Digging at the roots

Photo by Jeremy Bishop on Pexels.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As attributed to David Bowie

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

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

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

Thanks for visiting … until next time!

Old toys and older boys

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

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

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

The dusty box with childhood treasures, buried but not forgotten

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beyond Pride on a Sunday stroll

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Finding fit – the most important muscle is between your ears

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Losing my license, after 40 years

Time is a funny thing.  We measure it carefully, we use our devices to map out every minute; yet when we look back, it is more slippery, evasive – our memories are like kites in the wind, colors flashing, sounds emerging and then fading, forgotten faces and melodies.  My 64th birthday was just last week, and I was happy to hear from people in almost every chapter in my life, so far – a remarkable kaleidoscope.  I know that I am very fortunate, in some ways – most ways – to have been able to choose to stop working more than 2 years ago, when my peers are still trying to figure out when they will retire.  But the unexpected in life is like an imp, relishing its unpredictability, laughing at our plans for everything to work out “just so”.  

Still, most people – at least in our culture – see this time of life as one to step away from the “daily grind” and finally “enjoy life”.  How much better it is to try, at least, to see every day as an opportunity to not only experience joy – but to create it for others; to give meaning, and hope, to those we encounter. I have found and continue to discover new meaning in life now that my days of paychecks are long behind me.  But it’s odd, and to be honest, perturbing to share that I often still dream of work – various jobs, and people, mingling from my past in a kind of alternative universe where they all pop in and out of meetings.  I often awake and come to a kind of relief and realization that – no, I don’t work anymore; I don’t have a deadline.  I don’t have to drive anywhere today, or solve that budget problem, or fill that position. 

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

But today, March 31 as I write, marks a change of another sort.  An end to a journey that started a very long time ago, when I would visit the career center – a glorified name for a classroom with a library and some microfilm readers – at my local high school, taking aptitude tests and awaiting computer reports by mail to analyze my responses.  Those reports would tell me, somehow, where my future lay – what path would be fit for my skills and aptitudes.  I had excellent grades – it surprises me, now, that old classmates remember some tests and achievements which at the time seemed so important but which I forgot long ago; but I strove for those grades, I had nothing else to point to that gave me a sense of worth, or belonging.  And those tests told me I was fit for being a librarian, or a bookkeeper, or some sort of similar administrative role – not the kind of future a lonely, closeted boy would dream of in 70’s California. 

If you remember using these to program … what a change we have seen!

Still, I followed my career center’s advice – and decided my future was to pursue being a CPA.  I didn’t really even know what that meant – just that you had to take certain classes, and then join a “public accounting” firm.  A Certified, public, accountant – promising a guaranteed career path, financial stability, and more.  Those were gleaming dreams in the eyes of a kid who grew up in a one parent family, with no car, little money for clothes, and who had never been on an airplane.  I did well in college – naturally – good grades got me interviews, but my awkward discomfort with myself, much less other people, put me at the back of the line for the “national firms” – the “Big 8” back then – and I ultimately got a job with a firm in the majestically named “Inland Empire” to begin my professional life.  I took my first plane trip, to a training course – I remember sitting on the aircraft, half expecting the pilot to announce as we began our ascent – “Ok, everybody, here we goooooo” just like all the times the recording had played on Peter Pan’s flight at Disneyland.   I never would anticipate where my life would head from there. 

What many people thought accountants did … and for some, it was true!!

Back then, it took at least two years to become a CPA – two years of very specific experience, and I barely made it through the first year with my job intact, but I learned how to get my act together. I pushed – like I still do, when I have a goal – and then, after the two years, came the next hurdle – the CPA exam.  A large room, four tests over 3 days.  Many students took what were called “review courses” then – I couldn’t afford it, so I purchased books from some publisher back east for a few hundred dollars, and spent hours on the little desk in the bedroom of my childhood home, studying the past test questions and materials for hours.  Worrying, as I always did, that I might not pass; I might not be smart enough, not as smart as the rest.  Back then, it took a very long time to get results – you might pass some, or all, of the sections – but I cleared that hurdle. Shortly thereafter, I paid my “license fee” the state of California, and joined the professional associations, and was able to proudly add to my business card, those 3 letters – C.P.A.  

I actually did have to run tapes like this back in the 80’s!!! Ah, technology.

Computers were just beginning to emerge as business tools in 1980, when I graduated college; my own programming classes had utilized punch cards to submit to the computer lab, with a report to be picked up the following day on large computer paper with green stripes.  Fax machines were next, then cellular phones, and PC’s – my first home computer from Radio Shack/Tandy utilized a cassette tape for programming.  Now, these terms have themselves become antiquated – and in a way, so has my knowledge.  Public accounting was, in fact, an excellent career for job stability; even with my flaws and foibles, I was able to maintain my employment through more than a few periods of uncertainty and change.  In time, I even pursued an MBA, which I am glad to say did give me a better understanding of how the technical aspects of the work I provided, moving from public accounting into internal financial administration, could help the organizations I serve better achieve their goals. 

Yes, Bill Cosby sold us our first home computers! Maybe Will Smith can ask him for advice ….

