Thursday, December 07, 2006


If you lose hope, somehow you lose the vitality that keeps life moving; you lose that courage to be, that quality that helps you go on in spite of yourself.
– Martin Luther King

Well, four and a half months in, coming up on the first anniversary of my collapse, which itself marked the first anniversary of my last real job, and some things are beginning to settle down. I find I am quite able to cry; it still subsides after a while, but I no longer have the feeling that some part of me is standing anxiously at the faucet, quickly cranking it shut before the whole house falls down. Progress.

And yet recently, I feel like I am losing my grip on that "thing with feathers," losing the "courage to be," losing what helps me go on in spite of myself. So I just pray for enough strength to get through one day. And take it from there. Up, out, work, back. Lunch, some work again, and dinner by myself – probably the hardest part of the day for me. Sometimes the effort seems to be more than I can keep coming up with.

I know that I am not clinically depressed, however, by the enjoyment factor. I look out the window and marvel at how beautiful even my little desecrated corner of the planet is – we had our first snow storm the other day, just an inch or two, and nothing stayed, but for a while, the noise of the big road was damped and the commercial strip that lies so close disappeared behind a curtain of whirling flakes, fat and white and lazy on their way down. To stand in the kitchen, even racked with sobs, and look out at something like that, to be warm and look out into the indubitable cold – that is a wonderful thing.

And it's not even as though this corner of the planet is as beautiful as the piece I grew up in, taking its unbelievable beauty for grantedor granite, as the state itself might say. (I will never forget my first view of Bedford-Stuyvesant, or traveling through the endless row houses of Queens on my way into New York the first time, and realizing that some people grow up in depressing places...) But this town is still a place where snow falls, where people reach out to their neighbors [though I have not – nervous, I guess, about getting into a relationship too close to bear] – where trees still crown hillsides, with the occasional oversized toilet-brush of a cell-phone-tower masquerading as a "tree" – who really thinks that those bristled things are an improvement over an honest slender tower? Somebody must.

Well, as I have often said, what the hell do I know?

I have now been pressed into catering the board meetings of the little non-profit I work for. Now, don't get me wrong; there's nothing wrong with catering. But I can't shake the feeling that this is one little additional job description seals my fall, if not from grace, firmly and finally out of the middle class. [A seal I helped apply by actually making something myself when I thought the deli price was ridiculous...] But I get to pack the food up at the end of the meetings, and the other night I snagged a bowl of salad, and today I sat, enjoying my ill-gotten gains at my kitchen table, a book propped up in front of me, and coffee brewing in the background.

Salad does not age well, or "travel" well: all the little leaves of "baby lettuces" had wilted, and the avocado had acquired the color of the salad dressing, which if one looked too closely, was not entirely appetizing. But what ran through my mind as I munched my moribund greenery was: this is wonderful. Even decaying and dyeing, this salad is offering up a complete pleasure. It helped that I had stolen a children's book from one of my brother's children [the same ones I had been badgering over Thanksgiving, before lifting the book] and was enjoying it to the hilt.

Pure pleasure at every port. And fresh-brewed coffee on the way...

So when I am depressed, I know it's not some imbalance in my body chemistry that is rocking the boat, but the terrible imbalance into which I have thrown the lives of almost everyone I care about, all of whom are dealing with it in their own way. My mother, at 80, is doing best, I suppose, because she has a mother's subterranean assurance that her children, in the long run, can do no wrong; and my siblings are doing their best. They really are. Even the born-again Christians in the family have gone out of their way to make sure that I know they want to keep me among them – no small feat, and an act I really admire them for. So here's to humanity trumping ideologies of every stripe, religious or otherwise...

No, when I am depressed, I know that it is because I have wagered everything I knew and loved on the off chance that my being completely open would create a new world in which I could live in a way that I never had: completely free of what anybody else thought. Not trying to accommodate my parents, my wife, my children, my gurus... and what I find is that the road to that freedom is paved with all the broken glass and glowing coal that marked my way to the decision point itself, all those months ago. The road is no less wearisome, and the assurance of responsibility is no less hard to bear, for being taken on in freedom. The difference is simply

the freedom itself.

So, when I despair of every finding someone to love me even half as much as those on whom I have turned my back [from their easily defensible point of view], I do so not because the Black Dog is biting, although I know his mark well by now, but because Reality has assumed his form: my life is too new to have a reassuring shape. It is small and weak and tender, and what it lacks above all is the element of tender care that makes a human animal a human being. At fifty-four, I am suddenly an infant again as well as a teen-ager, and the sensations are far from pleasant much of the time.

And when I despair because my new life as a gay man puts me among people who have defined themselves as other than I was, and other than I still am, in part, I know that there is a reason. I am different; not in any way "better," but certainly different – even if I were at heart entirely the same, my life experience is so profoundly different that it sometimes is difficult to maintain contact.

Which is not to say that I have not met with unbelievable openness and kindness from the founders and carriers of the local gay "scene," that club founded as an alternative to bar life which has now outlasted all the city's bars... I have. And still they extend the invitations, and offer the hugs, which have become a bigger part of my emotional life than I like to admit – not that I don't think they are
ipso facto a wonderful thing, I do, it's just how awful it is that that is all I have to live on, at the moment.

No wonder that people, who have always been able to read my emotions in my face, read "need" and make assumptions. No wonder that I struggle to find a friend who can be called at night and talked to, just to keep some semblance of balance when the abyss opens so wide so close to my feet – and why don't I have more friends on the West Coast, whom I could call and pour out my heart to when around here all the sensible people are n bed? No wonder that people tend to back off once they get close enough to see the bottomless pit of hunger for affection that confronts them – who wants to try to fill a bottomless pit?

Well, it boils down to this, at the moment:

You get up.
You get out of bed.

You brush your teeth and wash your face – and take your meds.

And you go into work and try to do what needs to be done.

And sometimes you sneak off to the internet and post stuff instead of doing the second job that you have budgeted for the afternoon. Because the snow is falling, and the day was so beautiful as it slid into darkness, and because the documents for that second job make my eyes tear up and blur and go rolling around in my head after an hour or two...

And sometimes you just want to tell people:

It's OK. It's no bed of roses, but you, too, can set yourself free, whether you leave home or decide to stay. The cost is immense, either way, and there is no point in trying to deny it. There is no guarantee of anything but freedom.

But freedom alone, freedom alone, is really all that it's about. The freedom of the children of God.

Pecca forte, sed in Christe fide fortius – "sin boldly, but trust in Christ more boldly," said Luther. I am sure that I am not what he had in mind, any more than St. Augustine would have approved my take on his ama et fac quod vis – "love, and do what you like." But their word is good enough for me, whether or not they want to share it with me...

Pray for Mr. Bigg and all those who sigh in sorrow, walking "through the valley of the shadow of death," for Myrle and Boots and all widows and widowers, for Mary, Ben, Tory, Sara and all orphans, and for all those who would sit in judgement on us, as we would sit in judgement on them: let us all find some kind of peace together this side of the grave.

Hang in there.
I intend to try.

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