A celebration in song

Your author coming home from the hospital, held by my father, March 1958

It’s just about 65 years since I entered this world, and without my planning, but noted nevertheless, this happens to be my 65th post!  For some reason, this birthday is considered more significant than 57 or 66 or 82 – but all are cause for celebration and reflection. Perhaps a handful of what I’ve shared here the past three years has had an impact for a few readers along the way, but I’ve accepted that the process of writing my little reflections and observations is alas, primarily selfish. In sorting through the maze of my life, the daily frustrations, the questions that seem to elude answers with any sense of finality, I am looking to just find my way through.  My family history explorations remind me that to have made it to this time in my life is a gift many did not have any opportunity to enjoy; and I am aware, regardless of how much I want to avoid dwelling on it, that life is fragile and unpredictable, a delicate mist which might evaporate at any moment, without announcement or forethought.   But, this moment in time feels like it deserves a pause, if not to sum up “my story so far” like some Netflix miniseries, at least to glean some insight, feel a momentary glow, and acknowledge the awesome gifts that life offered me, and – to then again, push forward.   

We aren’t planning any big parties.  I have enjoyed doing that for other events – but it’s not where we want invest our time and resources at this stage; I don’t want to be exhausted!  I am looking forward to some special moments with my husband, and we have had a few recent opportunities to see loved ones and hear about their lives, their dreams; more lie ahead.  But I do want to let my heart speak to you who read these words, now or at some point ahead, even though our paths may only cross on this digital path through the sometimes confusing, seemingly random or chaotic events that face us as residents of this globe for a short time.  

And so – I’d like to sing for you. 

Fear not, I won’t subject you to actually hearing my voice, but I can still “sing” with the voice of my heart though my slow fingers tapping on these keys; very different from the black and white  keys of the upright piano my grandmother gifted my mother long before birth, these plastic keys are laid out like the heavy metal typewriter of my junior high classes in the 70s where we would tap out letters as the little metal stamps would slam the rolled paper through the ink ribbon.  In those long past days I sang in the school choir, and my church; later, decades later, I stood in public with hundreds of men singing in the gay chorus.  I treasure those moments as gifts. But today’s song selections will be solos.  

Music has always lifted my spirit.  I cannot pretend to have that wonderful gift of creating song; matching words and melody to let the colors of my soul rise into the light and burst like a shower of butterflies into the bright sky.  But my ears know when the truths others have put to music resonate in pulse with my own heartbeat; too many songs to remember, echoing in my memory, peeking out unexpectedly from years past then fading again like the stack of neglected old photos shoved into a drawer, too treasured to be lost but lacking the room in the gallery of my imagination to have them on permanent display. Perhaps we all have a never-ending playlist stored in dusty mental archives, and a part of us presses “random” to bring them to consciousness when we have those too rare quiet moments to really listen.  

“Maxence” as portrayed by Jacques Perrin in “Les Demoiselles de Rochefort

I made some time to listen in the silence and await whatever lessons might faintly be heard by my waiting ears. My program for you as I take this little stage consists of three songs that say perhaps more about my life, my heart, than any blog post I might ever create.  I cannot say exactly why these 3, out of all the intricate melodies that I have heard in six plus decades, speak to me above others at this moment – but somehow, they rise to the front of the line.  My first song was not even known to me until my music service “suggested” it a few months back, only to have it haunt me ever since. It’s not particularly famous; more than a bit wistful; it wasn’t originally written as a popular song, but as a film theme for a most unusual movie by French director Jacques Demy, after he had an “art house” success with “The Umbrellas of Cherboug”in 1964.  Composer Michel Legrand scored “The Young Girls of Rochefort” three years later, as a follow up of sorts.  In the original film melody, “Maxence’s song”, a sailor earnestly seeking the embodiment of his vision of beauty, but those lyrics are not the basis for this English translation, credited to Alan and Marilyn Bergman. The longing expressed in the original music and revised lyrics is most beautifully captured in a musical collaboration between Tony Bennet and jazz pianist Bill Evans from 1976. May I present – “You must believe in Spring”.   

When lonely feelings chill
The meadows of your mind
Just think if winter comes
Can spring be far behind?

Beneath the deepest snows
The secret of a rose
Is merely that it knows
You must believe in spring

Just as a tree is sure
Its leaves will reappear
It knows its emptiness
Is just a time of year

The frozen mountains dreams
Of April’s melting streams
How crystal clear it seems
You must believe in spring

You must believe in love
And trust it’s on its way
Just as a sleeping rose
Awaits the kiss of May

So in a world of snow
Of things that come and go
Where what you think you know
You can’t be certain of
You must believe in spring and love

“You Must Believe in Spring”, music by Michel Legrand, lyrics by Marilyn and Alan Bergman, 1967.