Those 4 certificates were framed and displayed above my desk, proudly, through my last office job in 2017. Every two years, I would complete the required continuing education classes – sometimes at conferences, but often on my own – just enough to meet the state requirements, and pay the fees, and get that license renewal.  Even after I decided in 2019 to end my pursuit of employment, at just barely 61, to prioritize my new life with my husband and other pursuits – I filled out the renewal forms and paid the fee.  But the certificates stayed in the basement – until last week, when after another dream about work, I knew the time had come to close the chapter.  I was a little surprised, somehow, that the papers which I had been so delighted to see arrive in the mail after my efforts, long in their frames, were really just flimsy sheets.  This morning, they were picked up, joining all the other contents of the trash barrels at 4 am. 

Legally, from this point on, I cannot say I am a CPA.  Not that this is not a sad occasion – just a memorable one.  As I reflect on all the memories of all those jobs – calling an old friend from that era, who like me waited anxiously to learn if they had met the standard – I think not of all the financial reports that I wrote, or the presentations, as much as I do about the lives that I was able to somehow, in a small way, encourage.  The numbers were not as important as the decisions and choices they facilitated – and the health of the organizations that I toiled for, served the needs not only of their communities, but the individuals who worked alongside me in the teams, trying to get through their own daily grind.  I know how fortunate I have been – but I still remind myself – to have the ability to live a fairly measured life in retirement. free from that sense of uncertainty that there will be enough.   It is very different from the life of that young boy trying to choose what path to take, what road would lead to if not success, safety. 

Beyond that gratitude, I am struck by the realization that we all define ourselves so much by things like our job titles.  Yes, we are nurses or cops or clerks or dancers, bartenders and barbers, sales reps and janitors – yet, we are so much more.  When the time comes to walk away from that paycheck – we do not stop being significant.  In fact, this is a moment to give ourselves to see new opportunities – ones that we could not take up when we were grasping so tightly onto the horses whose reins we had already taken in hand.   We built well defined, comfortable boxes for ourselves – we look for labels, and present those to others;  we see models and try to look like them, because somehow they represent the pinnacle.  Whether in our careers, our relationships, our schools or our bodies of faith – we try to conform.  To meet expectations; to have that “seal of quality” that say, yes – we have made it! 

Photo by GEORGE DESIPRIS on Pexels.com

That label, at least – CPA – for me – is now history.  The career ended a long time ago; the dreams remain, and I doubt that getting rid of the certificate will end those.  But slowly, like many other “skins” of my life, I am shedding the walls that I gripped so closely to define me, and allowing myself the opportunity to, if not spread my wings, dip my toes into new pools, tenderly.  I am glad that my career gave me the opportunity to contribute to the well-being of so many organizations that do good in our world – in a small way.  I am grateful that for a very few lives, that I worked alongside, I was able to encourage and perhaps even inspire a few to believe in themselves even though that was difficult for me to embrace; I saw in them opportunity and gave them permission to chase it.  And I am moved that some from those many years remember me now, kindly.   Today, those desks belong to others and the computers I used are more than defunct, the financial reports shredded and forgotten; all that pressure and stress, just a dissipating smoke of memory. 

We are so, so much more than a single, limited perspective – even our own is less than complete. When we let go of not only trying to meet the expectation of others, but to free ourselves of the limitations and definitions that have been our own private islands – we can travel to new destinations.   New life can emerge – regardless of our age.  Now just for ourselves, but for those around us – we can start to push through the boxes and find a new world outside, filled with promise and uncertainty just like the ones we faced when we took off our high school robes and filed our diplomas. I am glad that life still offers a chance to me, and anyone facing once again the question of what purpose to make primary, what goal to pursue – a choice.  A chance.  Those doors are forever ahead of us, not just behind; each leading to adventures and discoveries we cannot imagine.  Onward, my friends – onward! 

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Until next time, friends … thanks for stopping by!!!

Not just another valentine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our Valentine’s cards to one another today.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

San Francisco, January, 2022.

Curating a gallery of your lifetime

To start our new year, my husband and I travelled across the continent to Florida, celebrating his 75th birthday. We had a wonderful time – and like all of our adventures in recent years, took a lot of pictures. Recently, I had sorted through my mac photo library for all the pictures that need “tagging” and organization; as I renew my documentation of piles of family photos and letters, documents and memories, it becomes even more critical to, well, not get so far behind. Easier said than done! It’s hard to press “delete” on that 5th picture of the trip to such and such; it’s even harder, for some reason, to put an old print in the trash (either after scanning, or after giving up on figuring out who and what is in that picture!)

As we wandered through two wonderful museums – the Ringling in Sarasota, and the Museum of the Arts and Crafts Movement in America in St. Petersburg – I admired the art of displaying, curating, and describing the works that have been preserved. When I started this blog, I had created a page (as opposed to a post – one of those things I had to learn) with a few pictures. Since the blog “premiered” almost two years ago, my library of images has been expanded – including those in posts here. And I was inspired to do a little bit of “urban renewal” on that gallery of my life, which you can find here …

In revising that page, I realized that the images themselves had no context, no description or setting to explain why they mattered enough to me to share with the thousands of strangers around the globe who might, one day, stumble in to my little blog – and hence, this post. So, without further ado – here are the images in that gallery, a little tour of sorts for you to amble through – those who know me, and those who do not.

