renew the small tract home my parents bought for our future, before the family picture shattered and the curtains closed.   It was in some ways a chapter of renewal for us both.

Some of the other artifacts that were buried in boxes, and in books, revealed that trains were more a part of my past than I could have imagined.  I remembered the whistle in the night going through the Corona orange groves – the smell of the smudge pots on winter nights to preserve the fruit – that heritage has been replaced now with distribution centers and tracts, and the citrus packing houses remembered by fewer as the years move on.   I discovered my great grandmothers handwritten journal describing her son’s birth in the Corvallis, Oregon train station where his father was the station master; I found photos of my father’s grandfather standing by a steam locomotive somewhere in the desert of Arizona, or Mexico, with antlers on the front as he worked with Santa Fe to build a rail line to the coast near Guaymas, where he found his bride.  I learned of my other family lines who came west by wagon train, seeking gold, seeking new homes – seeking opportunity away from the farms and everything and everyone they knew for the chance for a better life; some were lost along the way.  These were the seeds of my interest in family history – me, a lonely boy, a “gifted” boy but an invisible child, realizing that others before him had faced challenges, failures, obstacles but continued to dare to hope, to dream.  Somehow, their spirits out there, somewhere, were still connected to me – outside of time, speaking to me in words and old greeting cards and photos with scribbled names, some still mysteries even now.  Their secrets, their dreams, their passions were waiting to be unearthed, revealed – like the train. 

My great Grandfather in the Sonora Desert in the late 1800’s – the wild West.

I decided it would be worth the effort to see if the train had any value – after all, it had to be unusual to find an intact set, in the box, with all the accessories and the vintage catalog and more!  20 years ago, I found an Ebay listing that seemed to be the identical set – which had sold for over $1700! It was known as the “Halloween set” with the “General” engine – due to the orange and black colors, I am guessing.  And mine was in better shape!  It was not until after my Mom’s passing in 2006 that I finally sold the home and turned over the keys and closed the door for the last time, leaving what had been the core of my upbringing forever.   In the months before and after her passing, time also took from me my father, his wife who had become a part of my life decades before, and his cousin Bill who I cared for in his final years.  My own heart was still in a box of its own – I was still shut away, like the train, like the boxes of memories and old toys and photos that I put first into storage, and then into my new, “dream” home, closer to work, big and spacious and sunny.   A new chapter was being written, and the light began to break through my own closed doors,  and I pulled out the train as I prepared for a Christmas where I could welcome friends … setting up the track again, connecting the frayed wiring and … finding the train would not move.  It needed repair.  It needed help to function; help from someone who knew how something old and broken could be brought to life again.  I didn’t know it at the time, but so did I.  And I found it – for both of us, eventually. 

Instructions, and even “billboards” (although from a VERY different era!)

I reached out for help – I found someone out of state, online, and shipped them the engine and the electrical parts.  There were not many resources to be found with that knowledge; it was not easy. Some online sources indicate the set was only made in 1960 for distribution at independent retailers, with 7300 produced; for some, it is “legendary”. Bringing something back to life that is neglected takes special care.  It did not run that Christmas, of course – but it did come back in time, if not “restored” – at least, able to run.  I found others to help me learn to run, too – finally, in my fifties, finding the strength and support to not hide in the closet of secrecy and shame.   It’s been a little over 10 years now since I started to tell others that the Norman they knew had never been able to fully share his heart with them, or anyone; looking back, I can see it has been a long and hard journey which still stretches ahead, unlike the metal track sections that form a loop to nowhere – my track is being laid in new directions.  You have to travel down roads you don’t know to get to a new destination, of course – and my wanderings brought me here to SF and to my husband, and the train came along, buried in the basement – something of value, to be treasured, along with so many little pieces of my past, and my family.  

Yes, the farm was included – along with a little “station” and more.

More than a half century has passed since I won that drawing; my brother’s children are grown; he is divorced, and recently retired, about to turn 68.  He has mentioned the train set over the years; first when his children were young, but they lived on the other end of the country, and we did not see them often.  Now, they are grown – and although I reach out occasionally, they have lives of their own, and we really are not close to one another.  Still – I feel a responsibility to preserve the lessons, the heritage that I found in my Mother’s closets – and now that my brother is in a new chapter of his own life, in my heart I sense that it is time to let the train travel east to his home.   It won’t be cheap – it is large. I bought a large box and will pack it carefully; it will reach him there before his birthday.  He was willing to wait, but I have a sense that the time is right now; time to let go, in more ways than one, and with more than just a vintage train set. 

The thrilling accessory catalog – and invitation to become an honorary stockholder – must be under 16! You’ve made an investment in happiness!!

And yet – letting go is freeing, too.  I want to believe, to hope at least, that his children’s children will play with the train, and keep it; and perhaps some will retain the knowledge of how trains changed their family’s lives, and futures.  I accept that, like most old relatives in photos, particularly those who never had children, my name will be mostly forgotten, my face a new mystery.  But in a way, that little train carries generations of love, and history – not just my memories, or my brothers, but those of our parents whose not fully successful dreams of a happy family gave us life; their parents whose work and sacrifices gave us opportunities many in our world would never know.  The little train will go around it’s track, and as I say farewell, I look ahead toward the future which still holds promise, and discoveries to be shared, free of the restraint of tracks, awaiting my steps on a road that daily winds ahead. 