For my second number, I offer something a bit older, one of many hymns that used to be standard inclusions in church services.  I was raised in a small Methodist Christian congregation, but this particular hymn wasn’t one I remember from those days. I heard it later, a world ago seemingly in my 20’s, on an album produced in that time when Christian records became more commonplace after the evangelical movement portrayed in the current film, “Jesus Revolution”.   The attributed author of the hymn is a 19th century preacher, Frederick M. Lehman, whose work on it is best described in this blog post.  I draw your attention to the third and final stanza as that which speaks to me most deeply, and if you read the previously linked reference which is much more thoroughly descriptive than anything I might research, you will learn that portion actually originated from a form of Jewish poetry more than 1000 years ago! Like many spiritual practices commonplace in our time, was – adopted? Reappropriated? – by Lehman for his heartfelt song because it captured his own sense of truth. Here is “The Love of God” – 

The love of God is greater far
  Than tongue or pen can ever tell.
It goes beyond the highest star
  And reaches to the lowest hell.
The guilty pair, bowed down with care,
  God gave His Son to win;
His erring child He reconciled
  And pardoned from his sin. 

O love of God, how rich and pure!
  How measureless and strong!
It shall forevermore endure—
    The saints’ and angels’ song.

When hoary time shall pass away,
  And earthly thrones and kingdoms fall;
When men who here refuse to pray,
  On rocks and hills and mountains call;
God’s love, so sure, shall still endure,
  All measureless and strong;
Redeeming grace to Adam’s race—
  The saints’ and angels’ song.

Could we with ink the ocean fill,
  And were the skies of parchment made;
Were every stalk on earth a quill,
  And every man a scribe by trade;
To write the love of God above
  Would drain the ocean dry;
Nor could the scroll contain the whole,
  Though stretched from sky to sky.

“The Love Of God”, Frederick M. Lehman, 1917 (Final stanza derived from 11th century poetry by Jewish rabbi).

“Nor could the scroll contain the whole though stretched from sky to sky”

My third and final solo is probably the most familiar; I have often told friends and family is my favorite song.  Surprisingly, it too was written originally for a film now mostly forgotten – “The boy with green hair” in 1948.  Written by “eden ahbez”  (his chosen name was in lower case), who reputedly was an early “hippie lifestyle” practitioner, it became a huge hit for my favorite vocalist, Nat King Cole, and has been covered by countless artists; it more recently has been popularized as a featured song in Baz Luhrmann’s “Moulin Rouge” film and stage productions. May I present – “Nature boy” –

There was a boy
A very strange enchanted boy
They say he wandered very far
Very far
Over land and sea

A little shy
And sad of eye
But very wise was he

And then one day
One magic day he passed my way
And while we spoken of many things
Fools and kings
This he said to me

The greatest thing
You’ll ever learn
Is just to love
And be loved in return

“Nature Boy”, eden ahbez, 1947

Click here for more info on “Nature boy”,and eden ahbez

My musical “performance” has concluded, but we have time for an encore of sorts – my closing monologue. I do wonder if anyone out there has heard all 3 of these before; more likely, some or all are “new” to you, readers. They are all, of course, songs about love; in a way, most songs are ultimately about our shared quest for love.  “You Must believe in Spring” captures our deep yearning, our inner drive to believe that in the darkest, coldest time, a season of promise and hope lies ahead, and the possibility of love – a quest our souls share but pursue in different ways, perhaps only fleetingly fulfilled.  The closing stanza of “The Love of God” echoes a rabbi’s writings from centuries before, a person of faith looking beyond the known to the immense wonder of that which is beyond our comprehension, beyond measurement – a greater love that shatters boundaries of time, that asks us to simply let it be and to trust that it is, and that we are loved.  Finally, “Nature boy” is my heart’s anthem – an expression more of the person I wish I was, my aspiration, and yet acknowledge I will never fully become. In a way, my lifetime has taught me, we try our best yet fail, as we cannot fully embody what somehow our spirits sense. That yearning, woven into our inner spirits from the moment we enter this planet, drives our desires and seeds our dreams – to know that ideal, that ultimate source of all love. 

Last week, I sat with my older niece, sharing some of the family stories and mementos, photos and letters that I have inherited over the years.  I see some ironic humor in the observation that as a childless gay man, I have been entrusted with the memories and mementos of those who came before, who lived and loved long before my entry on the scene; but their words, their faces full of life, speak deeply to me.  These faded artifacts are priceless treasures – witnesses not only to history, but to what it is to live, to be human, to seek answers and hope.  Yet, my connection to them, and to others entering into my life for periods short and extended, is deep. I am far from alone in my wondering; humans have over many thousands of years and countless cultures and faiths tried to establish systems and practices to try to “make sense” of life.  Although my peculiar little path has been very different from theirs, I am a part of a tapestry whose whole will only be revealed in eternity. But I sense there is an artist there working through each of us; the hues in their pallet used to express the immeasurable expanse of love unlimited.  I am in awe when I catch a glimpse of that working in and hopefully through each of us. 

Whatever captures our attention and energy in life, brings us delight or promises some relief from the pain of disappointment and exclusion – in the rear-view mirror, what we hold dear is the moments where love carried our spirits to a place beyond. Our hearts long, we awaken, we forgive and struggle to push to a place of acceptance and peace.  However varied our upbringing and tradition, we are born with an awareness of the eternal, of something many call sacred or holy, but we each encounter it in different ways, and in this relatively short lifetime perhaps the greatest lesson we learn is indeed how to love and be loved in return. Love has surrounded and embraced each of us from the moment we emerged into light. Today I recognize my shortcomings in living out the love I sense and desire; I have many lessons ahead before I can claim to have any real wisdom to offer anyone , and I know I am graced to have my husband, family and friends continue to share love with me as I work to let that continue on through me.   I have come to believe we all have the same questions, the same hopes, ultimately, just in different forms, with mountains and valleys that are uniquely ours.  Perhaps we also must discover our own answers which reveal that greater love’s truths to us in each chapter of the journey called life.  