My mother shortly before her 1954 marriage, and my father and brother welcome me home in 1958. Their lives were not easy – but they loved me with their best love, as they knew how. Just as I am learning, still. Even from them – although they have passed, learning about my family history – and it’s place in so many changes in our world and nation – has helped me find my path ahead.

For much of my adult life, my getaway, refuge and place of renewal was Disneyland. Even though I grew up less than an hour away, our financial resources didn’t allow for regular visits until I finished school and started working. I was lonely and isolated – the happiest place on earth became a second home. I loved the artistry, the music, and I met many creative giants. I felt less alone there for a while – but in time, I knew I had to make a choice. Here I am with my favorite character, Pinocchio – I wanted to be a “real boy” too! And, in 2006, at the inaugural half marathon weekend – I trained for 9 months just to finish the course (this is from the 5k run). I still love Disneyland – but mainly the one of my memories, rather than that which remains.

Coming out, later than most, in 2012 opened new doors in my life, and new frontiers. Here I am with the Gay Men’s Chorus of LA, “Indoor skydiving” with my family in Perris, CA, and on the glacier of Alaska. I began to travel, and to understand who I was, and who I could be others – being authentic and loving without shame.

But I never imagined I would become a “biker” – albeit only marginally. Getting my 2001 Centennial “Indian Chief” was a real step outside my comfort zone. But it brought me new friends, new confidence, along with a lot of bills! It was big, beautiful, loud – and unreliable. But I rode it to the Satyrs Motorcycle Club “Badger flat” run in 2012, to Vegas, in Long Beach Pride, and to that mecca of gay history – San Francisco. It was my faithful steed, carrying me to new adventures.

As I child, I found comforts in the stories of old – and in the teachings of my faith. Believe it or not, for most of my life we did not have a TV in my home growing up – but going to the movies, and escaping the reality that I could not then change, opened my eyes to new dreams. Two of my favorites, that still touch my heart after decades, in sense represent the same them – that there is always hope. Seeing George Bailey discover that his life had meaning even though his dreams were not fulfilled; and seeing a child who felt different and longed to belong could learn to choose and through that, have some dreams come true – these moments echo in my life daily.

This year, 2022, marks 10 years since I “came out” to family and friends – sometimes with tears; some, followed by goodbyes. More importantly, I came out to myself – discovering much that I had believed and been taught was not true. And the greatest miracle of all – that something unimaginable to me for virtually all of my life could happen – Love found me, and brought my husband into my life. We were married in 2018 surrounded by family and friends – present and absent – and we continue find new happiness together, sharing joy with others. Is there a greater gift in life? Yes, like a boat out of the blue, fate steps in and sees you through.

So, here we are at the last display area in my little gallery. From this picture of me, nearly 40 years ago – standing on the edge of the sea of Galilee, seeking answers; today, here in San Francisco; with my father a lifetime ago . Still exploring faith, history – still growing. Hopefully, still giving a little to others around me as I muddle through. Dare I say I am blessed? I am.

Good news, folks – there are no posters in the gift shop on the exit. But there is something I hope you can “take home” from this free tour. I encourage you – some slow afternoon, some rainy weekend, or tonight – perhaps with a family member – pull out a box, or a thumb drive. Look at the images – which bring life to your heart, a smile to your face? Which come alive when you see that moment again?

For most of the memories in your life – the stories of your joys and sorrows, the tales handed down from your family, the misty legends that are still in the shadows of your attic of recollections – and for all the images and scraps that you have stuck somewhere, in boxes or bags, or not even on paper but on that drive you never reference anymore – their shelf life ends with you. You and only you can take steps to share them with others, to transfer the custody of those questionable treasures – or to wipe them from history, never to be seen again. As I scan the stacks of photos I inherited that have no identification, and I see the faces and landscapes, the babies and the elderly looking back at me – their lives are literally in my hands. We don’t, as a culture, keep photo albums much anymore – we have videos and data files – and a time will come, my friend, when someone other than you will open that box, or that computer file, and say – I don’t want to bother with these. So as you see these moments from my life, I challenge you – take the time to do this yourself for those stacks. Make the time – for your loved ones, and for those who will not have memories of you or your grandparents. They are priceless, they are irreplaceable, and they have meaning. We are their archivists – they are the true family jewels.

That’s it for this visit, friends – hope you enjoyed, but more importantly, I hope you get a chance to not only revisit past joys – but create new ones, new images, new memories as our world reopens. Thanks for stopping by – see you soon!

PS – Special New year savings on subscriptions – free! Worth every penny!

The Island of Misfit Holiday Newsletters

Do kids watch old TV shows still?  “When I was a kid” (yes, I will go there – it’s the privilege of having survived so far), Christmas shows were few and therefore a major event on one of the 3 networks – and if you had a color tv, even more exciting.  The biggest of all was “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” – created by the unique artistry and vision of Rankin Bass stop motion animation.  Although it was not my favorite – (more on that later) – it was something to look forward to.   The song, of course, is fairly short – so the story was expanded with additional characters, and adventures – including the island of misfit toys, where the playthings no one wanted were abandoned and forgotten.  Very, very sad …. Like Disney, the storytellers behind those specials knew that tales that touched our heart were not filled solely with happy thoughts. 

