We’re Looking at Christmas!

loopedopen460eNo surprise here, I have been following Valerie Harper’s cancer journey since she announced it last March.  I remember hearing her tell the story of receiving the dire diagnosis and the effect it had on her, her husband and daughter.  At the time, it reminded me of something my family experienced about the same time one year earlier.  I’ve talked about my Dad’s cancer here and here, but hearing Valerie’s story last March reminded me of the day that my mother left a message saying, “We just got out of the doctor’s office.  Go ahead and give us a call when you get a chance.”  I knew my parents had gone to the oncologist and I knew that if the news had been remotely good, she would have indicated as much on the voicemail.  I called her when I was in my car, driving home, along Olympic.  She asked if I was driving, I said I was.  She asked if I wanted to pull over, I told her I was fine.  She told me that the doctor told them that Dad had cancer in his jaw and they were going to perform surgery to remove the jaw.  It was not a surprising call, my Dad had been bothered by a persistant sore in his mouth for a few months, but it was not a diagnosis any of us were prepared for.  And soon, we went into the saddest, longest, weirdest summer of our lives.  My Dad had his surgery and after 2 surgeries, 5 weeks of hospitilazation, 3 or 4 staff infections, countless cards, flowers and prayers, he was back home.  And then, with each week that passed, there seemed to be more hope that he would get better.

Valerie Harper was on the Today show today, the link to the article and video is here.  The cameras were with her when she visited her doctor recently and he told her that her cancer was “pretty close to a remission”.  It’s heartwarming to watch, but what tugged at me the most is toward the end when Valerie and her husband Tony Cacciotti are talking to the cameras and he says, “Going from having three months to live, or less; we’re into our sixth month, and now there’s even hope beyond right now we’re looking at….” and his wife finishes his sentence with, “we’re looking at Christmas.”

Of course it made me think of my parents.  After such a precarious summer, it was not until October that I thought maybe my Dad would be with us to celebrate Christmas.  And as he continued to heal, I looked forward to the holiday in a way, I had not appreciated it in a long time.  When he and my Mom picked me up at the Tulsa airport at Christmas, I could not believe how healthy he looked.  And I felt very lucky, all three of us did.

I realize that not everyone celebrates Christmas, but whoever you are, there are the yearly events, often holidays, that mark the passage of time.  I realize that none of us have the promise of another Thanksgiving or birthday or Christmas or New Year’s, but it’s nice to have something to look forward to. It’s all about hope.

So, today, I celebrate Valerie Harper’s good news. I know how much it must mean to her family and it reminded me of a time when the bad news turned into better news and we, too, said to ourselves, “We’re looking at Christmas!”

This Is Not Who We Are

R79603I’d much rather spend my time here writing about people or things that I’m fond of, like Jane Fonda or Amy Grant or chocolate cake from Magnolia Bakery, but something in the news yesterday caught my eye, and I want to address it.  On a recent episode of the 700 Club, a woman was dismayed that she drove a nursing home resident to church and that no one had told her that he had AIDS.  Pat Robertson told her that among other things, in San Francisco, gay people wear rings that when one shakes hands with them, the ring cuts the person they are shaking hands with.  I’ve included the link to Huffington Post here and in the video, I’m actually more disturbed by the way his co-host sits there listening and nodding with him.  It’s one thing for a man who might possibly have dementia to pontificate about gay people or Alzheimer’s or feminism, but this woman, his longtime co-host Terry Meeuwsen has the chance to steer the show towards something compassionate and sane and she does not do it.

As long as I can remember, I have loved pageants. I’ve always loved pretty girls. When I came out to my parents, the first thing my Dad said to me was, “But you always liked girls so much.” Anyway, watching the Miss America pageant every year was something I always looked forward to. I even remember the year Terry Meeuwsen won Miss America. And as a child, my parents had a Terry Meeuwsen album that I loved to play a lot. I’d look at the back cover, where there was a picture of her wearing her crown and think, she’s so beautiful. I’ve included a link to her pageant winning performance of her singing the gospel song, He Touched Me. While I must say, I think it’s a showy performance, one does get the sense that this is a young girl who truly loved the Lord who wanted to use her voice to glorify Him. With her talent and beauty and charisma, it’s no surprise that she won the competition.