See the old smoke risin’ ’round the bend
I reckon that she knows she’s gonna meet a friend

Time to disembark, folks – hope you enjoyed the trip – watch that last step! Thanks for visiting – always appreciate chatting with friends and strangers! Oh, and don’t forget to subscribe – it’s complimentary with your paid first class ticket today!

Beyond Pride on a Sunday stroll

It’s July 2022. Quite a bit different from July 2019, or 2020, or 2021 – in fact, different from any July, ever, in my life – in yours too, probably. We’ve changed – not entirely willingly, not entirely happily. The air itself sometimes seems to smell of conflict – like an undercurrent of chaos bubbles beneath our feet, waiting to grab us. Not a happy start to a blog post, I know – but sometimes it feels like our reality is seething with energy, anger – a heavy, bleak fog making it difficult to breathe – to hope. Honestly – that sucks. It’s like we have fallen into a pattern of shocking news, new threats, one after the other – we are all like little Indiana Joneses, running from one giant boulder only to find another waiting, trying just to catch our breath in between but finding no safe place – no rest.

It takes work to pull our heads out of that space – to give our hearts hope. It takes determination, and courage. Sometimes it takes anger – but more often it require a choice to forgive. Those who didn’t give us what they promised, or what we hoped; those who failed to treat us with dignity; those who offered expectations that could never be achieved, but which our hearts cried out for. And, to forgive ourselves, if we can find the honesty to admit we too have abandoned others in those dark passages, we too have not been what we held forth. It takes a lot of forgiveness.

Why am I writing about this, as we say goodbye to June – now considered Pride month here in SF, and many parts of country; with festivals and parades, commercials and special rainbow products? The fact is, writing a blog – for me, at least – is difficult. Sure, time consuming – doesn’t have to be, sometimes it isn’t – but the digging in my own brain and heart trying to pull out exactly what it is I want to “put out there” – it’s draining. Let’s be realistic – Pride has for many become somehow less meaningful. Even here, friends say they don’t bother to go to the parade – it’s too commercial; too crazy; too political, or not political enough. Too many out of towners, or dozens of other reasons to skip it- now, supplemented by the never ending health scares lingering lingering like unwanted relatives who just won’t leave your home after dinner. Even the Pride flag is controversial, needs replacing; some want to keep others out of Pride entirely, or start their own parade. The upheaval and uncertainty that seems to taint everything in our lives has not excluded Pride.

I think my first visit to a Pride parade was West Hollywood in 2012. I went with a friend, made the long drive on the long, weaving freeway from “Inland” southern California to Los Angeles – driving from a city most of the folks waving flags and throwing glitter had never heard of. There were homeless people sleeping on the street before the start. But as the crowds drew, and the hour grew closer, and the roar of motorcycles signaled that at last, the parade was beginning to move our way – there was excitement. I din’t feel a lot in common with most of the people around me – but I was in the sunshine, I was there, I was standing and smiling and waving as others walked past, drove past, some dancing, some in drag, some young, a few old.

Since that year – 10 years now – I have ridden my own motorcycle in a Pride parade (gosh, that was over quickly after hours of waiting!). I have walked, singing show tunes, with the gay men’s chorus. I have visited different cities, and even gone to a few dance parties – now that was a place I did not fit in! – and in 2019, as I carried a banner for a volunteer group near the very front of the parade, I stood motionless for hours because a handful of people who felt it was their right, their duty to hold up a celebration by thousands who had prepared for this day for months before, and later sued the city for mistreatment because ultimately they were pulled out of the street so the parade could continue. Pride and the related events have always been close cousins to political groups, movements, protests – but their evolution in recent years has left some feeling that Pride no longer has meaning for them.

But 2022 held a very special meaning for me. Now, I don’t have to drive for hours to get to LA – the “big city” – to march. My husband and I drove a couple of blocks to our BART station where other early risers were awaiting the train to take them a handful of stops away, down to the Embarcadero, and the lineup awaiting again the roar of motorcycles after a 3 year pause. We strolled through the staging area where politicians, cultural groups, vintage cars, musical performers and even a club of Corgi owners huddled, nearly 200 “units” of all kinds of people, all kinds of meaning. The sun broke through the fog just as our section began to move onto Market street – greeted by happy cheers. Pride was back. San Francisco was back. Our lives were back – that’s what we wanted, what we yearned for, what we needed to believe.

When I got home, I’d planned to work on a post – but, hey, my feet were really tired. My ears were numb. So a week went by, and boom, it’s Independence Day – which will be another post, probably – but even though “Pride Month” is over and the rainbows have started to dissipate, my heart tells me I need to share the Facebook post I created that evening, with you – mostly strangers, finding your way here somehow, someday. I was surprised by how many “likes” I got – it’s not like I have a lot of friends, I am not anywhere near an influencer; but, my words touched some. So perhaps you, whenever you see this, might find some meaning from it too – it’s simple, it’s honest, it’s real. And it’s a heck of a lot shorter than what you just read through, too!