What was wrong with the dolly? One theory – she had no nose? The debate rages on.

And, of course, not all 60’s homes – maybe none, in fact – were like the tv sitcoms filled with laughs year-round or shimmering with Christmas lights and goodies as the kiddos awaited Santa.  I am grateful for the efforts both my parents made to give us a holiday, in the midst of great challenges; I remember the delight of opening gifts to find unexpected (and hoped for from the Sears wishbook) treasures.  The only picture I think I have with my father’s parents is with a toddler aged NormL holding a styrofoam Santa figure, with my brother alongside.  And I think the earliest color picture of me is at the foot of a Christmas tree, in our then Vacaville California home, alongside my older brother and our new treasures.  I do not remember those moments – but I remember the feeling, the yearning, the hope that “Christmas is coming” brought to my heart, and the carols we sang in the church youth choir, until the big day. 

A very faded photo of my older brother, me in diapers, and our treasures – Christmas 1958

Christmas cards were a mainstay of life then – so many would come, and my Mom would keep seemingly all of them.  Some from friends and family I never knew – some with letters describing what was happening with their own families, kids in school – before technology of mass production enabled the use of the sometimes detested, mass produced holiday newsletter.  I am glad my Mom kept so many of those handwritten notes – I have been able to share them with the children of the authors, bringing memories alive again, like quiet lights from the fireplace of a long-forgotten winter.  I am also grateful to have some of the cards from my Mom to me – remnants not only of her beautiful handwriting, but her heartfelt love.  For a few years, our church youth group tried to raise funds by sending us door to door with gigantic volumes of elegant Christmas cards, that you could order with your name imprinted – I found it difficult to walk up to my neighbors doors, often strangers, knock and show the books, asking for an order – probably the earliest realization that I was not destined for a life in sales or public relations! 

With the broad availability of pcs, home printing and more, Hallmark and other card manufacturers started to lose business to new ways of sharing sentiments. Recently my husband and I enjoyed a classic holiday episode of “Everybody Loves Raymond” – from December 2001! “Season’s greetings” finds exquisite, bitter humor in the family receiving a relative’s holiday newsletter and responding with a boastful one of their own.  We laughed a lot – and I thought about it as I feel the clock ticking on our own communications for Christmas and the holidays.  I am happy to say that we still send cards – receiving fewer each year, but that’s ok – and that we have friends who walk all kinds of paths, so some are about Christmas, some about the holidays, and some are just year-end wishes.  Time constraints seem to get tighter every year – even in retirement – so I suggested that this year we get the cards out right after Thanksgiving, without a newsletter, then follow up with an email which awaits my attention this week, with a little over 3 weeks until Christmas day.  I reached out to my friends who observe, to varying degrees, Chanukah (which came early this year) directly; now my thoughts turn to what to include in a communication to our broad circle of family and friends, that many may only glance at briefly.   And time is running out ….. 

There have been years where I tried to be more creative, taking the rhythm and structure of a familiar holiday carol or song and changing the lyrics to reflect the events of the year behind; one year, I wrote a story that was essentially a follow up to “It’s a Wonderful Life” (my favorite movie), where the older angel and his protégé watched the shoppers in a snowy small town scurrying about their tasks on Christmas eve.  I cannot say what year I initially started the habit of writing – maybe 20 years ago, maybe more – and some years, like now, I resorted to email rather than print.  I imagine both are mostly passé now – we no longer receive many, and even the “family photo card” seems to be less common – many probably depend on Instagram, Facebook and other media for ease of use, immediacy or other reasons.   Yet – there have been years, whether printed or electronic, some who got my newsletter wrote back, saying they were touched, encourage, or somehow warmed by my sentiments – that feedback led me in a way to this blog, and writing to a world of strangers who might enjoy my words – including you. 

I try to avoid this kind of result – I really do!!!

The past few years, since our wedding in 2018, the newsletter became more of a cooperative effort – so I tend to not be as freeform in my approach.  My husband and I have talked about the events of the year that we want to include – nothing surprising there – and I will touch on the fact that he has a major birthday in a month that we look forward to celebrating.  There is much to be grateful for; but my heart wants to put something into that email that I find difficult to define.  Add to that the need to be respectful – rightly so – that not everyone in our lives thinks the same way about the holidays, or may even be in a place where they feel like celebrating – we have several friends that are facing immediate and severe health crises, others who have experienced loss and depression.  And it is somewhat egocentric to think that people we don’t see regularly, who were once a part of our circle of life but who are now less present in every sense, want to know about our lives and the events we enjoyed – or endured – the past year. 

Perhaps, in a way, 2021 has been for many of us like being stranded on the island of misfit toys – feeling alone, forgotten, unwanted.  Perhaps the news, the never-ending voices of panic and dissension, the latest shocking school attack or string of store break-ins, and the seemingly deepening sense that better days are too far off to see has just worn us down.  Thinking back to my church days, even into my adulthood, and the sermons and promises, the certainty and assurances that now seem even more phantom like than Dicken’s 3 Spirits of “A Christmas Carol” or Clarence of “It’s a Wonderful life” – I am not qualified, or even assured within myself, of what to turn to for answers.  Yet – it is a kind of faith to still look up, out, and believe that there is a greater hope – a more real, eternal and powerful source of love – that remains in spite of all the turmoil of this era, and this moment in my little spirit.  

