Tuesday, December 16, 2014

An Old Guitar

             I have always just assumed that as children we view our parents differently than when we know them as adults. While I recognize this may not be the case for some, it is only logical to believe that this is a relative statement for many. As a boy, my world revolved around my comic books, my G.I. Joes and both my parents. Friends were most welcome, but to be honest, they more or less interfered with my playtime. School was quite often a boring internment and most of my siblings were a somewhat inconvenient distraction. I cherished my Mother and I revered my Father. When my Mother passed away, a part of my life faded forever from me. I held her in such high regard that the emotional hole left from her death seemed to chisel itself deeper with each passing month. My grief long ago found its place, but there is not enough topsoil on the planet to fill that void. Her exit found many with a gaping chasm where our hearts used to beat. 

"Do you remember the time your heart was moved to tears?
Can you look back on the moment after all these years?
On the moment love broke through and heaven seemed so near
Do you remember the time your heart was moved to tears?
Keep holdin' on
Never letting go
We're not far from the end of the road
In a moment love broke through and heaven seemed so near
Do you remember the moment your heart was moved to tears?"
(Do You Remember The Time. Amy Grant 2002)

             My Father was left rather empty-handed. He was broken, damaged and you could tell from the aura about him that this wound would never scar and heal. He had to decide whether to live or die, to continue or to perish, a decision on which he still goes back and forth, depending entirely on the day. When I was a kid, my Father was without a doubt the strongest person I knew. He always seemed to have so much control, although his stoic and calm demeanour in no way masked his love for his family, particularly for his wife. He was fiercely loyal, completely reliable and a sound provider. In spite of his gruff exterior, one could often find him playing with his children and even the neighbour kids. Every winter he would ice up the backyard so his children could have their own space to skate. He taught us all how to glide, although I must admit that skating was never my forte. There are black and white photos of him and I from the 1960s, taken as he taught me how to hold a hockey stick and stand on twin blades of steel. It was always the strangest thing for me to see the childlike wonder that possessed him on such occasions. I feared these moments had disappeared forever when my Mom passed away.

           With few exceptions, I have spoken to my Father every day since my Mother died. The closeness I once shared with her now flourishes between him and me. It is not only my duty to watch over him, a promise I made to my Mother the year before she passed, but I take great pleasure from the friendship we have cultivated out of all the shit life can bring. My daily phone call to him finds a mixture of sorrow, joy and resolve. He has chosen to carry on although he doesn't like it one bit. Over the past four-and-one-half years, he has continually demonstrated that life goes on even when we wish it would not. He is constantly out and about with my sister, travelling from garden shop to thrift store in search of goodies and bargains. He celebrates holidays such as Easter and Christmas with a commitment to honour his wife and the family they created together. The box in which her ashes rest greets fresh flowers every week and her memory thrives like a memory should. Over the last few years, day trips to my current home of Kitchener have found him wandering through antique shops hunting for treasure. He often points out little traces of her so very noticeable in the items he has discovered. In August of 2013, my Dad, my sister and her son Matthew stopped at my apartment to pick me up, then we all headed across town to the St. Jacobs Antique Market, located mere steps from the famous St. Jacobs Farmer's Market in Waterloo Ontario. It is here that hope began again.

"This old guitar taught me to sing a love song,
It showed me how to laugh and how to cry.
It introduced me to some friends of mine
And brightened up some days.
It helped me make it through some lonely nights.
What a friend to have on a cold and lonely night"
(This Old Guitar, John Denver 1974)

            He just stood there like a four year old. His eyes were glazed over with a certain kind of joy and his mouth hung open like a garbage chute. He seemed enchanted, if even for a moment. Pinned to the wall, behind a sheet of tempered glass, that black 1961 Harmony six string guitar caught his imagination like a Red Ryder BB Gun would. He was almost dazed and rather confused. I had never seen my Father like this before. In my youth, he was always a hard working man. By the time supper was over, he rested heavy on the living room floor. Weekends grew busy as his five children grew older and he appeared to have little time for anyone including himself. I never once concluded that he was unhappy. I recall moments when the spirit of his family, and the Spirit of his God, blended as laughter and love and even glee at some points. Until he discovered that guitar, I had never seen the child within him like I did on this day. Seeing my Father come to life like that had an incredible impact on me.
            Less than a week passed and that guitar found itself in a safe place among my own treasures. It took no convincing for me to purchase this antique as a Christmas present for him that year. It was in most excellent condition, a condition confirmed when I took it in for a final tuning before sealing its fate. Come November, I hid it inside a 55" television crate, crammed with cardboard until it could not move. The case which had come with it ensured safe storage. The shiny silver gift wrap covering the box met black ribbon, a large silver bow and his Christmas card. For over a month it sat nestled near my Christmas tree. I could hardly wait to give it to him. It was my wish that it not only gave him something completely self-absorbing to do but I hoped he would recognize that even after my Mother's death, some things are still worth living for, especially music. Growing up he had played. The antique banjo he would strum upon still rests in the piano room of his home. It has joined the autoharp and glockenspiel my Mother played that are nestled carefully on top of that old Bell piano. They are each a testament to the love of music my parents have given to their offspring. This was a gift much more important than any value.