The author at the Sea of Galilee, age 25 in 1983 – where did 40 years go???

Thank you, friends, for taking time for my musical musings as I pause to look back and forward from this birthday pause. If I could create a song of exultation that could somehow capture the multicolored hues of emotions and memories, hopes and regrets that make of 6.5 decades of life so far, I would dance in the sunlight and say to the stars, I am thankful, I am blessed, the dark and the light, the bitter and sweet all blending into a waltz of forgiveness, acceptance and an emerging joy. I invite you to join in the dance, with those before and yet to come. This birthday anniversary, this moment of awareness as time continues to flow through me and all of us towards some amazing future we cannot see, is just a moment to catch my breath and be thankful, and humbled, for the amazing gifts I have received and those that await me – and all of us – every day, anew.  I’ll see you along the way.

Leaving the woods of if only

It’s the end of February, 2023 …. nearly 3 years after COVID restrictions were first introduced, starting this blog in isolation. Four years after I left the hospital after a serious health threat; the year prior to that, getting married, after moving to San Francisco; more than 10 years after “coming out” in my 50’s. It’s been a lot to absorb, but finally … it feels like life is a little more settled. I know there are others out there who went through a lot of change, challenges, loss, and growth – and perhaps you, like me, wonder where you are – who you are – and what lies ahead.

My blog concept was birthed months before I actually posted a word; it took isolation to get me off the dime. My perfectionist nature had grand ideals. I wanted to write life changing posts that inspire; I wanted to somehow make a difference. I gave my blog a theme – of my path towards authenticity. I thought – foolishly, probably – that sharing from my heart, being honest, being open and vulnerable – might somehow reach others who needed to hear something in my words. Now, looking back, I realize my vision was prideful; another layer of pretense, of trying to be, rather than just acknowledging that whatever lessons I have to offer may not really have much relevance or meaning for anyone else.

So, yes, I admit it – this is a selfish blog, where I sort through whatever is flowing in my life at the moment. Without question, writing, thinking, reflecting, are all core elements of my being – of how I express my deepest heart. If I am going to be truly honest here, I must admit, candidly, that I don’t have the answers to the questions that I spend hours thinking about, and sometimes write about; the questions seem to grow and the answers seem to fade farther away. Certainty is a luxury, or perhaps a fantasy; and life is easier when we cling to fables and make believe – but they come at too great a cost. The cost of ourselves, our real selves, hobbled and misshapen by circumstance and choice, hiding under a cloak of confidence and character, forgotten under the masks we learned to wear long before there were mandates thrust upon our world. Perhaps this moment marks a good time to drop all our masks, outer and inner.

Can you relate to the analogy of hiding under a mask, a costume, a persona – to belong, to be accepted or to fit in? I have no idea if others struggle with a sense that they have never fully let others know them; I have spent most of my life feeling different. When I was a kid, at the doctor’s and dentist’s office waiting rooms there would be magazines with something like “One of these is not like the others”, where an illustration would challenge you to find out what wasn’t in conformity with the rest; I didn’t see myself in those puzzles. I didn’t see myself in my family, or my school classes; nor in my church. In childhood, long before realizing that I was gay, and my struggles against that, there were always differences, and I never felt as if I belonged. As I grew, somewhere along the way, I accepted as a tenet that trying to be what others wanted me to be was the way to happiness. Now, in my years that most would call being an old man, I realize that couldn’t have been more wrong; and yet, although truth does bring freedom, my ship of life setting course on new directions finds itself battling waves of regret, battered and tossed into seas unknown – with no map, nor compass or stars to guide it. So many choices or factors that I wish had been – different. But those ways of thinking are obstacles to real authenticity.

Movies have always been like another home for me, a reality very different from my day to day life – fables, parables, portals to escape; even in those fictions, truth awaits discovery, inviting me to look deeper, learn, and to find my own way forward. I found myself in the stories of others, and wove their dreams into my own. You probably remember the early scene in 1939s Wizard of Oz where Dorothy, joined by the Scarecrow, make their way through a dark forest.  The trees come alive, and throw apples at them – then, they find the tin man and make their way onward.   Another memorable film forest is in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, where Frodo and friends make their way through a very dark and dangerous, seemingly endless tangle of trees, barely escaping (details elude my memory, those movies went on forever!!!) The musical “Into the woods” cleverly reframes childhood stories, weaving them into lessons about broken dreams and learning to set aside the land of pretend.

Forests can be scary places like that; but they can also be like chapels of nature, fingers reaching up into the sky to embrace the wind and feel the sun.  Recently, I realized I needed to find my way out of a private woods – one of a different nature.  Dark, nevertheless; seemingly  non navigable; pressing in around my soul on a daily basis for so long, I had forgotten what it was like to not be surrounded by the thick trees and hidden sky.  A forest in my inner life grown for decades, each new growth spurred on by regret.  I realized I had been wandering for quite some time in the forest of if only.  Each tree had its own seed – a point of regret, of circumstances sometimes chosen, sometime thrust upon me.   A wish that something would have been different – my family, my social skills, my choice of career, my emotions – and of course, the biggie of them all, my sexuality, beaten down and buried under shame. Living in the woods of if only was like a hypnotic charm – inviting me to stay in a place of regret, of hopes never achieved and possibilities that were never available to me. It would be easy to spend a lifetime there; easier than finding a way out, or digging up the courage to leave them behind for something unknown. That is the appeal of fantasy – the power to numb us to what we do not want to see, the truths we would do anything to avoid. The hard truths demand we pay a price for freedom.