I have set my goal, for this year’s email to family and friends, to not be one that belongs on the island of misfit newsletters – but to say something that reaches from my own heart, and outside of it, to our readers, in all their different paths of life.  But what do I have to offer? Sometimes I get a glimpse of what seems to be a truth, around the corner, just moving out of sight but still calling to me – keep looking, I am here.  Was that truth present in a manger?  Was it more, or less present, in any of the millions of lives and thousands of gatherings of dissimilar faiths, yearning, reaching, crying out for hope – for peace and reassurance?  Do we ignore our desire to somehow, if not grasp with finality, to approach to that sense of a sacred place that some long unused chamber of our being senses but cannot inhabit?  Those childhood wishes for Santa came from a deeper place that I think we all share. Whether the readers of whatever I end up writing have some faith, in something, or not – there is something we have in common, and that together we can celebrate as winter begins to deepen. 

Aaron, the “Little Drummer Boy” from the 1968 TV special, and his dancing animals

As I mentioned at the start, my own favorite childhood Christmas show was not Rudolph. I remember the first Charlie Brown Christmas clearly; I detested Frosty, although I cannot say why; and I loved the Andy Williams holiday shows with “Dancing bear” and the ultra large Williams family (along with the Lennon sisters!) in harmony, sweaters, and all smiles by the fireplace.  But the one that touched my heart was one that wasn’t entirely jolly, built on a foundation of less than happy family – also from Rankin Bass, the “Little Drummer Boy” as narrated by Greer Garson.  Even now, it makes my cry –a lonely orphan, his parents murdered and home burned, bitter at how the world treated him, abused by those who took advantage of him – seeking help, and finding a gathering of wanderers, shepherds, and animals in the night.  In 20 minutes or so, he finds a group of very dissimilar people kneeling in awe before a newborn, not understanding why – and he feels his own gift is not fit for a king, not good enough.  But he gives from his heart – and like all good childhood stories, reaches a happy ending.  The Vienna Boys Choir had a hit recording of the title song, still a standard – but the one I loved is less well remembered.  “One Star in the Night”.  It is quiet, reverent – and hopeful.  If there is nothing else that we can take from whatever holiday observance matters to each of us, surely hope is more precious than ever.  

But I feel a kinship to the little drummer boy, uncertain that I have a gift worth offering.  It took me a lot longer than that half hour show, but after a lifetime of beating myself (and others) up for not being perfect, good enough – I begin to see how much sometimes I am afraid to give my own offering of mere words, lacking in poetry or unique charm,  just to say that I love someone.  Because I have not been the model of love that I was taught I should be, I could be – no angel, no wise man, no holy being – and far from what was modeled as ideal within my little world in a time that now seems so long ago – I fear my heart’s attempt to just share my imperfect love, even though I don’t always call, or haven’t seen them in years, will seem like a lie. I have not lived out the love I feel; perhaps few among of has. I am a poor ambassador indeed. Yet I feel that greater love, outside of me, waiting for me to drink it in, and then let it flow on to others somehow still – and I am aware of it as being bigger than myself, or all of us.  The love that I feel is like a glow that exists outside the range of our vision but surrounds us, unseen but alive, and enduring beyond the moment, beyond the fears and frustrations, and well beyond the limits of seasons and holidays, rituals and the ancient rooted traditions that seem to take up so much energy and attention without our stopping to strip away the veneer to find the life underneath awaiting our discovery, perhaps, even where we are not looking.

Perhaps, giving what we have, simple as it may be, is the greatest gift to offer, in love

I will have to do some digging of my own to put into words something of what I feel to those who receive, and take the time to read, our short email with holiday wishes.  There are many ways of celebrating – and many who just need to know they are not alone, and to be there for them as best we can.  Sometimes, I think that for me, writing – this blog, the newsletter, a short note to a friend – is a form of prayer, of connecting with a larger hope.  Perhaps in our words, and actions,  we get beyond thinking we have “no gift to bring” the act of reaching out and saying we care, we miss you, we love you and we hope all good things for you matters in ways we cannot predict.  I will of course listen to my own favorite carols, and reflect on the teachings of my childhood, and the questions of my current years, and the mysteries in the gaps between that seem immeasurable, but there will be moments when what is now, is enough.  Whatever your own heart speaks, I hope you can listen and hear the sounds of hope, the quiet of peace, and the comfort of joy along your walk.  Thanks for sitting a while with me – I wish you, and those you love, a season of promises realized and dreams reborn – until next time. 

One Star in the night … singing silently …

You can hear the music if you listen with your heart.

One Star In The Night, Shown o’er Bethlehem,

Magic in the moment when that lonely star began its lovely song.

Angel’s lullabyOn that holy night, Sung unto a Savior who was born beneath its glow.

One Star In The Night, Rainbow in the dark,

One night to remember; that peaceful night the King of Kings was born.

“One Star in the Night”, music by Maury Laws, Lyrics by Jules Bass – from the 1968 Rankin Bass stop motion animated TV Special, “The little drummer boy”

My gift to you …. freely offered, and worth at least every penny! And – wishing you, and yours, blessings and joy in whatever celebrations you share, now and tomorrow.

