Earlier in the week, I was struck with the word ‘passage’.
No big deal. Plenty of words pass by my imagination every day. So it wasn’t until a few days later before I started paying a little more attention to the word still bouncing around in my sub-conscious. The word followed me all week. Its dogged persistence told even me, there was a reason the word wasn’t leaving me alone. It had something to say. But what that was? I had not a clue.
OK. Passage. I’ve got a post to produce so where do I go with my new word companion? What is it trying to reveal?
At first, I thought the post would start with the obvious. Columbus wanted to find a passage to India. Lewis and Clark had their sights set on different coordinates, but their purpose of passage was similar. And like so much else in the English language, what passage may mean to one, is not the same for another. What scary movie in an old Irish castle would be the same without, you guessed it, a secret passage? But passages aren’t just about trade routes and sliding bookcases, they are all about the trip. Wildebeests do it every year. Irish immigrants booked passages on steam ships. What?
Today, it came to me. Maybe, just maybe, the idea wasn’t following me. Maybe what the lingering word clue wanted was for me, to be tracking it. Passages. Tables turned.
Plenty of cultures know about passages. Native Americans were no exception. For them, sending their young men out into the wilderness on vision quests was a rite of passage. Away from everything they knew, the questers learned things about themselves and the world in which they moved in ways no textbook could teach.
Back in 1985, I didn’t have any books telling me about the passage I was about to take as I came to grips with my insides not matching my outsides. I don’t wish anyone to cry for me or Argentina, but being gay in a fiercely evangelical bubble world was no bowl of cherries. In the years up to that point, I had consoled myself with the mantra my impulses were a phase. I was a good kid. They would pass. I prayed for the gay to go away. I never missed church. Oh, how I prayed. Looking back, I can see how I drove myself to incredible lengths to live as holy of a life as any Levite ever did in caring for the temple in Israel. In the meantime, Life continued flowing as I drifted.
I didn’t know how to stop the charade. So while I kept looking for an off ramp, I continued to lend my tacit participation. I got married, graduated college and began my divinity program at our seminary. We added to all the trappings of respectability, buying a house and having a child. I was so certain immersing myself in all these externals would somehow help me turn a corner. If only the magic were strong enough. Repeating after me, ‘Life was all very nice‘, but down deep, I knew it was not very good. The more I picked up speed on the ‘corporate church’ fast track, the more I knew it was all a lie. Nothing I’d thought would ‘fix‘ me was working. I was in serious trouble. Like a rafter who can hear Niagara Falls off in the distance, I knew a ‘moment of Truth’ was coming…something was going to have to give. And what if it was going to happen whether I paddled harder or not?
Back then, there were reparative therapy groups (like Exodus), but that involved a lot of scandal my family would never forgive me for. Divorce was out of the option. My father had made that abundantly clear. Other than resigning myself to live for the rest of my life in the ticking time bomb of a lie, every exit route was blocked. If I were to even breathe a word of my secret, everything and everyone I knew was on-the-line. Even then, I knew I only had one shot. There was no margin for error. Sensing trouble, my handlers were already ramping up their inquisition all around me. Secrets like mine were golden grapes on the gossip vine running through the church world I had called my own since infancy.
I was now 20-something with a beautiful baby boy I loved beyond all measure. I was also out of options on every other front. No secret passages, no maps, no one to talk to, no way to chart the course corrections I was going to have to make if I wanted to both, stay alive and not go insane. Tick Tock. River running.
The one thing I could do was keep a journal. At least if I wrote to myself, I’d have some frame of reference for where I’d been that day. Putting the words down on the page became my embassy. Maybe the journal would keep my feet on the ground and be enough to keep me from jumping. Maybe it would give someone something to read if I did.
It blows me away that I don’t have any childhood pictures, no grade school report cards, not much that would ever prove I’d even lived back then. But for all the miles covered since those dark days, I still have my journals.
My initial premise of what I’d write today about ‘passages’ suddenly snapped into focus and took on a whole new perspective.
I am not one to wear my orientation on my sleeve. Being gay is no more (or less) a part of me than my height or skin color. It does not, in and of itself, define me. I have no interest in sensationalizing how dangerous the collision was between my own determination to gain myself while my family engaged in every form of coercion and deceit, up to and including the threat of invoking the shunning.
To make a long story short, I made my way and for their part, the shunning was as complete and irrevocable as it was ever promised to be. It stays in force to this day even after the deaths of both my dad and more recently, my mom. But I digress.