We all have emptiness inside, spaces that we avoid – sometimes we try to fill them, but they are unsatisfiable – they simply are hollowed out, dark places in our souls. To pretend they don’t exist is risky – but to fantasize that something can make them disappear brings a different kind of danger.  There are so many ways to run from our inner void; some are more socially acceptable, like work or prestige, physical or financial achievements and honors – for those who cannot walk those paths, we may be drawn to numb the pain with alcohol, drugs, religion, or more desperate powers of hatred and bitterness. We become tangled in layers of false thinking, pointing at others and claiming it is they who are lost, to drown out the sense within our own hearts that we have lost our way – not knowing how to find the way forward. We cling to our cherished dreams because admitting they don’t work is too frightening to consider. But I am finding a way out of the tangled woods, the cold void, to a richer life.

Somehow, through the experiences of my recent years, COVID related and non, I have started to realize it is my own thinking that has slowly formed the walls of denial and blame that seemed to protect me but really were a self imposed prison. Yes, coming out was hard for me; yes, the experiences of “reparative therapy” and other forces within my family and culture damaged me in ways that may never be healed. But being honest about that aspect, that portion of me, was not the end of my road to growth, nor the beginning – just a milestone. I needed to start being more honest with myself, and that meant accepting who I was – imperfect in so many ways that I had spent a lifetime trying to hide, foolishly and ineffectively. In my journal, a year or two ago, I wrote the following –

                               I Tried to be ....  
                                             For my mother
                                                 my father
                                                 and all those around me in life ....
                                      What they wanted me to be .....
                                                   And - what I thought they wanted me to be. 

                                   I fell short. 

                               It was not their acceptance, their grace that I needed ..........

                                                                 It was mine. 

Living in the woods of if only is like a dream, from which one never awakens. I’ve always been amazed by how vivid my dreams can be; the whirling together of people from different chapters of my life, locations, jobs, eras mingled together like jumbles baskets of donations to goodwill, discarded and forgotten, now again called to mind by my unconscious, so real that upon waking it seemed like I was transferred from some alternate dimension, abruptly thrust back into my bed. My emerging awareness that wandering through these woods of wishing life had been different was like living in a dream – not one where life had really meaning or impact, but one that kept me “asleep” and “safe” from facing reality – a siren song whose safety and comfort lulled me from awaking and choosing a real life fraught with different dangers, and especially, the unknown.

What can I turn to for a way out of these woods of if only – the forest of regret, the fairyland of wishful thinking and the caverns of blame? There is one answer that has come forth to me – a light that will break the spell, awaken the sleeper, part the brambles and lead me to something better, if unknown. That light, that lamp, is gratitude. Thankfulness for the “NOW”, and acknowledgement that every element of my life to date – free of labels of good and evil, of right and wrong, of normal and perverse – has been a blessing. A gift, in which every part has it’s place. Is it possible to look at that which is ugly and say “thank you”? I believe it is not only possible – but necessary. For me, that requires a way to seek – for myself, and those in my life – forgiveness; and again, for me, that necessitates embracing a perspective of life larger than my intellect or concepts of truth and understanding can encompass or define.

There are undoubtedly many books and authors, philosophers and scribes, who have recognized what I am only beginning to see – but writing about it is key for me. Letting my thoughts breathe life outside the space between my ears and rumbling deep in my spirit by setting down letters and characters into space, little seeds of truth floating on a wind of hope, as I stumble out of the woods and into the sun and seek the next steps forward, whatever lies ahead. The most powerful tool I have is not of my own making, but an awareness and acceptance of my limitations, and a sense – a faith – that powers humankind has struggled to encapsulate through the centuries exists, defying our ability to limit it, but asking – inviting – each of us to just let it be in our lives, and to trust. Being grateful for my life, today, is part of that faith. That the answers may never be known to my mind, but still dwell in my soul.

No, I do not want to tear down the woods of if only; I just want to not dwell there any more. I am realizing there is no way to fill the void of regrets, and that many of the actions or ways that I sought to assuage the hunger of my spirit will never work, because it is simply a part of me. I am learning to let the woods, and the void, and the elements of my past which I cannot change – be part of a greater whole, a mosaic that is still being formed in my heart. I am also realizing that whatever about me is unlike others in my life – isn’t “wrong”. It just is. And it is in precisely those differences that I must live, because to deny them is to negate whatever possible meaning I might have in life. It is not in conforming to the expectations of others – to doing that which is necessary to belong – that any of us have something to contribute; it is in our differentness that we can, in our own unique, weird little lives, offer some light to others on our paths – and genuine love for them as they are, just as we are, today. Love that accepts, that encourages, that gives life – what we all seek.