A leather bar in Liberty’s shadow

This past August, we mustered our resolve and our masks to board a plane and cross the country from San Francisco to Philadelphia.  My husband was born in nearby Wilmington Delaware, and I was looking forward to finally meeting his brother and sister in law, and other family and friends. I was also very excited to be visiting the historic location of one of my favorite musicals, in which a number of men in wigs and stockings argued and danced vigorously and sometimes wittingly, railing against the injustice of those in power.   Nope, not “Hamilton”, but “1776”.   As a teen, it was the first “professional” touring musical my Dad and stepmother had taken me to see all the way in Los Angeles from Corona – and I had enjoyed the soundtrack many times. 

The trailer is awful, but the movie and music are wonderful!

But of course, it’s been 50 years since I first heard Adams, Jefferson and Franklin sing about liberty and courage, and much in our world has changed – as have I.  We were somewhat concerned initially about whether it was “safe” to go – interestingly, some of the greatest numbers of unmasked faces in public were to be seen in Wilmington, where the Biden’s are just “folk” like everyone else (well, to some).  Happily, we remained unaffected and enjoyed a wonderful trip, and as we stood in Independence Hall, and then in line to view the Liberty Bell, it had many memorable moments. 

Philadelphia too has changed much over the years, like all big cities – we took a bus tour, visited some museums, and since I had never been to the area, being a gay history buff as well as a history buff, we wandered into the area just a short stroll from where the Declaration of Independence was signed, known affectionately as the “gayborhood”.    We found a wonderful variety of eclectic shops, restaurants, homes along narrow cobbled streets – and I was delighted to pick up a few books at the nation’s oldest LGBTQ bookstore, where a few new volumes are dwarfed by several floors of older books on all kinds of subjects.   

But of all the gayborhood businesses we visited, the one that seemed the most filled with history – even though not my own – was a bar called the “Bike Stop”.   When I had taken up riding a motorcycle in my own early coming out years, I enjoyed going on rides with a gay biker club in Los Angeles, called the Satyrs (read about them here) – like many, they had formed in the years when the emerging communities formed in major metropolitan centers, offering those men who found their way to a new kind of life, and less of a sense of isolation, the opportunity for friendship, belonging, and support – and, in time, the basis of political influence, and impact beyond those areas that few predicted would ever come to pass.  

Yep, that’s me on my Indian Chief, Labor day weekend 2012 …. and yes it was loud!

The bars these men frequented, were the “infamous” leather bars, and not everyone visiting rode bikes – many just wanted sex.  Movies like “Cruising” and magazines reported a distorted view of that time and way of life – I was not part of those days but being closeted and far removed from anyone gay in my own circle, I was fascinated by the portrayals and pleasures it seemingly offered.  Now, having met men whose lives were intertwined with those events, I realize the gift that such bars and clubs offered to so many who had been rejected and left out, were deeper than the brief encounters portrayed then (and now) in more salacious publications and films.  They offered family to those that had none – to those who felt they did not belong anywhere else.  Although that history was not a part of my own – the feelings certainly were. 

Walking through this darkened bar, opened in 1982 (but with a history stretching much further back in time as shown in this excellent article), I was deeply moved.  I had known that loneliness for much of my life, and not found any sense of real community until I let myself accept those regions of my heart that others had encouraged me to crush.  Seeing the pictures of these men, relaxed, having fun, standing unashamed were more than moving to me, they were in a way, sacred.  I knew that many of these men probably, within a few years of the pictures on the wall, died of AIDS – and that others lived, and with friends and growing acceptance in other communities, worked hard to raise money for the care of those ailing, and the search for a cure. 

Various cases around the bar are barely visible – especially in the darkened corners – but the photos are still striking, fully of life and energy and joy.  The pins from various clubs and bike runs are framed;  the artwork that 30-40 years ago was cheap bar promotional material now sells for thousands of dollars in galleries, and the banners and awards that were bestowed upon those deigned representative of the aspirations and values of this niche community may no longer even be noticed by the current denizens.  Yes, bars have changed, and technology changes how like-minded people connect (or isolate); but they are also adapting to the changing populations of the city, and the mindsets and priorities of those who, different perhaps in what they seek on the outside, still long for belonging inside (click to read)

Another photo of the bar denizens in the dusty display cases – where are they now, I wonder?

I realize as a “maturing” white gay male, of my era – even though I did not take the same steps in life as the men in those photos, or many who are in my circle today – for some, serve as a bridge from that era to the future.  What I find fascinating is that no matter what the issue is, there are always going to be people who are “outsiders”, and always going to be others who label and exclude; it is to be expected, if not accepted.  And yet, within a short stroll from this building, where the numbers of men and women who congregate here, and neighboring businesses, are less dense than in the era of the cabinets filled with mementos – a very different group of men gathered and argued and debated and ultimately created a model for a society that could be more inclusive, and offer greater freedoms, in time.  It is far from a perfect union still, but it moves toward being more perfect – just as we do in our own growth. 