In rational terms, it’s perfectly understandable why I can count on less than one-hand the times I’ve gone back and read my journals. They were there, my only witness to so much of the meltdown. And yet, for never reading them, no matter where we have lived or how long it’s been, I have always known exactly where the notebooks were; which book shelf they occupied.
Passage. Where is this simple and oh so persistent word leading me?
Home. Acknowledging an overwhelming urge that seemed to come out of nowhere, last night, I opened the first notebook to the first page and read:
January 19th, 1985 (Sat)
“‘Resolve to be thyself and know he who finds himself loses his misery’ – Matthew Arnold.
“It’s been a wild day. The house was listed on Friday and we showed it 3 times today…I can’t believe the house is sold. It holds a lot of dreams and sweat…I’ll miss it. I guess it’s the tangible symbol of the life I’ll be leaving. It also seemed to bring into sharp focus how fast things are going. All day I’ve felt like it was too fast. It’s like a chain reaction I’ve set in motion and am unable to stop. I don’t want to stop it – just the fact that I can’t scares me.”
As I read through the handwritten pages long into the night, I kept expecting to fall apart as I read. But I didn’t. As I relived the transcript, I suddenly understood just how far I had come. The role Love, Grace and forgiveness had come to play. I suddenly understood why those journal entries had been so important to keep close. Back then, those pages were my footprints of the trip I did not know, but knew was waiting. And now, even though the waves of time have washed my track away, the sand in the ink I wrote with still remembers me.
There were people that came across my path in those days that loved me like the Samaritan had the robbery victim he found lying beside the road. There were flashes of light as I earned a living, made new friends and made my path plain. Even if it meant I was going to be alone, God didn’t hate me. There was nothing to fix. I was already equipped. But I wasn’t alone and Love did find me. I forged a new family with people who accepted me for who I was and who loved me. It did get better. I have lived an incredible life already and I still have plenty of miles to go before I sleep.
In a recent interview, pop icon Madonna talked about how important it had been for her to learn how to let go. The jist of what she had to say was, ‘Let go of what you aren’t and the right things will find their ways into your now empty hands‘. My journey (thus far) confirms the same finding when it comes to the rite of passage.
Now, these many years later and for all the adventures I’ve had the privilege of making, I understand.
Being quiet for just a few moments each morning, I am newly reminded that sometimes, the lessons of passage come in the moments between chapters. If you are lucky, very, very lucky, it will be in those moments of quiet when you happen to be in exactly the right place, at the right time, to give someone else the help they need to make their passage…just like those few did for me so many years ago.
February 17th, 1985 (Sun)
“I love my apartment – a full pot of coffee, lamplight, good music and my books – all dear friends.
He found himself listening for something. It was the sound of the yearling for which he listened…He did not believe he should ever again love anything, man or woman, or his own child as he had loved the yearling. He would be lonely all his life…but a man took it for his share and went on.
In the beginning of his sleep, he cried out, “Flag!”.
It was not his own voice that called. It was a boy’s voice. Somewhere beyond the sinkhole, past the magnolia, under the live oaks, a boy and a yearling ran side by side, and were gone forever.”
– Margorie Kinnan Rawlings, from The Yearling
A toast to the little boy in me; may he run forever…run, not in fear or in pursuit, but in celebration. So it is said, pray that it shall be.”
James Joseph Gandolfini, Jr.
September 18, 1961 – June 19, 2013
(IMDB) — New Jersey-born James Gandolfini began acting in the New York theater. His Broadway debut was in the 1992 revival of A Streetcar Named Desire with Jessica Lange and Alec Baldwin. James’ breakthrough role was his portrayal of Virgil the hitman in Tony Scott’s True Romance (1993), but the role that brought him worldwide fame and accolades was as complex Mafia boss Tony Soprano in HBO’s smash hit series The Sopranos (1999).” Living in Greenwich Village in New York City, Mr. Gondofini died in Rome of a suspected heart attack.
In a charming interview while appearing on Inside The Actors Studio, James Lipton asked his famous question, “Finally Jim, if heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say to you at the pearly gates?”.
After thinking for a moment, Gandolfini responds, “Take over for a while, I’ll be right back.”
I think we’re in very capable hands.