I am perhaps not so much changing as dropping not being myself at the same time. Yes, at this old age, I am finding my way still, growing and becoming. Authentically weird, wrong, questioning and giving thanks in the silent space where answers cannot be known but peace still is awaiting to embrace me. So this blog is changing too. It will never, and cannot, be perfect; I cannot stop letting myself share here because I don’t have the best photos, or take months to edit my words into a TED talk, or wait until I know “the truth” – I need to write, and this is my place to do it. I am letting go of trying to be someone I am not and never was; I am setting aside the expectations of niches within my life as to who I should be, to just be who I am.

My choice is clear – grasp this opportunity to step beyond my comfort zone, and to explore that which calls me, to fumble and even “get it wrong”; or, to stay the course. I am choosing the road less travelled. I haven’t quite figured out what that means for “The New NormL”, but I can guarantee that I will be sharing more frequently, and perhaps a little more openly and plainly, as I continue to explore what it means to live life authentically. I can promise only that I plan to write more about subjects dear to my heart that may have little meaning for anyone else! Whether it is how I am doing on my fitness journey – reframing what that actually means, for me; my spiritual explorations and beliefs (without claiming to be “right”); and, adventures in exploring my city and sometimes areas beyond. I sense, though, that because I am looking at life a bit differently, working on my own thinking, making new choices about how to focus my own energy and spend my time, that my posts here will reflect to a greater degree an area of increased focus – my research into my heritage. Some call this genealogy, but it is more than that – much more. I am excited about sharing that here, not only for my family, but as a way of celebrating the wonder of life we all sometimes overlook, the miracles of everyday and the awe of grace.

Whatever you read here, if whoever looks at this occasionally continues to check in now and then – my only promise to you is that I am not going to try to be an impressive writer, or an inspiring observer of life, or some arbiter of deep truths. I am just going to be “me”, and to share that with you, and perhaps, in all that, encourage you to do the same. I still hope, in my little way, to awaken something withing You are welcome to stop by, set a while, and come back whenever you find your way around the corner to my little porch. Thanks for doing that, today.

Three entered eternity

Photo by Lisa Fotios on Pexels.com

When do you know that you are saying goodbye for the last time?  

Winter is a cold time here in San Francisco, even though we do not have the snow.  It was a little colder, and quieter, this year.  I’ve never been asked to write an obituary before; it wasn’t a surprise.  Neither was the late news about a distant friend; but the third was a shock.  People pass from this earth every day; perhaps we keep little pieces of them with us, in a way, but it’s just as likely that something leaves us when they are no longer present.  Loss has lessons for us if we can sit and listen.  Perhaps by writing I can glean something of meaning, something to share; someone to commemorate, to love them again beyond the boundary of their heartbeat. 

These were just 3 people from my life, some closer than others.  They didn’t know each other; 2 crossed paths once, briefly, at our wedding.  I guess in a way everyone just shifts in and out of our lives, most of them for moments, but some for years, even our lifetime. 

David, on the left, with his father and brother.

David.  If it were not for the blood we shared from our common heritage, he never would have been in my life; he was my Mom’s cousin.  She had babysat him in his infancy.  He had a full life; he knew joy, and loss.  Born while America was still struggling through the “Great Depression”, he saw his country go through tremendous challenge and change.  I didn’t really know him until well into my adult life, when he and his brother invited a broad swath of cousins and kin to a reunion in San Luis Obispo.  Most there were strangers to me, but I wanted to learn more about my heritage, those who came before me that I would never meet.  I got to know him better when I ultimately moved nearby after my mother’s death; his family would always welcome me to Thanksgiving gatherings, with happy voices and hungry appetites all jumbled into their home, laughing, hugging, eating – the kind of family events that were not a part of my own past.  When I finally found my way to slowly letting my family and friends know who I was – and I started discovering that at last breaking through shame and isolation – David and his family were my closest family support.  The years passed, and his beloved wife and son were gone within weeks of one another; after a lifetime in California, he and his daughter left for new dreams in Tennessee, and I visited them once last time as they prepared for their next chapter. He gave me a Stetson cowboy hat, but more than that, he gave me unlimited acceptance.  He gave the same to my husband, and I suspect he gave it to pretty much everyone who ever entered his life.  We knew his eventual trickle of health concerns would inevitably grow, surge, and carry him away; he endured through one final Christmas.  And now he is gone, and it seems hard to imagine a world where he isn’t still laughing and doing crosswords and ranting about news or sharing ribald stories.  His voice echoes in my soul; I don’t want to stop hearing it.

David at a 2015 family reunion

I believe there is a kind of shared spirit in our blood family, but that doesn’t make our bonds with “found family” any less meaningful.  One such, for me, was Jim.  I have written about Jim and his husband Nile before; when I finally reached out for help to escape the cave I had slowly burrowed into within my soul, they were among the first who I told I was gay.  Their lives had also been very different from my own; both had married and had children, and later left that life to be together, at high costs.  They lived in Palm Springs, the closest “community” to my rural inland California home; they were older.  They had supported my Dad’s cousin Bill in the final years of his life, living in the same small trailer park on limited income.  When Bill passed n 2006, I still was unable to accept myself, as a gay man, as me, as just a human being himself; that time came a few years after, and they welcomed me.   They had a replica of Michelangelo’s’ “David” outside their trailer festooned with beads. They were gay men of a different time, not long before mine but long enough and their paths different enough that only chance brought us together – but they loved me.  They loved me, just as Mr. Rogers used to say, into being me.  They didn’t try to tell me what was right for me; we didn’t see each other often, and Niles passed before I could introduce him to Bob, but every time I made it back to the desert, once or twice a year, I would stop in to see Jim; he was in his 80’s now, and parts weren’t working in him as  they used to.  On my last visit, I gave my number to a neighbor, knowing it might be the last time we talked; I sent a Christmas card.   A few weeks after Christmas, a note came in the mail, from his daughter, to let me know he too had left this earth; I had not met her, but Jim spoke of her often.  I searched for words to put into a card soon after, telling her how much the care and encouragement that Jim had offered meant to me; I am sure I was not the only one.  He cared for so many in his life.  I will remember him, and Nile, always. 