The August evening is settling in as we leave the Bike Shop, and return to our family’s home, soon to board a flight back to California.  The voices of the American Revolution, and the voices of the gay liberation front, and the voices of today, clamoring for change, inclusion, respect and justice, rise from the streets of Philadelphia, and our world.  I will remember the men in these photos, whose faces I never saw, but whose courage and resolve, and need, gave me a chance at a better life – and I realize I too have a responsibility to continue that pursuit of happiness for others. 

The National Aids Grove in Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, California

Although I had thought the prior paragraph was going to be the close for this post, about 4 months after my visit to Philadelphia, I find the forces of life and time that are impossible to predict remind me that December 1 was Worlds AIDS day 2021. Started in 1988, this annual commemoration of the ongoing efforts to prevent and treat AIDS, and to bring attention to the needs of those impacted by it in now 4 decades of international loss. It was the first world health day, and now, in a pandemic that again sweeps our globe, people are coming together against seemingly insurmountable hurdles, lifting one another up, just as the patrons of the Bike Stop, other bars in other cities, and an emerging community nationally and around the world built bridges. The National Aids Grove is a memorial, like so many others, to the losses and sacrifices and courage of uncounted thousands. Can we take inspiration from those who reached across their differences to offer hope? Can we set aside our expectations and our limits, our walls and our blinders – shedding the scales from our eyes – to offer love and encouragement even when we do not have answers or “fixes”? Perhaps the greater question should be – how can we not?

William Daniels – as John Adams – in 1776 – a dream for a better tomorrow – for all; we go on.

So, folks, we have reached the end of today’s journey … but more to come. See you around the corner – and remember ….

Hey, here’s a late Cyber Monday offer – heck, its good year round – if you want to stay apace with my wanderings. I love to hear from strangers who, for whatever reason, find their way here and find something that resonates. Hope you find joy today!

Looking for Lorenzo ….

Sometimes, our family history has loose ends – blind alleys, unsolved mysteries.  Perhaps you took advantage of the post Thanksgiving “Black Friday” sales which offer DNA tests to reveal our hidden secrets – or at least that appears to be the appeal for many.  An easy way to find out where we are from, and what our ancestors were like.  Sometimes, it is easy – but not always.

The “percentage match” we get from online sources gets rapidly smaller by generations

The “matches” that flood our email for tiny percentages of DNA connections are dependent on so many moving pieces – who submits a test, the “odds” of shared segments, and how each testing company samples from your own submissions.  The databases are constantly changing; the “ethnicity estimates” are only as good as the data that the company uses which can be misleading.  Think about it – even your “full” sibling – a brother or sister from the same two parents – will never have more than 50% shared DNA “markers”, much likely less – and with every generation, the percentage declines. 

When it comes to researching my own heritage, I was fortunate, in a way – my father had written a letter to my brother and I with his notes on various family members.   Dated April 16, 1965, shortly after my parent’s divorce, and during a period that he was facing many uncertainties, it offered some facts on his mother and father’s heritages, with scribbled notes and typos – but it was at least a jumping off point for my journey. Another page appears to be a request for further information from perhaps a distant family member; and, as I would learn in time, it was not entirely factual.  As you too may discover in digging into your ancestry, the “family lore” is often vague, rife with errors and misspellings, and incomplete or shaded by time. 

Because I grew up so isolated from most of my family – and because I was not in a home where there was a lot of visits from friends or neighbors – when I started to dig through boxes and found the diaries and letters, I felt like I was discovering family I never knew.  In time, my new “family” members became more real, with each new revelation, or old photo identified.  On my Mom’s side, there was a lot of documentation – less on my Dad’s.  I had known his parents only when very young – but now, as an adult, I found gaining an understanding of their lives to be very meaningful, and I wanted to learn more.  I sought out cousins, and using websites like Ancestry, found distant family on both sides around the world. 

Christmas time in the 60’s – with my paternal grandma Bela, daughter of Jim Grey (I’m with Santa!)

But one branch of the family remained a mystery – the parents of my paternal great grandmother.  My father’s great grandmother, Ramona Pereida had married my great grandfather – alternately referred to as James Grey, or Jim Grey, or James Gray in various documents; in fact, on her death certificate, even her husband misspelled her maiden name as “Perryda”.   They had met in southern Mexico when he was working on (no music, please) the railroad – he had been born James Gronso Jr., but changed his name when he left his parents (purportedly after fathering a child out of wedlock) to seek his fortune in the expanding west.  I had been able to find his family’s descendants – they were thrilled to learn what had happened to him, lost to time – but in Arizona territory, and Mexico itself, records of family were not as extensive in the late 1800’s, and I had little to go on. 

My father’s letter described Ramona’s parents briefly; Lorenzo, her father, “lived in Nogales; his father or grandfather came from Spain and was executed during the reign of Maximilian”.  Her mother was “Ligrada Corrella De Pierada”; they had “married in Hermosillo Mexico”, and supposedly had 13 children, practiced medicine, but “was not a doctor”.  Other “facts” about siblings and history were scant – and in time, I realized, erroneous.    But I was fascinated with the old pictures of Jim Grey on a desert landscape, and his wife and two older daughters, Dora and Bela.  I never was able to talk with my grandmother Bela about her knowledge; she passed when I was quite young. But, I am sure some if not all of the notes my Dad made were from her memory. 