Michael Mahon Hastings
January 28, 1980 – June 18, 2013
(Wikipedia) – “American journalist, writer and reporter for BuzzFeed. Hastings rose to prominence with his coverage of the Iraq War for Newsweek. After his fiancee died in Iraq, he wrote the memoir I Lost My Love in Baghdad: A Modern War Story (2008). His Rolling Stone profile of General Stanley McChrystal, commander of NATO’s International Security Assistance Force in the Afghanistan war, documented the widespread contempt of the general and his staff for civilian officials in the US government and resulted in the general’s resignation. Hastings died in a fiery high-speed automobile crash in June 2013 in Los Angeles, California.”
born Ottis Dewey Whitman
January 20, 1923 – June 19, 2013
“Slim Whitman, one of country music’s most unusual artists, died today in Orange Park, Florida, of heart failure, Billboard reports. He was 90. Whitman, born Ottis Dewey Whitman, Jr., and his high-flying falsetto and yodeling prowess intrigued fans for decades, helping him to sell millions of records in his career.
Whitman was born in Tampa, Florida, but didn’t pursue music professionally until he returned from serving in the Navy during World War II. He kicked off his career with the Variety Rhythm Boys, and was heard by future Elvis Presley manager Tom Parker. With the help of Parker, Whitman landed a record deal with RCA Victor and released his first single in 1948. The singer found his first big success in 1952, landing Top 10 hits with songs like “Indian Love Call” and “Keep It a Secret.”
Whitman would score a big hit in the U.K. with his recording of “Rose Marie,” taking the top spot on the charts for 11 weeks. But it would be six years until he’d have another charting single, with “The Bells That Broke My Heart” peaking at Number 30 in 1961. His career hit a new stride in 1965 with “More than Yesterday,” and Whitman would land 22 singles on the charts through 1974. His track “Something to Remember” rose to Number Six on the charts in 1971.
In 1979, Whitman jumped on a then-new concept with the mail-order TV album. His compilation All My Best, his first mail-order TV album, sold more than 1.5 million copies. Whitman charted another hit in 1980 with “When,” and made his first appearance on Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show.
His influence continued to resonate decades later, with Michael Jackson, Paul McCartney and George Harrison calling him a favorite. Films like 1996’s Mars Attacks! and 2007’s Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story have also included Whitman references.
Whitman released his latest album, Twilight on the Trail, in 2010. He is survived by a son and daughter; Alma, his wife of 67 years, died in 2009. Arrangements for Whitman are still pending.”
By RJ Cubarrubia (Rolling Stone) June 19, 2013 3:50 PM ET
SOURCES: http://graphics8.nytimes.com/images/2013/06/19/obituaries/video-slim-whitman-obit/video-slim-whitman-obit-videoLarge.jpg and http://www.rollingstone.com/music/news/slim-whitman-dead-at-90-20130619#ixzz2X0GObRLb
GIVE ME A REASON (LIVE) – P!nk and Nate Ruess
Single by P!nk featuring Nate Ruess from the album The Truth About Love
Released February 26, 2013. Label RCA. Writer(s) Pink, Jeff Bhasker, Nate Ruess.
Producer Jeff Bhasker
PHOTO CREDITS and ATTRIBUTIONS:
Banner Coastal Redwood Forest by Eric E Photography is used with permission. Visit Eric and see his other work (like this week’s closing photo) at: http://www.ericephoto.com or http://ericephoto.wordpress.com/
Another WordPress blogger I’ve come to really enjoy is Wise Journey. Please visit her work @ http://wisejourney.wordpress.com/2013/06/19/s-s-c/
Northwest Passage Flotilla by Douglas Pike (Painting – Acrylic on Stretched Canvas): http://fineartamerica.com/featured/northwest-passage-flotilla-douglas-pike.html; Native American Vision Quest: http://thefederationoflight.ning.com/group/shamansgate/forum/topics/vision-quest; Ghost-at-Leap-Castle: http://www.coasttocoastam.com/photo/view/ghost_at_leap_castle/45140; Page One – dan4kent Journal (January 19th, 1985 (Sat)); What God Would Say to James Gandolfini: http://www.hlntv.com/article/2013/06/20/james-gandolfini-inside-actors-studio; Crater Lake in Blue by Eric E Photography: http://ericephoto.wordpress.com/2013/06/18/coming-home/
If You Want To Read More About It:
Vision Quests – Huffington Post article by Maddisen K. Krown (http://www.schooloflostborders.org/content/huffington-post-what-vision-quest-and-why-do-one)
February 18th, 1985 (Mon)
“When words are scarce, they are seldom spent in vain.
For they breathe truth, that breathe their words in pain.
– Gaunt in Richard II”
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