Obviously, I am a person interested in people’s journeys. How did this young woman turn into someone who reigns next to Pat Robertson everyday on the dubiously named Christian Broadcasting Network? I don’t think that Pat Robertson glorifies the Lord, by word or by deed. I don’t think it’s great, but I’m used to it when he says that gays have special rings to inflict AIDS, or men with Alzheimer’s-suffering wives should divorce them so they can move on, or that the Joplin tornado wouldn’t have happened if more people had prayed, or that there should be a vomit button on Facebook about gays, or that, well, the list goes on.
If you are a conservative Christian and you are reading this, you probably think that gay people don’t see you as a lesser Pat Robertson. But, the thing is, the AIDS ring story was reported on every gay news website that I know of. I read the comments on several of those sites and I think a lot of people see Pat Robertson as a spokesman for the conservative Christian community.

What I want to say is this, I think Christians need to stand up and say, “This is not who we are.” I think the entire world needs to hear it. Joel Osteen is probably one of the most revered evangelists in the entire world. I’m like Cher, there are some things he says that I do not agree with, but there are things that he says that inspire or convict or comfort me. I see him as a man who loves the Lord who is trying to glorify Him. But I did a search for Joel Osteen and Pat Robertson, hoping to find an article or an interview somewhere where he’s says, “Pat Robertson is not preaching the Gospel, this is not who we are.” I found nothing. (If you reading this and have a link proving otherwise to share, I would love to see or read it.)

So my message today is simple: it applies to Terry Meeuwsen and Joel Osteen, but also to people whose lives I’m truly invested in, my Christian friends. I just challenge you to say, “This is not who we are.” You might think your non-Christian friends, gay or otherwise, already know it, but what does it hurt to remind them again of your love?

Dear Daisy

4453551996_b1d8ffa745_oIt’s rare for me to spend more than a few hours on a blog post, but I have been working on and off on this one since Thursday.  Up until, just now, I didn’t feel that I was saying what I wanted to say, in the way I wanted to say it.

On Thursday, by chance, I saw that one of the kids that had been in my youth group when I was a youth minister many years ago had unfriended me on Facebook.  She popped into my head and I thought, hmmm, I wonder what Daisy is up to? When I got to her FB page, I saw the little +1 Add Friend rectangle on her profile.  I was a little shocked.  Not surprisingly, it is not my first FB unfriending, but it’s the one that stung the most.

Thursday, not long after discovering the information, I started working on a blog, also entitled, Dear Daisy.  That blog was an actual letter to her which sortof snarkily started off, “I guess you will probably never read this because most people who find my blog, find it through Facebook and ever since you unfriended me, I don’t now how you would even know to look for it.”  Like I said, I’ve revisited that original blog every day, tweaking it, but ultimately, it never felt right enough to publish.

I will tell you a little about Daisy.  She is a singer.  I remember not long after I was hired to be the youth minister at her church, one of the elderly ladies was telling me bits of information about all of the congregation’s young people.  I remember Velda Blagg saying, “And Daisy!  Daisy has the voice of an angel.”  And she did.  When Daisy sang a special in church, usually an Amy Grant song, it was something the entire congregation looked forward to hearing.  Most who have heard her sing would say that she has a God-given gift.

Another thing about Daisy that I think about fairly often is when her mother died suddenly while I was her youth minister.  Her mother was a force: magnetic, beautiful, sharp-witted, opinionated.  Also, she was a teacher.  Her death was one of the first lessons in how fragile life is and how everything can change permanently in an instant.  I marvelled at the poise with which Daisy handled her loss.  She was just weeks from going away to her freshman year of college, yet the Daisy I remember continued to lend support to her father and three younger brothers.  In college, she studied music, because she wanted to glorify God with her music.

