It’s a Mean World

bette-midler-8-25-11There is a video that’s travelling around Facebook and other social networking sites right now of Bette Midler talking on the phone to a young cancer patient named Anna Greenberg as she sits in her hospital bed with loved ones gathered round her.  The 8 minute video ends with Bette singing an emotional, vulnerable version of Wind Beneath My Wings.  I’ve thought about the video a lot in the days since I first watched it.  There is a moment in the video that I’ve most wrestled with.  At one point, Bette tells Anna, “It’s a mean world, a really mean world and I think the idea that people are kind and they enhance the world, their life enhancing, it’s so important.”  I think that Ms. Midler was talking about how cruel it is that people suffer from deadly cancers, but I think she was also referring to the unkindnesses that occur in this world.  

Just last week, I wrote a blog post about something unkind that I did as well as something unkind that was done to me.  Both parties involved were culpable.  I think about the things I write about here on this blog and I think the theme I’m most obsessed with, particularly at this point in my life, is the way we vacillate between kindness and cruelty.  It’s a theme that’s amplified in my work environment, but it’s also always everywhere I turn.  On Facebook, I see the nicest people say the most hateful things about our president.  I have neighbors that greet me kindly on the sidewalk that seemingly don’t know how to stop at a stop sign when they are driving in their cars.  

The fact that Bette Midler took time out of her day, especially during a very busy time in her life, speaks volumes as to how big her heart is.  I don’t think she did it as a publicity stunt, I actually think she had a connection to this young girl, saw something of herself or perhaps her daughter, and it made her want to do what she could to lift Anna’s spirits.  I could be wrong about this, but I do believe Bette’s gestures, Bette’s involvement, made Anna’s exit from this world a little bit easier.  At least, I hope so.

The internet is littered with stories of unkind acts committed by celebrities, Bette Midler is no different.  Google Bette Midler bitch and you’ll have reading material for hours.  I don’t think all the stories or true, but I suppose some are.  I’ve only had two interactions with Bette Midler.  The first was not face to face: I attended one of her concerts in Oakland over 15 years ago.  It was the most amazing concert I’ve ever attended (Sorry, Amy Grant!) and the entire audience went crazy, laughing at every thing she said, crying when she sang The Rose, riveted by every word and movement.  And the funny this was, she kept telling us what an ungrateful audience we were, that we didn’t seem to be enjoying ourselves or appreciating her enough.  We 4,000 gay guys and 10 straight women looked at each other incredulously and thought, HOW COULD WE LOVE HER ANYMORE?  I’ve thought about that night so often.  Here was one of the wealthiest, most talented, most revered performers in the world pleading with an audience, “Love me. No, that’s not enough, love me a little more.”  

My other interaction, I can’t actually talk about here, but I will say it was face to face and I would not say that she was kind to me.  For a while after the interaction, I felt a little sad when her name came up in a conversation or she was interviewed on television.  I had loved her so much for so long and my thoughts reverted to the memory of our interaction, where I felt like she didn’t really like me very much or take me in as a fellow human being.  When I listen to The Rose or From A Distance or Hello in There, I feel like she is singing to me, just to sensitive, easily crestfallen Ray Barnhart.  It’s so personal and poetic and beautiful and it’s a gift.

There are any number of people that I know that could tell you stories about their interactions with me.  There are folks who would tell you how sweet I am and folks who would tell you I am cruel.  And the people who really know me would tell you I am both.  We are all both. I actually think I started this blog to “work out” some of the themes that play out in my life, to try to make sense of them.  Yes, Ms. Midler, this is a mean world, a mean, mean world.  But it’s also a beautiful world and you taking the time to sing to your friend Anna Greenberg one of her favorite songs is an indelible, magical example of this world’s beauty.

Summer Camp Friend

photo-26My friend Eboni left LA last week, moving back to New York with a promise to return to LA as soon as possible. I am one of many Angelenos who hope that she will be back sooner, rather than later. She moved here in February, in part, to take an acting class, that’s where we met. With a little help from me, she got a job where I work and as it turned out, she moved into my neighborhood. We became fast friends. And there was something about the intensity and brevity of our time together that made me think of several Summer Camp friends that I only saw in the summers, and to this day, they are among my favorite people.

Thanks to Facebook, a few of these people are still in my life. My friend Melinda, who was the second girl I ever kissed, btw, is now a missionary in Africa. Her sister Michelle is a published writer who wrote a book about her years working for a carnival in Tales from the MIdway. There’s also Dawn, who reminded me of Michelle Perry, the prettiest girl in the class of ’83 in my high school. At camp, I would follow Dawn around camp like a puppy dog and do anything to make her laugh. All it takes for me to trip down memory lane is to hear the word haven and instantly, I’m a 16 year old at Hidden Haven Christian Camp. It was the awakening of so much who I am or was to become. In my hometown, I was made fun of a lot, I held back from doing things because I didn’t want to be ridiculed, but at camp, I sang solos and wrote skits and “testified.” It’s where I learned that I liked being in front of people. I developed crushes on my fellow campers, boys and girls, and it was more than a little confusing at the time. In the boys dorms, I’d have a friend that we would talk into the night, so proud of ourselves that we could chat about so many things until 3 or 4 o’clock in the morning. In my world at home, I did not feel interesting, but at camp, when I spoke, people listened to me. It’s the first place I heard an Amy Grant song. And every Friday, after we said our goodbyes, my Mom would take me home and I’d take a long, hot shower, then tumble into bed for an afternoon nap. As I drifted in and out of lucid dreams my heart would still be electrified by the events and people of the week.

Anyway, seeing Eboni leave last week, it brought back those memories of camp. We had such a fun time getting to know each other, working together, sharing a class together, taking walks in the neighborhood. If it sounds like I’m boasting when I say I introduced her to some of LA’s best Happy Hours like this and this and this, well, then I have to own my braggadocio! Every day at work before she left, I’d sing Michael W. Smith’s Friends to her. I have a hope that Eboni will move back to LA and our friendship will resume and even grow, but we never know what life holds. She and I may never live in the same city again. Still, I’m grateful and electrified by the time we spent together talking mai-tai’s and Tennessee Williams and baked goods and Alfre Woodard. And regardless of geography, just like Michael W. Smith says, there are some friendships that are forever.

A Few Words With Amy Grant

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A Few Words With Amy Grant

From the moment I heard Lorrie Mullins sing “My Father’s Eyes” at Hidden Haven Church Camp, I loved Amy Grant. My first concert was Amy Grant’s “Age to Age” tour in Tulsa, Oklahoma. My fourth (second and third were The Imperials and Michael W. Smith/Petra, respectively) concert was Amy Grant’s “Unguarded” tour at Sandstone in Kansas City, where I made my best friend Missy mad by making out with a girl from Topeka that I met. One of my signature songs that I used to always sing at churches was “Arms of Love.” Amy Grant was a VERY big part of my youth, and I still love her as an adult. If it had been up to me, Three Wishes would still be on television. This interview (linked above) has been touted as Amy’s first interview with the gay press. It’s an interesting read, whether you are gay or Christian or a gay Christian, or even if you are the kind of person who says there is no such thing as a gay Christian. I’m not going to dissect the interview here, I just wanted to share it.