Thursday, October 31, 2013

Hanging Out

I visited a friend earlier this week who's been in chronic care for about a year and a half, since a brain bleed left her dependent on others for just about everything. Much of last winter was pretty bleak. But on most visits, you could get at least a smile of recognition, the smile that made it easier to say, yes, that's her, the friend we love. But sometimes not much more than that; occasionally a few words, still available to her from a lifetime of habitually gracious kindness toward others.

Then there was the miracle of seeing her come out of the fog one day last spring, as we listened together to a CD she'd always loved. The further miracle of finding her, this fall, capable of full sentences, watching television with interest, drinking tea and eating a cookie without assistance. And on this last visit, engaging in a full conversation, with a few holes that the words she wanted just weren't there to fill.
It's an impossibly long shot that she'll improve enough to move into any sort of assisted living. There's not even any telling whether this dramatic improvement will last. Another cerebral hemorrhage--the last one was her third in ten years--could wipe it all out in an hour.
Hope isn't the point. What's ahead isn't the point. Last winter, a smile of recognition was the point. In the spring, the joy of listening to music together was the point.  This fall, sitting side by side watching excruciatingly bad reality TV was the point. This week, hearing her express her eagerness to leave for home, knowing she probably never will, and suggesting that next visit I should bring real food from outside, is the point. Next visit, letting go of all of it again may be the point.
That's the gift I receive from my friend. She helps me remember that what's fallen away isn't what creates love. What's fallen away doesn't jeopardize love. We're just hanging out together, in the shared experience of being in our bodies, being dependent on our bodies, experiencing an unpredictable fragility that's both the terror and the glory of being alive, and learning that somehow, love goes on snatching victory from the jaws of defeat.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Cities of Refuge

Sometimes, the idea that there's a place of safety, of full acceptance, of life lived freely and without constraint, is even more important than actually getting there.

That was something of the meaning of San Francisco in the lives of so many queer people in the 1970s and well beyond--even through, and in part even because of, the full horrors of the health crisis. You didn't even have to get to San Francisco. You just had to know it was there. Or if you did go, for a few days or weeks or months, it was the memory of men hand in hand on the street, of a dyke couple picnicing in Golden Gate Park with their kids, of a leather queen in harness and floral hat vamping bare-assed down Folsom, of a young man moving slowly and patiently beside the walker of a sick friend, steadying the IV pole, that sustained you when you were back in San Diego, or Tulsa, or Grand Rapids, or Greensboro. And when things went very badly there, as when Harvey Milk was shot, when the death toll from the AIDS epidemic began to rise exponentially, you knew that in some real sense it was your life on the line as well, a thousand miles away.
If you think we're beyond the point where we need cities of refuge, consider that Scott Jones was viciously attacked in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia this Saturday morning, left paralyzed from the waist down in critical condition, in what looks like a homophobic hate crime.
We can't all crowd into them. But life is tolerable because our hearts are turned toward them. Paradoxically, our longing for them is in fact probably better than the reality.  Jerusalem has functioned as such a place in the Jewish imagination for over 2500 years. Conditions on the ground are always more complicated. San Francisco is obscenely stratified by race and class; Jerusalem is riddled with the bigoted insanities of right-wing Orthodoxy and paranoid suppression of the city's multi-cultural heritage.
Easton Mountain north of Albany NY has come to figure as a city of refuge toward which my heart is turned. I spend only a week or two a year there, on average. But I know it's there. I know that it's land on which a community of queer men, and all those whom they welcome there, can breathe the air of real freedom to be and to become more fully themselves. I know that out beyond that small piece of land nestled in the upper Hudson Valley, networks of men have formed, committed to a more soulful living out of who they really are, committed to finding community together, committed to being, in some small way, the change in the world that they want to see.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

At the Foot of an Oaken Goddess

A Lingam Puja, honoring what is sacred in male sexuality and desire. We walked encircled in the embrace of the Mother, weaving our prayers into the fringe of a great city. New York, Riverside Park, September 29. The Hudson flashed diamonds of light toward us through the leaves, at the foot of an oak that took root when most of Manhattan was virgin forest.


Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Aspiration and its Fruits

Julian of Norwich wrote one of the most  insightful records of spiritual experience ever to come out of the Christian tradition. And then practically nobody read it for five hundred years.
You plant an oak tree, knowing that it may well survive you--in fact probably hoping that it will--but can't predict its fate, two centuries from now.
You open your hand to the homeless woman on the street and have no way of knowing whether the change you press into her palm will go to her next meal or her next fix.
You visit a loved one now deep in dementia. Do any of your words get through? What will stay with him from your visit ten minutes after you've gone?
Between the aspirations that drive us forward and the fulfillment we can't foresee, there's a gap where grace happens. It's what we can't steer, can't predict, can't even ask for or imagine,  that comes to us as gift.
What we consciously long for and believe we're working toward isn't the goal. Longing simply pulls us forward, blindfolded, walking in trust. It's what we never bargained on that calls forth gratitude.