We have not had a lot of contact since the time that I was her youth minister.  Even before FB entered all of our lives, she did know that I was gay.  I know that she is still very religious, but I’ve never known her to post anything anti-gay on FB.  Our FB messages were usually about light things, like dreaming of meeting up in New York to go see Broadway musicals together.

At one point in the last few days, I thought I knew why she unfriended me.  Since I’ve started this blog, I talk about a lot of different things. Granted, every word I write, it’s with the cognizance that my mother will probably read it, but I would give my blog a PG-13 rating.  And I talk a lot, A LOT, about being gay.  I wonder if it might be painful for Daisy to see how different I am from the man who was her minister, her pastor, at a very formative time in her life.  If I was a man who once made her love Jesus more, what am I now?

I thought about Daisy and the rest of the youth group quite a bit all weekend.  Something about the action, unlocked some memories that I hadn’t thought about in 20 years, sweet memories.   Yesterday, I posted a blog about a young voice teacher, roughly Daisy’s age, who got to sing on stage with Kristin Chenoweth at the Hollywood Bowl this weekend.  I included a link to her account on BroadwayWorld.com where at the end, she talked about walking to her car after the concert with her dad and him reminding her that he prayed 11 years ago that she would be able to sing with Kristin Chenoweth.  That touching moment made me think of the beaming pride that Daisy’s dad always had for her.  He was a stoic guy, but whenever Daisy sang, whether it be at church or concerts or pageants, he always shed more than a few tears.  He was and is the kind of guy who would pray for his daughter to sing with Kristin Chenoweth, or maybe Amy Grant.

Anyway, I am not angry that Daisy unfriended me.  I do hope that if she did not hear about Sarah Horn from me, that she heard about Sarah Horn from someone.  Those magical musical moments that I talked about yesterday, are something Daisy’s knows a lot about.  So, Daisy, if you ever read this, and I hope that someday you will, know that, Facebook friend or not, I will always love you.  

For Good

300x300xkc.jpg.pagespeed.ic.KMhWl8swMzThere is a video going viral today of a voice teacher named Sarah Horn who was plucked from the audience of the Hollywood Bowl last night to sing a song from Wicked with Kristin Chenoweth.  The video is electric and I’ve included the link to her account of the experience on BroadwayWorld.com right here.  

In the interview, she talks about how she could feel the entire audience rooting for her, that she was doing what they all dreamed of doing, singing on stage with Kristin Chenoweth.  I don’t think Sarah Horn’s life will ever be the same again.  It’s been changed, for good. (Get it?)

There are moments that happen at live shows, whether it be plays or concerts or even comedy shows, where the moment is so magical, everyone who bears witness to it, whether on stage, or in the audience, they feel like they’ve been active in a rare, indelible experience.  As far as I know, the person who posted the YouTube video did not even know Sarah Horn and you can hear her gasps, her excitement, her thrill.

Even me, sitting at my computer, a little hungover, a little depressed about my job, fretting about that audition last week that I thought for sure I’d get a callback for, I did not know what I was in for when I clicked on the link to the video that my friend Michael posted to Facebook this morning.  I felt like I was in on the magic, too, like I was Sarah Horn on that stage singing in perfect harmony with Kristi Dawn from Broken Arrow, Oklahoma.  And it reminded me that this world is full of magic, we just don’t always know when or where we’re going to find it.

Carole

20130821-135526.jpgAs I type this, Eric and I are en route from our mini-vacation in Palm Springs. We had a lot of fun, and a good part or our vacation was spent by or in the swimming pool. The property where we stayed is a boutique hotel, with a gorgeous pool in the center courtyard. We stayed here a couple of years ago and loved it. One thing we noticed, how do I say this delicately, is that the crowd was a little more glamorous last time. Two years ago it was sun-kissed, tone bodied, bikini wearing Hollywood hills types of both sexes and all proclivities. This time, it was mostly pasty European 50-somethings. And that’s why Carole stood out to us all the more.