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Today my husband and I walked in SF Pride together – our first since our marriage in 2018. We watched some of the tv coverage after we got home; reporters sometimes asked the crowd what does Pride mean to you? I don’t have a simple answer, but I’ll try. I have friends here who knew me in my youth and our paths diverged; I have friends from later years long before I “came out”; I have friends from the past decade since then, and so many new friends who welcomed me from Bob’s many years here, and his family. Yet until I could accept that my attraction to other men wasn’t a defect or mistake or something wrong, I could never really believe I was truly loved and accepted by anyone in my life. Today, thankfully, I’ve moved past those distortions and I continue to learn how to love and be loved. In many ways I still feel guilt that it took me so long to – but love, through you my friends, my family, my husband and others, has fought it’s way through the lies and high, thick walls of shame. I grew up in a community of faith, and that too has grown deeper with the knowledge and understanding that greater love knows no bounds or limits except the ones we embrace. So yes, I am proud – to belong to such a wonderful community of acceptance, encouragement and hope – and learning to do my own little part to give back. Because love, that deeper love, is deeper and stronger and powerful to change lives. And to give even me the amazing opportunity to walk through a crowd of cheering voices, holding hands with my wonderful husband. There is wisdom in the words, Love wins out; love never fails. That of all the qualities we consider spiritual- faith, hope and love – love is indeed the greatest. Today, we celebrated the power of love, and pride, and the ongoing struggles to bring that to our communities and our world, in a sea of glitter and rainbows and more. So, thank you, all of you who’ve shown me love, in ways large and small – that brought me to a place, still growing, but where I could begin a post saying – today my husband and I walked in SF pride, together.

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We don’t know what the future holds, or even a few hours from now; I don’t know what I will remember towards the end of my days on earth. But if I had to just have a few moments that I could carry with me the rest of my life, holding hands with someone I love and walking down a sunny street filled with cheering strangers would be one. There’s still a lot of people who hate seeing men loving men, and women loving women – I was part of that myself. There are still a lot of people who just don’t realize how magnificent, immeasurable and powerful love can be when we take off the chains and pull down the walls and stop limiting something that is beyond our comprehension because that’s the way we want reality to be. My walk down Market Street in June 2022 won’t change the world – but it changed me a little bit. And maybe some of the the people who saw us found a little bit of hope as well.

Maybe – maybe – someone will, for a moment, see that love is bigger than they ever imagined; it doesn’t respect barriers; it doesn’t stop for anyone. Love is, just, love.

I will never be a muscle boy dancing on a float to the latest gay anthem; I will never be one of the stars that people notice, and I will never write a speech that inspires people around the world to stand up and be counted. But I can love my husband, my family, my friends in my little imperfect way, and stumble through the daily routine, and fret about gas prices and political leadership and wrongs that need righting – and occasionally, I can say I am proud, and I love you, and hold out my had gently, and hug someone just enough to pass on a touch of encouragement, a pinch of joy, and go to bed hoping that somehow, today, I touched a life and sleep, at last.

Bouquets to Art at the De Young

It’s with a special kind of joy that I can write about what we used to take for granted – a trip to the museum. Mask free (although, I admit, here in San Francisco many are still opting in). But even with a mask, there is a sense of freedom about events, gatherings, and yes – even the return of the Pride parade and celebration next week. So, at last, I can resume posting occasionally about our local attractions and history, as well as enjoying it in person!

When my husband and I learned that the De Young museum in Golden Gate Park was welcoming back their unique annual tradition of floral arrangements coordinated with all kinds of works of art throughout history, we jumped on the chance to buy tickets. Words cannot describe the magic of seeing something so delicate (and short lived) as the amazing variety of flowers, plant and organic materials selected carefully to compliment, coordinate or echo the works of traditional artists around the world, and over the centuries, in the many galleries of this beautiful museum. And so, words will be minimal here, with the focus (forgive the pun) on my strictly amateur iPhone pics from our adventure last week. But, if you would like more, there will be a link at the end for further exploration – and, as always, some observations.

One “guidebook” note, for those not familiar with the De Young and it’s amazing variety of artists works and special exhibits – it is well worth a visit annually. Golden Gate Park is truly a jewel, not just in our city or state, but for the country; and it is a truly international representation of creativity and beauty. With that, here we go!

I really admired this “Black and white” arrangement with similar graphic works!

Niagra falls – in 2, and 3 dimensions.

A stunning juxtaposition with this large wall panel. Breathtaking!

You may have noticed other observers of these amazing creations, which come from floral designers of all backgrounds through a very competitive submission process. It is of course a fund raiser for the museum, and a huge draw – for just 5 days. We went fairly early on day 3, a Thursday – and it was increasingly difficult to enjoy the displays without someone popping into “our space”. Still, I got a big kick out of one fellow visitor, who, after studying the floral arrangement, seemed to be equally if not more puzzled by the adjacent art it emulated!

Because, of course, what is great art is extremely subjective (for the most part). Personally, I love landscapes – and I just don’t “get” a lot of a lot of the less traditional approaches (which is why I don’t enjoy the Museum of Modern Art nearly as much!). I have no idea what goes through the minds of most artists as they create – but it is in the act of creating we have a chance to express something deeper that we wish to offer one another. Finding something within, and letting it come forth, to be shared.