Jim and Nile with me in Palm Springs, 2010

Dave and Jim knew their time was coming to an end; we had talked about it.  But the last time I spoke with a local friend, who I had met through Bob here in SF, neither of us could have imagined it would be our final conversation.  He was younger than me, seemingly in great health and spirit, in a loving marriage and with an extensive family – and suddenly, he was gone.  His life could not have been more different from my own; Bob had known him for years, but we had never spent a lot of time talking one on one.  He was always surrounded by friends, and it was apparent at his memorial service that his family had loved him deeply and supported him after coming out in his teen years.  His life was not without difficulty or challenge by any means, but he used his intellect, and his heart, to care and to contribute to individuals in his circle and to his broader community; he did so much with his life to make a difference.  I never saw him be anything more than energetic, enthusiastic and positive. At the family memorial, listening to their stories, and seeing pictures, I wonder how and by whom it is that we are granted different gifts, and I question whether my own choices were somehow irreversible signs that I could have done more, I might have chosen a different path.   The silence in all their lives now that he is absent will not be soon replaced, if ever.  

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The same is true with every loss; every farewell.  Ultimately, whether expected or abrupt, we all eventually stand at the door and walk through to what lies beyond.   Sometimes we find hope picturing our loved ones reuniting, or whatever faith lies within our hearts provides some kind of assurance that they are in a better place.  I don’t want to admit my uncertainty, I wish I could avoid acknowledging that I don’t have absolute assurance about those or a million other questions – simplistic answers are like children’s candy, sweet but only offering temporary solace.  Instead, I look at their lives, I listen to their voices in my memory, their faces fading in and out of focus, moments of laughter and love, and I am grateful.  Grateful for their gift of presence in my life, their caring; and humbled to be reminded I have that responsibility, that power to touch others.  Perhaps that is why ghosts haunt us, to remind us we are still here to love one another, and that ultimately it is who and how we love that endures when we are gone, perhaps forgotten, lost to time.  

These 3 caring souls now join the chorus of witnesses whose pictures still look back at me, still alive in those moments, and perhaps eternity. 3 of countless thousands that day, just the 3 that I knew in different ways and different times.  Each of them touched me, and I have thought of them often in the days since I learned that their voices were now silenced; but I still hear them in my heart.   

The New NormL back when he rode …. see you around the bend, friends!

That which we pass on – at Christmas, and year round

Tis the time of year when ……. we sometimes find ourselves in the curious position of wondering what our friends and loved ones, neighbors and coworkers, celebrate in terms of holidays.  It can be a sensitive matter, which deserves our respect. We want to wish them well, to tell them that they matter to us; to share joy; but we recognize there are many ways of looking at life, and considering questions we all either face with uncertainty, or ignore.  Honoring the beliefs and perspectives of others is worthwhile; respecting that which others hold as their personal truths is to see them as whole people, like ourselves – not as “different”, not as “right” or “wrong”, but just as fellow travelers, seekers of understanding.  It’s far easier to just associate with people who see things the same way we do – why challenge our thinking? But you simply cannot escape – if indeed you wanted to – the awareness as we enter late fall and early winter, the seasonal practices that have deep meaning and significance to our own hearts may be very different than those important to others in our lives. Which brings me to Christmas; and to “traditions”.  (Cue Tevye).  

We all hold certain traditions, beliefs, and practices dear … perhaps too dear?

I love looking into word origins.  I have no idea why; my brain just seems to be wired to ask questions, day and night, even when I prefer to be asleep or trying to relax.  A number of decades ago, PBS had a series called “The Story of English”, which did an excellent job of illuminating how our common language had roots in many cultures, across continents and centuries.  That was before we had Google to answer these questions easily! I was surprised to learn the root of “Tradition” is a latin word, traditio, a variant of “trader”, created from two “root” words – “trans” for across and “dare” for give.  To give across; to deliver – to pass along. We pass along our traditions – and sometimes, the beliefs underlying them also, both evolving, some forgotten; some treasured by the next generation, and yet others discarded. 

Often, our practices, beliefs and traditions are formed by our family, perhaps even accepted without question. Christmas was in my childhood a way to escape from reality.  It’s funny to realize there is a whole generation or more that have no idea what the Sears Wish Book was; I cannot imagine how parents deal with their kid’s “lists” for Santa with all the information on the internet, social media, trends and tiktoks.  We just thumbed through the catalog to see record players and train sets, Mousetrap and Monopoly sets.  My church sunday school had fund raisers; I remember shyly carrying large books of sample Christmas cards glued into a binder to ask neighbors if they wanted to place an order for personalized greetings (no one could imagine electronic cards or facetime then, those were fantasies of another kind).  And of course, we had our phonograph records with carols – which I loved hearing, and singing; our tree, sometimes real, often artificial (once, even aluminum!); and the old ornaments pulled out of musty smelling boxes.  My mother kept ours in a large trunk in the garage and pulling it out was like the grand opening of the most “magical” time of the year. 