I’ll call her Carole because at first notice, she reminded me of Carole Radziwill, my favorite Real Housewife. The first time I saw my Carole she jumped into the pool, put on her goggles and swam a few lanky laps then ascended from the pool like the vision she was. Dark hair, a little longer than a bob, silky tan skin. I didn’t know if she was 25, 35 or 45. When she walked away, I watched her go back to her chaise which was tucked away in a more private area in the courtyard. She took out her MacBook and started typing or reading or working on something. 45 minutes later, she put down the MacBook, grabbed her goggles and headed back to the pool to repeat the cycle. I was transfixed, I pointed her out to Eric who said, “She’s Fabulous and that swimsuit is Malia Mills!” And so began our united fascination and shared conjecture with and about all things Carole. Eric thought she was French and I thought she lived in LA, but had only recently moved here from New York. Eric thought she’d once been a model, I thought she worked in fashion writing or was perhaps working on a novel. When we talked more about her over dinner on Monday night, Eric (slightly tipsy) vowed that he would talk to her the next day.

Tuesday morning, I was excited to see her sitting, reading the paper and drinking coffee at the restaurant bar where the hotel set out a coffee urn for the hotel guests. I grabbed my own coffee and my own paper and sat down a few stools down. I hoped that she’d initiate a conversation with me. “Strong coffee, isn’t it?” “Yes it is and hot, too!” Or perhaps, “I see Lee Daniels’ The Butler did well at the box office this weekend!” “Yes, I really want to see it.”
“Me, too.” “Yes, let’s all go see it this afternoon.” Well, that didn’t happen. We drank and read in silence, though for some reason, she did clear her throat several times. I held out hope that Eric would initiate a conversation when he joined us, but he didn’t. “I’ll talk to her this afternoon,” he told me when I quizzed him about his sheepishess.

As I lay out by the pool Tuesday afternoon, I wondered if maybe the Carole who existed may not be as interesting as the one I’d imagined. My Carole was by now a fashion editor, a novelist, getting over a break up and desperately missing her German Shepherd Max that she lost custody of in the break up. Her first novel sold “okay” but her publisher assured her that her new book, “In the Swim” was poised to make her the next Lauren Weisberger. Is she ready for the high profile life that awaits her? She’s been having trouble sleeping and she’s taken to watching episodes of Tosh.0 on her MacBook. “Is He Gay?” she asks herself as she slips into a fitful sleep. In her dreams, she is best friends with the effortlessly stylish 40-something gay couple that she’s seen at the pool.

My daydreams came to a crashing reality on Tuesday afternoon when Eric came back to the room. “She’s not French. She grew up in Rancho Mirage and her suit isn’t Malia Mills. She doesn’t even know who Malia Mills is.” He’d struck up a conversation by complimenting her suit. I asked if she seemed bookish, he said she did not.

This morning when Eric and I were eating breakfast, she walked by us. Eric said hi, she said hi. I’d hoped she’d stop so he could introduce me to her, but she kept walking.

I’ll probably never know Carole’s story, Eric did find out her name and he told me her name. It’s not Carole. I thought about telling you her name here, but I know that a lady like Carole likes to have a little mystery.

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What Susan Said

1072354In the summer of 1992, I worked at a summer camp in Maine. In the first few days of being at the camp, I fell into a friendship with another counselor I’ll call Steven. Steven and I became fast friends, both Midwestern, both religious, both bespectacled. Steven was 19 and I was 22.