I am struck by the fleeting nature of these botanical works – they literally become landfill within days of their debut – and they require incredible skill, a vast knowledge and, I wager, a deep devotion to this unique craft. Most of what we create, work towards, fret over, in life – in time, fades. What we don’t forget ourselves, ultimately is lost to time. Yet there is something timeless in our drive to accomplish – whether through traditional “art” or other pursuits. It is in our nature to want to leave something behind; to be remembered by. Perhaps we all can see, shimmering behind the beauty of what stands on display in the museum, the deeper creativity that we all carry within, that longs to be expressed, shared, celebrated – and be just a little inspired to reach beyond what we have tried before, whatever our personal “creations” may be. I hope this little journey gives you, like me, the opportunity to consider what we might have, uniquely, to create – and contribute – anew. After all, in the traditional text of Genesis, to create is the most divine attribute which we share with whatever source brought all of this into being.

Photo by Tim Mossholder on Pexels.com

For further – and much better quality – images of this amazing exhibit, I direct you to the website of another artist – Ron Henggler. His reports on so many aspects of our history and community are always eye openers – I highly recommend you explore his other offerings, but you can click here for a link to his report on Bouquets to Art 2022!

Finally – GET OUT! It’s time! Explore – learn – share – discover – and treasure the beauty we have missed for so long. For those who cannot reach San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park to visit the De Young in person, here is a pleasant little video tour I found to inspire YOU to enjoy that which remains waiting in your neighborhood – and around our wonderful world.

That’s it for this tour, friends!! As always, I welcome your feedback – and hey, maybe even suggestions of what you’d like me to visit in the days to come. There will be more adventures – I hope you have enjoyed being alongside today, and see you next time!

Me and my hubby – without masks and loving life!

Finding fit – the most important muscle is between your ears

Do you have a quest?  Something you have felt a drive to achieve, but never quite made it? Perhaps we all do. Some define quest as an unreachable goal – a dream – something beyond our reach, but worth pursuing. I have written before, and gotten some surprising positive feedback, on my own quest for improved fitness.  Fitness in more than just the traditional body sense – extending into an overall place of well being, but very much including strength and physical health.   In the past few months I have been slowly recognizing some factors that have helped me – not in necessarily traditionally measurable ways, but more in how I am feeling confident that I am on the right path.  It’s been about 9 months since I posted about my progress – it seems like a good time to update you (and me, too!)

Everyone has to start somewhere …. and we all have our own paths to discover!

You can a find numerous books about lifting routines; technique;  videos, apps, charts and more.  I imagine they are all pretty helpful when used correctly – and I have bought (and given away) more than I care to remember.  What surprises me is that there is relatively little written on the mindset one needs to embrace to move towards fitness, and I am realizing that is where every successful effort rests on a solid foundation.   And that’s what I am going to try to convey with this post – some of the perspectives that have helped me refocus my efforts, creating results –the best of which will never be measured on the scale. 

WARNING!!!  Health advisory – my learning curve may differ significantly from yours!  Were you among the “last picked” in PE?  Have you spent your lifetime feeling like your body is best left unseen by human eyes?  Have you found emotional comfort in food?  Did most of your dating life consist of what flavor ice cream to binge? Then, well – maybe some of what I am about to share will resonate.  Maybe, you too, have spent years yo-yoing between gyms and diets, workouts and guilt, success and failure; maybe there’s more like “us” who never reach their “ideal” – but keep coming back.  Some might call it foolish, or compulsive; even destructive for some, sadly.   But – something in us still calls to keep on striving. To not give up.  

Been there, done that – and probably will again!! Because I am HUMAN!!

My not always effective efforts to become more like the physical ideal I yearned to be were thrown off track at age 60, when I had to be hospitalized for a parasite, and lost a great deal of muscle mass, and required physical therapy to resume first walking, and driving.  When the time came to return to any kind of exercise 3 years ago now, I nearly cried at my inability to lift the bar on the bench without any weights attached at all.  It felt like everything I had ever achieved was now gone – but I began to gradually build back. This spring I just turned 64; I did all I could during COVID to focus on improving, or at least maintaining, my fitness through home workouts and eventually limited gym access.  Thankfully, our gyms are now fully open, and although in some ways I miss the backyard weight bench and adjustable dumbbells, I am so glad to be able to go be among others again and have a great selection of equipment to work with.  But this is not some transformational success story, just yet anyway – I remain today far from an example of a successful gym rat.

Sure, I would like to be the guy in “The 300” – but WEIGHING 300 is easier for most of us!

We need to redefine “success”, and identify our own ideals  

Here in SF, and being a gay man among many, the gyms are a kind of temple to what many hold as the masculine ideal – it’s on parade everywhere.  It is so, so very easy to look at those muscular toned bodies, the tight outfits, the gleaming skin, and feel like a complete failure.  Friends – take my word for it! To go in day after day and swim in that ocean of buffness is a potential recipe for depression!  During COVID I began to realize, especially during the months when we had to stand in line to enter the gym by appointment, for less than an hour, outdoors – the people who truly inspired me were, well, the ones that might be classified as “rejects”.   Not the models; not the gleaming Adonis (although I certainly still admire their physical state!) – but the ones like me.   Overweight; skinny; average;  older.   I came to see that for me, and perhaps for them, because coming in took more determination, more commitment – often without visible results – they were showing me how to find that same energy within me.  In fact, the one I remember most, was an elderly woman, at least in her 70’s, faithfully using cardio equpment, slowly moving her arms and legs, showing up like the rest of us – with greater effort.  She would walk to the gym, and might have lived locally; she clearly faced many challenges – but that did not stop her.  I never spoke to her, and now that things are “open” again, I haven’t seen her in months – but she is to me an example of spirit and dedication.