The only photo I have of great grandma Ramona, and her daughters Dora and grandma Bela – c. 1894

Fortunately, in time – thank you Ancestry and the Internet – I found a Pereida relative (and the correct spelling!) and through him, a distant cousin – descendants of siblings of James’ wife, Ramona.  Like many Hispanic families, they had named children after parents – and so, there were records for a Lorenzo Pereida in Arizona – just not “mine”.  Together, we visited Nogales, and found the gravesite of his wife, Librada (not Ligrada) – or, “Liberty” – and other members, neglected in a long forgotten plot.  And, another cousin – descended from my grandmother’s sister Dora – had a video recording of the youngest sister, Aunt Monie – in which she made a startling claim that Lorenzo had come to San Francisco from not Spain, but Portugal; returned there, and then emigrated to Mexico where he met Librada and married her. 

The 3 adult daughters of James and Ramona – Dora, Bela and Monie

So many questions – where did this Lorenzo come from? Was he indeed somehow a practitioner of medicine, and did he cross the ocean multiple times?  Had he emigrated to San Francisco prior to the gold rush (I would love that, as it would make me eligible for some rather distinguished associations here!), and if so, why did he go back?  What if any was the family connection to Maximilian, Emperor of Mexico, killed in 1867?  My hope was that if I could find even more living descendants of Ramona’s supposedly dozen siblings, they could provide some answers.  And, yes, secretly, I harbored a hope that there would be a chest of rubies and gold that was being held for my share of the family (well, one must dream, sometimes!) 

As of today – I don’t have those answers.  The DNA tests that I purchased through 23 and me, Ancestry, Family Tree DNA and My Heritage sometimes provide “connections” that seem promising – I write, but there have been few responses and no real information.  I am glad I connected with the cousins that I did find online – we have shared what little we know.  I search the archives of the Newspapers.com website occasionally finding Pereida references, sometimes to a sibling, but mostly of dubious shared heritage;  there is evidence to suggest that the family name has closer ties to Portugal than Spain, but I have found no contacts there as of today. 

There were two “finds” in the past year, courtesy of the indexing and online references provided by the Latter Day Saints FamilySearch.org website.  It is free to all; and because their faith tenets emphasize the importance of tracking down family, they devote many resources to indexing and sharing records from around the world.   Being “trapped” – oops, sheltering in place – gave me more time to poke around, and I was very excited to finally find a formal record naming Lorenzo Perieda and his wife Librada Corella de Pereida – from July 26, 1887.   The civil registry of Nogales recognized that James and his wife, Ramona, brought their 3 children (!) of varying ages to be formally recorded as legitimate offspring (I guess people weren’t in a big rush back then!) 

A friend in LA and his friend who was more familiar with “traditional” Spanish handwriting and language helped translate the wording – which revealed that by that point, Lorenzo was deceased.  And just last week my sister in law helped me “walk through” a marriage record of “Santiago” Grey and Librada Pereida, in Spanish of course, from the civil registration records of Sonora Mexico.  It states, among much “legalese” (yes, even back then) that they wed in her mother’s Guaymas home on February 6, 1882, with witnesses present – including Librada.  But there is no mention of Lorenzo.  From the Nogales gravesite and other records, we know that his wife, Librada, passed in 1908;  my father’s letter only mentioned that Lorenzo died in Ures, Mexico – whether his grave exists today, I do not know.  

I found this 1851 illustration of Ures, Mexico, by John Russell Bartlett from the “John Carter Brown” library online in Rhode Island …. this is the life my great grandparents would have known.

Why does any of this matter?  I cannot answer that, other than a sense in my heart.  Perhaps it is because I, as a childless man, know the probability that I will be forgotten in time; I would like to preserve the memories of Lorenzo, his family and more relatives for my nieces and nephews, and their children – hoping that they will find some value, as I have, in understanding what our forebears went through for us to have our lives here today.   I had this interest long before Pixar’s “Coco” used the Day of the Dead to urge us to “remember me” for our lost relatives; I can almost relive sitting in my mother’s bedroom, going through boxes, and the sense of wonder I had at the old pictures and letters, and the lives of those who came before.  I wanted so desperately to have a sense of belonging as a child; to have the family that my schoolmates talked about; perhaps in a sense I am still trying to rebuild what was lost.  And, maybe, in a way, I will save a little bit of me for those who remain after I am gone – just as those who wrote the letters, took the photos, and saved the family Bibles did from decades past. 

A few years back, with my Pereida cousin Rudy, when we visited Nogales in search of heritage

I would love, one day, to visit the point where Lorenzo began his own journey – to know why he made the life changing choice to board a ship and cross an ocean, perhaps more than once, and how he came to Hermosillo,  and where Librada came from, and her parents.  The DNA tests might one day provide, if not a connection, a clue or a confirmation – or it might just be luck.  But I do think I will stand there, and be in awe again at the mysteriously woven tapestry of my life – all our lives.  I hope my own digging inspires some of you to consider what you can do to preserve your stories, your ancestors, for the future generations; their voices speak to us, their wisdom and their sacrifices, their love and their hopes.  We may not seem them clearly – but they are worth remembering and honoring, and from that, carrying forward in our own lives.  I wish you well in your quests. 

If you haven’t seen Pixar’s Coco, it is well worth a visit …. and remembering ….

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