1965 Sears Catalog - Etsy

I realize much of what I hold dear about Christmas came from the repeated practice of those rituals with family, with church, and in time with friends.  But there were other factors; my childhood in a broken family, economically and socially differentiated from our neighbors and my peer group in school, planted seeds of isolation long before my awakening awareness of other differences widened those gaps.  My mother’s disability, and her own emotional issues, resulted in less extended family interactions; there were no holiday trips, and little group social activity outside church.  I remember so clearly being deeply ashamed as carolers, on a “mission” from another church, rang our doorbell and my mom instructing us to not answer because we could not give them any funds; and another Christmas where our freezing winter weather prompted that same congregation to gift us some firewood to heat our home.  We were poor, at least compared to those around us, and compared to the other families in my school – just another fact of life that said, “you do not belong”.  So, the shiny ornaments on the tree, the happy songs and the pretty packages, and the hopes that a magical jolly person would bring us gifts and joy were literally music to my ears.  Perhaps from a pied piper in a red suit. 

I still treasure my 60’s Santa Christmas book featuring the art of George Hinke.

Now I realize that the teachings of my Sunday school were a kind of wishful thinking too – not to say that my church teachers were not people of faith, or that the leaders were not themselves fully certain of the gospel that they preached.  I carried the candles into the service, I sang in the youth choir and was a part of the annual Nativity stage production.  Those services, the moments looking through the stained-glass window and past the poinsettias, the craft fairs where our neighbor would bring cookies and wonderful knit presents, were moments of hope that we certainly needed.  I still hold those many carols dear to my heart, and love hearing them now “on demand”.  Most of the ornaments of my childhood are gone, replaced by (I am embarrassed to admit) countless expensive “collectable” ornaments that began to accumulate in my own home once I began to observe Christmas on my own.  Even after moving from my former home where I would have multiple trees as I welcomed friends to celebrate, and my efforts to divest myself of the decorations and figurines, the angels, Santas and snowmen of years past still overpopulate our single artificial tree in our smaller home. They congregate in the basement, staring at me with glassy eyes and cheery smiles to ask “why am I not put out this year”?  Our new cat had something to do with that! 

And then there are the cards.  Yes, I still send Christmas cards, although fewer arrive annually; for a while, when I was still working, I would do a holiday newsletter via email, sometimes sharing a poem or a story but more often just chattering about events of the year.  Trying to find a way to connect with people that I didn’t see all that much, but who still were rattling about in my heart in some way, and I didn’t want to let go even though perhaps some of them had already.  I loved shopping for just the right cards, and I still enjoy selecting them carefully after Christmas for the following year – budgets are increasingly important in retirement!  Some of the cards reflect my own still closely held beliefs in the stories I was told in childhood of a promise fulfilled, a star shining, of gifts presented by strangers to a child in the cold.  Some are jollier, with smiling reindeer or friendly elves; still others are deliberately vague but still reflecting a wish for peace, joy, or hope in this special time of year.  But each carries love. 

One of our cards with a message of hope – Hallmark didn’t do these in the 60s!

Between my husband’s family and friends from around the country, and my own that have been added to the list (and sometimes subtracted) over the years, I addressed nearly 100 envelopes by hand the past few weeks.  I also treasure the cards that I kept over the years, selected annually and kept in a special box, the cards that had my mother’s handwriting or my father’s short but heartfelt comments; the beautiful cards from friends and family.  Some of those names have left my life; drifted away – or did I? I realize that some of the names that I am writing to this year would never know if that happened to me; they simply would no longer hear from me again, perhaps wondering why, but more likely not realizing it until something popped into their consciousness to remind them I used to be around. 

And then there are the names for those who I cannot write to again; I cannot call, or message, or wish happy birthday ever again.  Some were not unexpected, but still the shock of their absence over the past few months remains, even with us knowing their time was coming to an end.  Others were abrupt, and the hole left in the world by their absence remains open.  Life, and death, and sorrow and joy do not pause for seasons, or celebrations.  Perhaps Dickens realized this when he wrote of Scrooge visiting Christmas past, those memories that he had buried coming into the light again, dancing with Fezziwig and begging his sister to take him home to be with father.  The faces we see at the holiday dinner table glow in our memories, their voices echo in our hearts.  The message of the spirit of Christmas yet to come is clear – we may not see them, nor they us, next year or the year after that.  But the loss we feel is, in its own way, a gift as well. 

Here I am holding Santa close at a 60’s Christmas with my brother and grandparents – I barely remember them, but still have the styrofoam Santa!

I cling to that tradition, and think of all those faces, present and absent, as I write the addresses out, and try at least to write a little something on each; but my hands tire, and if I was honest with myself, I would ask why do I continue? Does what I send matter to these now absent dear ones, really?  But I press on because ultimately, I want to do even this small action to hold on to what we once shared, to say I remember, that I care still – that they mattered to me in the past, and even though now our lives are far from close, I still treasure them, that they live and were for a time a part of my life, and that celebrating those moments gives us a reminder that we need to create them anew, with the people in our lives today, every chance we can get.  Somehow, it feels as if I stop, I am letting go, and I do not want to lose them.