What do you see when you look in the mirror? What does your tomorrow you look like?

Insight the first – You’ve got to adjust your optics. 

Having recently seen the latest “Fantastic beasts” movie, I reflect on the scenes where one wizard and another shoot the obligatory bolts from their wands – realizing that the setting for their battles has relevance for me!  Now, I am not a “Harry Potter” expert by any means, but it seems to be kind of traditional that when they have these fights, they somehow move into a kind of shadow land, where it is just them, and everything and everyone else around them is kind of in a blur, another reality.  Silly as it may be, I have started thinking of my time at the gym that way – surrounded by all these more physically developed – and younger, for the most part – low body fat percent flexing bodies, I move into a different mindset – where it’s just me, and the weights.  I can’t “blur” them out of my perception, but – it really helps, somehow, to think of this as being my gym!  When I walk in and stow my protein shake and keys in the locker, I walk out into “my” training ground – where I focus on what I need to do, right now, today.  If I walk in with an attitude of not being exactly where I belong, well, I will go through my workout with less results!  Don’t ask me to explain it – call me a kook if you like – but I am truly, finally feeling like I really DO belong there – in “my gym” – working on me, exactly where I am.   

I remember this guy on TV in the 60’s – he was quite the motivator for many people!

Insight the second – Our quest may be solo, but it doesn’t have to be alone.

Over the years, and at the roughly dozen or more gyms I have joined on an off, I have had both good and not so good experiences with trainers.  Having a trainer is not some guarantee of success!  A good trainer can truly help – but they can’t do the work, they can’t help you have the right attitude – although they can be encouraging, or worse – disheartening. Working with a trainer effectively requires trust – and trust means respect, and acceptance.  If you don’t have those elements, you are wasting your time and money – best to move on. It took time, but eventually I found my current trainer, who had some availability, and we started working together twice a week about six months ago.  I am truly seeing results – in part because of his encouragement and helping me with technique.    And for the majority, who can’t afford trainers, or even a gym – you can find a cheerleader, if you look.  And you can BE a cheerleader – lifting up those around you.  You never know how a kind word at the right time might help a friend – or a stranger – find the strength to carry on.   Like the Village People proclaimed in YMCA, “No man does it all by himself; young man, put your pride on the shelf”!!!  

How do you see yourself? Do you love your body as it is today? That’s a good start!

Insight the third – The worst cardio you can do is – running from reality. 

I have never gone to a “boxing” gym – I don’t have to, I have a lifetime of experience in beating myself up!!   Friends, not all of us are going to be calendar models!  Not everyone is going to be anywhere close to the “ideal” we have – but we sure as heck aren’t going to get closer by having unrealistic goals, and then hating ourselves for not making them!  Working out, eating right – these are ways not only of loving our body, but accepting our imperfect selves – and others around us – as we are, and rejoicing, even giving thanks, for what we are able to do with them now – balancing that with an honest assessment of our limits, and the passage of time.   My best won’t be your best – whatever comes of my efforts isn’t entirely up to me, or you – but if we can say “I did my best” today, when we close our eyes, that is cause for celebration, not shame.  We must relish our victory in the knowledge we are on the path!!

Now, when I go to my workout, I tell myself I, too, am a bodybuilder – and this is MY gym!

Insight the fourth – Find YOUR inspiration – and BE an inspiration! 

So now I will be really personal, and maybe a little weird, but … one thing has really made a difference for me in my entire approach to what I call my “fitness journey”.  Maybe it’s a kind of spiritual lens for this part of my experience – or maybe it’s just a mental trick to help me get past my own inner hurdles.  Either way – it’s working – so here goes.  Now, when I look at some of the examples of real bodybuilders around me at the gym – the well developed upper and lower bodies, the chiseled figures, the fat free curves of layers of muscles – I sense a kind of echo within me.  I feel as though, somehow, I am drawn to them because those same possibilities are in me, awaiting to emerge.  Perhaps it is like a kind of “future” mirror – we are, after all, not that different from one another – and somewhere, that new me, the product of the work I do today, all  the yesterdays, and all the tomorrows – is waiting, eagerly, to emerge.  I feel it with every set.   And I see it happening – around me, and within me. 

We humans are an amazing organism – many parts that are a single whole

Insight the fifth – Blurring the line between the inner and outer you 

Just as I am slowly finding my way to let parts of my own, long suppressed, dormant inner being be expressed, shared, enjoyed with others – so are the elements within my physical shell joining in that chorus of awareness.   I am, somehow, feeling my physicality more now that I accept that the same possibilities that others have embraced are there for me, as well.   I sense my body more completely – I actually feel more integrated within it as I work on the different muscle groups.  There is an energy flowing through me that is a different level of being alive, as I slowly integrate this awareness.  I think it is kind of sad that for so many, the concept of a spiritual aspect to our existence has become something to be avoided, to be denied; it is a loss. Yes, our bodies will, one day, be irrelevant; but they are the vessels of the gift of life, one we must treasure, cherish – and honor in one another.  To care for our physical well being – and that of those we love – is no less an act of faith, love and devotion.  It is a dance with grace. I am finding a new kind of joy, integrating my mind, my heart, my faith and my body – together, growing, and finding peace in just being, today, this moment – and the next after that. 