That summer, there was a Rich Mullins song that I often listened to on my CD Walkman called What Susan Said. It starts off, “Two lonely-eyed boys in a pick-up truck
And they’re drivin’ through the rain and the heat
And their skin’s so sweaty they both get stuck
To the old black vinyl seats
And it’s Abbott and Costello meet Paul and Silas
It’s the two of us together and we’re puttin’ on the mileage…” I felt like Rich Mullins had written this song just for me and Steven. We’d borrow his friend’s pickup and we’d go for drives. One day off, we drove from Maine, through New Hampshire, into Vermont and back to camp, talking about the kind of things two people talk about when their friendship is new. Over the course of two weeks, I felt like he was the best friend I’d ever had. I was, at this point, ostensibly straight. We talked about girls and God and I talked a lot about how I’d been a youth minister, just less than a year before. But one night, when we were sitting on the roof of the main bunk house, I told him something that had burdened me. I told him that I thought I was gay. He was the third person I ever told. He told me that he’d kind of been wondering if maybe I might be. Earlier in the summer, he told me that he’d had a friend who was bisexual and the way I’d asked a lot of questions about that guy stuck in his mind. When he did not freak out over the first piece of information, I told him that I thought I was in love with him. He was very quick to tell me that he was straight, that I knew that he liked Claire (one of the other counselors). He also started to cry. He told me that he thought I just wanted to be his friend. I don’t remember exactly how the conversation played out, but at the end, I did think that we would remain friends. As it turned out, we never really talked at length again. He called his mother to tell her about it and she told him that I was one of those gays that preyed on young men. (Again, he was 19, I was 22.) For the rest of the summer, he kept his distance. If the Rich Mullins song had affected me one way before my confession to Steven, I clung to it that much more after our friendship was severed. I’d listen to the song as I lay in bed at night, hoping and praying that I would either not be gay or that Steven would love me.

As it came to pass, neither prayer came true. When camp ended, I moved back to New York and began the process of coming out to myself. Steven was the last straight I guy that I fell for.

Rich Mullins was a singer that I saw a lot of when I was growing up. He would be at week-long youth conferences I attended, so besides being on stage, I witnessed the way he interacted with others. Long before I heard What Susan Said, before he even wrote it, I thought that perhaps Rich and I had something in common. (I have no validation of my theory.)
I’ve attached a YouTube video of the song. I’d hoped to find a version of Rich singing it in concert instead of the generic video I’m posting. If you ever attended a Rich Mullins concert, you know he had a gift. He was funny and serious, humble and arrogant, simple and erudite. There is another line in the song about how love is found in the things we have given up more than in the things we kept. I often wondered and still wonder if Rich Mullins had a Steven in his life. Someone must have inspired such an intimate song.

Years have passed since that summer. Rich Mullins died in 1997 in a tragic car accident. Some would think it ironic that a Christian song would have played such a reflective part in my own coming out process. But when I hear the song, it takes me back to those days when I was on the precipice of my journey to become the person I am today. And Steven, I sometimes wonder what happened to him, but I hope that if I ever come into his mind, as the final words of “our” song say, I hope he’ll have the strength to just remember, I’m still his friend.

A Boy and His Dog

20130818-140207.jpgWhen I was ten years old, something happened on a family trip that changed the course of my entire life. Are you hooked yet? My uncle’s dog had recently given birth to puppies a few weeks before our visit and when we visited my uncle’s family, I got to play with the puppies. Of course, I begged my parents to keep one of them. Of course, they demurred initially and no surprise here, eventually they relented. While there are people who would say I always got my way when I was little, the truth is both my parents were as charmed by one of the pups as I was. When we left Colorado a few days later, we had an extra companion, the puppy who would come to be known as Buford Jake, B.J. for short. It’s a familiar story and a happy story. Buford Jake became this boy’s best friend.

Just yesterday, a friend of mine posted a picture of himself in his teens with what I assume was his childhood dog. It hit me, there’s just something special about a picture of a boy and his dog, so I composed an album. Some pics are of people I know, some are famous paintings or photographs, there’s even a little beefcake. My favorite, though, is the one of Eric and Millie that I took not long after we started dating. From the minute Millie met Eric, the dog who is not easily won over was easily won over. And now, with Ricky, we are four, two boys, two dogs: a family.