Hands down, my favorite movie, one that touches my heart every time.

Last year, as the COVID restrictions began to slowly be lifted, my husband and I enjoyed attending the SF Symphony more than once during the holiday season – their performance always lifts our spirit, but I particularly enjoy those with a chorus and vocalists.  One was a tribute to the holiday songs made popular by Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald, and the soloist paying tribute to Ella shared a song I had never heard before, but it had a special magic.  The melody isn’t brassy, or loud, or flashy – no heavenly choirs, no catchy “hooks”; more of a lullaby than an anthem.  In its own unique way, it serves as a reminder of deeper lessons.  If you click here, this should take you to a YouTube video of Ella performing “The Secret of Christmas”. Here are the lyrics …. but I hope you can enjoy the recording.

“THE SECRET OF CHRISTMAS” by Sammy Cahn/Jimmy Van Heusen

It’s not the glow you feel when snow appears
It’s not the Christmas card you’ve sent for years

Not the joyful sound when sleigh bells ring
Or the merry songs children sing

The little gift you send on Christmas day
Will not bring back the friend you’ve turned away

So may I suggest, the secret of Christmas it’s not the things you do
At Christmas time but the Christmas things you do all year through

Ella Fitzgerald's Christmas (Deluxe Edition) - Album by Ella Fitzgerald |  Spotify

These haunting lyrics and quiet melody remind us that love is not seasonal.

Soon we, and perhaps you, will be packing away the ornaments, perhaps buying cards for next year, and folding up the artificial tree to stuff into the dark corners of the basement.  For many, it’s on to New Year’s parties, parades, resolutions; for others, the whole holiday cycle has little personal meaning.  So, the question I am asking myself is amidst this flurry of activity – what is it about Christmas that is truly significant – that is worth not only celebrating, but sharing?  What is the tradition worth passing on to the next generation?  And what is important to let go? I cannot yet answer that for myself, but it is worth thinking about, seriously. That trunk my mother had for ornaments is long gone, but it is the storage in my heart that needs attention now – to make room for what really matters, and to say goodbye to that which does not. 

After those enticing aromas of favorite dishes are wafted away, and we return from the “season of magic” or whatever terms are used in commercials these days, to the “daily grind”, we have a moment of opportunity. A moment to stop and seek clarity before we rush head on into repeating mindlessly the habits, the traditions, and the mindsets of the past.   Can we dare to take a hard look at what we claim to believe, compare it to how we treat others, and see the chasm between our words and our actions? Will we have the courage to stand before whatever we grasp as representing something beyond our knowledge – or perhaps just even before our own mirror – and honestly admit there are changes we need to make, even if we honestly don’t know how? There is a danger in passing on traditions without questioning their meaning, or their value; there is a risk in blind insistence that our “truth”, whether political, moral, spiritual or otherwise, is absolute.  The risk, the danger is that in closing our eyes to the possible, we close our hearts to something greater, seemingly impossible – a love that is immune to all the traditions and “rules” we have buried it under; powerful enough to push beyond the limits we use to fence it in, and keep it away.  

The prayer of a desperate man, from “It’s a Wonderful Life”

For me – as a believer who struggles with reconciling what I know intellectually with what I sense and understand at a different level – Christmas is many things, and separating the wheat from the chaff can be difficult. The traditions of the past generations, of our own childhood or culture, can be like comfortable little boxes we never dare to open up and peek outside.  There is a world, many worlds perhaps, out there waiting for us to find the courage to dare to open those doors, and walk out, even into darkness, knowing there is more to be found.  If this moment in time brings you to a place where you find yourself wondering, is it worth the chance to be wrong, to make mistakes, in the hope that it is not too late to create a better life – I hope you can find a way to say, yes.  To retain that which has meaning from the familiar – and to embrace the sense of curiosity and hope to keep our minds and hearts open to that which is new, while honoring and sharing what has meaning from our past.  What many now accept as truth, in whatever faith, was at one time scandalously outrageous to almost everyone around them; throughout history, in all kinds of movements, those who seek had to leave behind traditions because they believed that they had encountered something more real, more powerful.  The amazing possible in our lives is still emerging.

Let us not allow traditions to be a prison, keeping us from sharing life and love more fully – like the chains that bound Marley, weighing us down while we cling to them in the mistaken belief that is the best we can do.  Whatever matters most to you – whatever you truly wish to pass on, whether to your children, your community, your loved ones – let that be your beacon in the dark. It may not be shared by all or even seen by all; you may even feel alone. I sometimes think we each have our own to follow, and it takes a lifetime to stumble our way along the path. But if you are truly lucky, your heart will not let those uncertainties keep you from daring to follow its light to a better way of life, one where that greater, enduring love awaits, under a brighter star, shining just beyond the horizon.  Can you feel it calling? Look for me along the way, and I will look for you.  

With my husband at the SF Symphony, December 2022 – discovering love daily.

Whatever traditions or practices have meaning for you, and others in your life, I hope they bring you a chance to share love and hope this season, and always! Wishing you all happiness and joy ahead in 2023!

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

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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!