I like to think every day, every moment, offers a new start – and there is never a final finish.

Insight the sixth – The only “last place” is for those who never leave start. 

We have to let our goals be our friends – milestones, not millstones. Just as this blog is subtitled my “journey towards authenticity”, I view my quest for a better body as one that does not have an end – a finish point.  It’s not easy to balance goals with being realistic – I don’t pretend to be good at it.  But I am a bit more balanced than I was, and – I am moving ahead.  I still sense within me, yes even at 64, that I can do better; and I am not doing this for others, or what they think of me, or how they react to me, anymore.  I am doing this because it brings me joy.  I feel a possibility within me and I am working to give it a chance to become reality. There is no limits to what I can learn about fitness, although I truly acknowledge there are very real limits as to what my body can do, and it’s very different than what I might have been able to pursue 30 years ago.  Does missing those decades of achievement mean taking hold of what I want now is a waste of time? I would say, not at all – but that’s a choice everyone has to make for themselves.  Every goal we say “yes” to means an uncounted host of possible that we release.  

Lyrics by David Zippel, music by Alan Menken, for “Go the Distance” from Disney’s Hercules

Insight the final – There is a hero within each of us – waiting to emerge!!

I love music while working out – not the squealing beat of the gym pop that blares, but my own personal soundtrack. It’s amazing what you can find – including this beautiful cover of the song from Disney’s Hercules, as performed by a male youth and adult choir from Brigham Young University. The video is stunning – but more importantly, the voices are divine, and the words carry me through some of the hard times. Here are the lyrics, and I hope you will find that which inspires you, too, to reach beyond where you are, and where you thought you might never be, to become. Enjoy the quest, friends. I’m there beside you! I’m cheering for you – together, we are becoming – the champions!

I have often dreamed of a far off place
Where a hero’s welcome would be waiting for me
Where the crowds would cheer, when they see my face
And a voice keeps saying this is where I’m meant to be

I’ll be there someday, I can go the distance
I will find my way if I can be strong
I know every mile would be worth my while
When I go the distance, I’ll be right where I belong

Down an unknown road to embrace my fate
Though that road may wander, it will lead me to you
And a thousand years would be worth the wait
It might take a lifetime but somehow I’ll see it through

And I won’t look back, I can go the distance
And I’ll stay on track, no I won’t accept defeat
It’s an uphill slope
But I won’t loose hope, ’till I go the distance
And my journey is complete, oh yeah

But to look beyond the glory is the hardest part
For a hero’s strength is measured by his heart, oh

Like a shooting star, I will go the distance
I will search the world, I will face its harms
I don’t care how far, I can go the distance
‘Till I find my hero’s welcome waiting in your arms

I will search the world, I will face its harms
‘Till I find my hero’s welcome waiting in your arms

Hey, if you see me at the gym, hugz are free!

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A tisket, a tasket- what’s in your easter basket?

I will preface this post with an acknowledgement – there are posts that I spend time editing and structuring until they are not perfect, but good enough. And then there are those like today’s, that reflect far more thought than what ends up being written; that I wish I had the eloquence and skill to resonate more deeply, but ultimately, have to just release and let them be what they will be. Please know, as you read this – I respect, value even, the differences that mark my many relationships.  I have family and friends who have diverging perspectives from me on just about any matter you can name – politics, music, COVID, sexuality, and of course, the “big questions”.   Lately with all the changes that continue to be a part of my life, I’ve had to think a lot about what I truly believe – and I feel it is important for me to write about it.  Maybe some of you will get something out of it, but whatever your own place may be as you make your own way through life, I definitely make no claim to having any particular insight or answers as I work towards finding my own.  

Growing up in non-metropolitan southern California in the 60’s, I think most of the people around me were pretty similar.  White, middle class mostly (although my household was less so than most) – families getting started out bought homes in our little community.  Most probably considered themselves Christian, although there was a Jewish family down the street, and I was grateful they welcomed me into their lives.  And of course, many people were not church folks – but my parents were of a generation where that was routine, and we were regular attendants at the small local Methodist church where the beautiful stained-glass window of Jesus with the lambs shone brightly.   Some of the traditions of that time survive, but I think are practiced less now – having palm fronds at Palm Sunday a week before Easter;  musical pageants; acolytes with candles beginning the service; I remember the warbly voices of the primarily old, primarily female adult choir singing “Christ the Lord is risen today” every year, as we followed in our hymnal dutifully.  My husband remembers that Easter often meant new clothes for the Sunday service – and for both of us, family gatherings, meals, easter egg hunts in the yard, and a belief that there was, for a while, a large bunny who brought wonderful treats for good boys and girls.  Among my treasures is an old “Ideals” publications with photos of baby rabbits and kittens decorating eggs and delivering flowers. 

Over the years, through much of my youth and adult life, I attended many church services – because I am just the kind of person that keeps looking for answers that satisfy some calling within me, even though they don’t really seem to be enough to resolve my own uncertainties.  I have attended evangelical churches that were started by beach hippies in the 60’s “Jesus people” movement; denominational mixed race services that were primarily Hispanic, or Black;  I visited a small church once where the pastor proclaimed, quite emphatically, that they were the only congregation going to heaven (not just their denomination, their location!!)  I have been to the Mormon temple in Salt Lake City to hear the music of praise, to Israel to see the sunrise over the Sea of Galilee, and to deserted pagan temples in the Mideast where other gods were worshipped, in ways very different from my small town.   I have prayed for the Holy Spirit to descend upon me in congregations where speaking in tongues was routine; I have attended teenage rallies to be pure for Christ, and visited group homes where young men were gathered to find a way to be healed from their attraction to others like themselves;  I have had hands laid on me to deliver me from demons, and I have celebrated a different kind of closeness to God in my own times of intimacy with men in a way that no church ever would have considered sacred, or holy – and yet, to me, they are a connection with that which is eternal and divine in a way more real than any church service.  

I have read books, and sung songs, and prayed in the darkness and danced with joy at the fervor of the promise of deliverance.  Last night, watching the recent, and outstanding dramatic film “The Eyes of Tammy Faye” after it’s well deserved Oscar recognition, I remembered many such broadcasts that my mother would watch at home – crippled with debilitating arthritis, her limbs and bones distorted, her heart wounded by griefs I could not understand then, she was looking for hope, for healing, for encouragement.  She surrounded herself with a small group of friends who prayed for one another- and for me.  They brought me, a lonely boy with few friends, delicious birthday cakes for years – they were loving and accepting, to the degree they could be.  I have long since forgiven them for their view of a God whose love could not extend beyond that which they knew, and hope I can grow in doing better on that front as well. And when I attended bible studies at local homes, and was baptized, I believed – not entirely understanding, but still, wanting to take that step, to belong.  I longed for acceptance and love – from my family, my church, my society – but I never felt that I had found it, really. 

I have read and studied, and continue to reflect, but I have no real answers to the big questions. I know many have been hurt by what others consider faith and truth – I know that pain, in my own way, but everyone’s is theirs alone, somehow.   I realized that even the words “God” and “Jesus” and most of the traditions practiced for the past few centuries are adopted from other cultures, bandaged into what some group of men, somewhere, once decided was truth;  that other groups selected from writings what they concluded was holy scripture, and left out other pieces; that translations are incomplete, even wrong, and that the familiar sayings that are easy to spout for simplistic answers to tough questions really do more harm than good.  Ignorance is not bliss, but neither is half witted rebaked magical thinking.  Like Elvis, the genie left the bottle a long time ago. 

I also see in those who practice a different faith – and there are too many for any of us to even know or comprehend, in our own little circles of belief – can be just as sincere and devoted, even more desirous of finding those elusive, yearned for answers.  I recognize that much damage, cruelty, and destruction has been accomplished under the guise of a loving god.  The news is filled with the ugliness of what we can do to one another – and, sadly, I am a part of it, knowing full well that the values I claim to hold dear – love, forgiveness, hope, caring – are not fulfilled in all my walks of life, that I have just as many flaws and chasms within me that show clearly the duality of what I say I believe, and how I behave.  In short-  I know the mess inside me is there, and as much as I wish for some magical force to transform me into someone else – it ain’t gonna happen.  But every day still offers choices for growth, and new direction. 

So when Easter comes around, like Christmas, and I think of the people in my life that I love (and some I don’t, but I try to) – I know they all pretty much have their own beliefs, traditions, questions, and uncertainties.  We may not talk about them much – thinking, perhaps, silence equals respect, or at least keeps the waters calm between us.  Perhaps that is best.  In my own circle of family and friends, there are so many ways of thinking about eternity, truth and what it is to be human, I am both amazed – and awed.  I love these people – I don’t really care if they are agnostic, theists, Mormon/SDA/charismatic Christian, Jewish, Muslim or Buddhist (etc etc)  – I have seen enough of their lives and their hearts to know they are not all that different from me, seeking.  Some see truth in the cycles of the planets and ancient practices that others condemn; others cling fervently to remembered scriptures and emphatic exclusion of anything that lies outside the rites and rituals that were passed down to them from origins that many of them have never sought to understand.   It’s so much easier to stay in our little boxes, safely and comfortably assuming we have the answers, and conclude it’s the others who are blind. 

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Whn someone asked recently if Easter had meaning for me, the answer is, yes.  Yes, very much so – but a meaning that isn’t really easy so to define, or defend.  I think our culture, at least in the “West” as it used to be called, is to have certainty – to know.  To be “right”.  Yet, I think it is a kind of growth, for me at least, to acknowledge I do not have certainty, and cannot claim to be right – only to be open and seeking.  I realize, even from my very limited knowledge of history, that faith can be both healing, and destructive; that communities of belief can bring strength and hope, but also lead to conflict, exclusion and suffering.  I am getting to a point where I can actually, despite the years of wanting to be someone other than who I am, I can be grateful that I am both inclined to seek a spiritual facet to my daily existence, and reconcile that part of me with my own nature as a gay man that many people who have claimed to love me could never accept as coming from a loving God.  Now, finally, I can accept the many tiny little glimpses of a greater loving force moving through the threads of my life; I am working towards seeing each one of us as being a little reflection of that which is eternal, that creative force that exists apart from time and everything we can know and measure, anything we can ever prove or fully comprehend.  

Perhaps some of you reading this may have reached a point long ago where you found answers that were sufficient – I am glad for you.  Who knows? You may be right! Human history shows an amazing variety of systems of belief – rising and falling, evolving or disappearing completely, lost to time – only crumbling remains and museum antiquities we briefly look at in passing. But in me there is still a yearning to know the answers – and a determination to not stop looking.  I am just more comfortable now accepting that I will never fully “know”, at least not until that time that, like all of us, my time on earth comes to an end – beyond that, perhaps there is even greater mystery, rather than “answers”.   If you are a student of the “Bible” as we know it, when you stop and look at the many examples of God interacting with His children – whether it be the Israelites in bondage in Egypt, or the Roman occupied peoples of the Christian era – or even the “Old Testament” prophets – there are countless incidents where the expectations of the protagonists were, if met at all, not fulfilled in the way they expected.  The very presence and life of Christ as depicted as the promised Savior from oppression was the opposite of what generations expected;  the promise of deliverance was in a form far from what the hopes had promised; instead of paradise, people of faith were faced with oppression, rejection, and despair.  Not exactly a salesman’s dream – and the prophecies of end times are hardly a trip to Disneyland.   I think sometimes God, in whatever form we ultimately understand that which is eternal exists, gets a kind of delight in confounding expectations, just to keep us guessing. 

Just as COVID changed our world forever, that which occurred which is commemorated still by many as Easter – watered down with bunnies, historically questionable and completely unproveable by science – has altered the course of human history, for both good and bad. Even for those who never hear any “New Testament” stories of the lone, itinerant teacher crucified without basis while a guilty man was set free, have been affected over the centuries by those who embraced that faith.   There is one aspect of all this that occupies my thinking as I move through this season, and continue to search for meaning and purpose, understanding and acceptance in my own journey – the realization that the ultimate choice is uniquely ours to make.  Because, finally, there isn’t “science” to follow, there isn’t “proof” of any of the essential elements of most faiths – only tradition.  The “evidence”, many say, is in our lives and how we live it – but we each have a choice to make in what we believe, because regardless of what you ultimately conclude, it finally depends upon a leap of faith.   Even a decision that there is no God, no eternity, no life beyond that which ends when our last breath is drawn – is a choice, a kind of faith.  It is yours alone, mine alone – we can be in congregations, we can repeat chants and practice rituals, we can join together in song but when the time comes – we are all faced with choices that are ours alone.  We may be in a choir, but our songs are all solos, in time. 

Max Von Sydow as Christ in “The Greatest Story Ever Told” – Later, he became “The Exorcist”

My own understanding has much room to grow, as does my heart.  I take comfort from what I believe, even though I have no proof – and I respect that others see it very differently.  I don’t have the same need I did, when young, for everyone to agree with me, to prove that I am right – that I have the truth, and you don’t.  I can share in your joy that you have found some degree of peace, hopefully, in finding your way through whatever you believe – knowing none of us is completely right, and no one in history ever has been.  This morning, as I woke up somewhat before my husband, I came upstairs to find him watching the 60’s “Greatest Story Ever Told” version of the life of Christ on TCM.  Having seen it as a teen in our little local theater, I remembered being moved by the reverence and craft that went into it as a traditional narrative of the life of Jesus, and the events of Easter – complete with the “Hallelujah Chorus” and Max Von Sydow appearing in the clouds.  Like any story, it is not complete – just one version.  But another movie comes to mind – less well known, but also powerful.   “Resurrection” with Ellen Burstyn from 1980 isn’t shown much, wasn’t a hit – but it deals with the same questions we all face, or ignore. Is there a God? Is there life after death? What is the truth?  If you get a chance to see it, I recommend it –  the protagonist, having lived a life that defied the traditions and expectations of her community, ends the film by, in her own unique way, showing love, grace and mercy to a child in need.  But – there is a final scene you will never see.  Years ago, in an obscure defunct film magazine called Cinefantastique, in a profile on the film and its creation, there were pictures shared of a deleted ending; I wish I could find it online but have not.  Alone, the camera follows her into a room filled with the symbols and signs of so many ways of expressing faith; of seeking truth; of knowing that which is eternal, but indefinable.  She has reached a place of peace.  

“Resurrection” (1980) with Ellen Burstyn – the conclusion of her character’s journey of discovering faith

None of us will ever be able to know all the different paths that generations have taken to find their way to some kind of peace.  For me, my Christian upbringing will always echo in everyday life – I am grateful to have it, but also learning that other wisdom remains awaiting discovery. So I am reminded of the story of the apostle, Paul – a traditionally religiously trained “enforcer” of his faith, who moved from being an oppressor of those who followed the radical teachings of the “messiah” Jesus, contradicting tradition – to questioning his understanding, and becoming open to a new way of thinking, a new pathway of faith and understanding.  In writing to one of the emerging bodies of believers, he talks about their conflicts and disagreements – one of which was about what is ultimately the purpose of spiritual maturity.  In one letter, he says the following about our inability to ever completely have the answers we seek to all these questions, at least while we walk this earth.  In part, he shares about how what little we know today will one day be replaced by a greater understanding – (1 Corinthians 13) –   

Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

My wish for all of us is that we can find a place of peace, however incomplete – if not together, in acceptance; if not in unity, in tolerance – with faith; with hope, and ultimately, with love.  We may not know the way, or even recognize we have lost our way now and then, but … keep on going, and as always … thanks for stopping by!   

Until next time, friends ….