            Christmas 2013 came and went without a hitch. The guitar found its place in his living room and on his knee every now and then. It was the nicest, and one of the most expensive, gifts I have ever given anyone. We were both well pleased. That briefest, smallest of moments when he first became enchanted left a lasting impression on me.  I will never be able to forget the look on my Dad's face when he first fell in love with this lady. I am now convinced that through all the pain and all the loneliness there is a part of him very much alive. He would argue that his end is near, but anyone could say exactly the same thing. It's not the time you have left that matters. It's what you do with that time that counts. To have given him but one moment of joy amidst the chaos means more to me than almost anything sweet I have known in this life. I will be forever grateful that I was given the opportunity to give him that.

 "What if I told you?
You have the power
To give someone hope
Far beyond their wildest dreams
What if I told you it’s right there in your hands?
In your hands
It's hard to imagine
How something so small
Can make all the difference
Tear down the tallest wall
What if December looked different this year?"
            I have come to realize that people don't really change. They simply wither. The person we were as a child is supposed to be who we become once again.  In between, we age and convince ourselves that we are different. All of our life that occurs in the middle is simply evolution and confusion. We are supposed to die young, even when we put it off for as long as possible. It matters little who the middleman used to be. All that matters is who you turn out to be. What matters is who you become. The glimpse of my Father's innocence that I was so lucky to have the occasion to witness has convinced me. Seeing without judgment, experiencing the now, these are the qualities spoken of by so many religious and spiritual leaders. Yes, we are supposed to put childish things behind us. Seeing the world as a child does not demand that one should act like a child. It is this innate sense of innocence that is required should one wish to enter the kingdom of heaven. It is the greatest tool for surviving God.
            My Father is a man of great Faith and great conviction. For me, he represents the truest sense of how a person of his Faith is supposed to be. He has survived regardless of any abandon he may have suffered through. If you ask him just how he remains, he will tell you that this is what Faith can do. You grow up thinking that there comes a time when your parents can no longer teach you anything else about life. Society even convinces you that eventually you switch roles and they become the child while you must be the parent. I am not surprised, at this stage of the game, that I continue to learn from my Dad. Through all the pain, all his agony, he is still, deep within, essentially the same. He has been so all along. In the end, grief does not kill, it grows us stronger. All that remains are small moments, childlike innocence, and for some, an old guitar.  

"What if we all just
Give this Christmas away
If there’s love in your heart
Don’t let it stay there
Give this Christmas away
And your life will be changed
By the gift you receive
When you give this Christmas away"
(Give This Christmas Away, Matthew West 2010)



Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Jagged Little Pills


 "Writing is a form of therapy; sometimes I wonder how all those who do not write, compose or paint can manage to escape the madness, melancholia, the panic and fear which is inherent in a human situation." (Graham Greene, British playwright)

            Hamilton, Ontario, Canada is located approximately seventy kilometres from Toronto. Running south along Lake Ontario, the fifty minute drive follows the QEW (Queen Elizabeth Way) then diverges at the 403 highway, heading west towards Brantford then to Woodstock, meeting up with the 401. The QEW continues south towards Niagara Falls and the American border. These spans of roadway are heavily congested. One would imagine the drive from Toronto would be scenic, considering the beauty of the Great Lakes. This is not the case. Industrial and commercial endeavours line the journey, blocking out the blue. The split onto the 403 is an entirely different matter. The road bends in and out from chunks of the Niagara Escarpment. The inlet you cross over reveals tiny peaks of land such as Hickory and Cockpit island. Manmade wonders like the Cathedral of Christ the King dot the landscape. Those unfamiliar with the area usually find amazement gazing out from Dundas Peak or the top of Hamilton Mountain looking down towards the lake.
            Hamilton is "defined by its geography." It is at the centre of what is known as the "Golden Horseshoe" and is approximately "at the midway point between Toronto and Buffalo, New York." The Niagara Escarpment is carved into "the bedrock of the Great Lakes basin." In Hamilton, the Escarpment "is a vertical wall of limestone, sandstone and shale." This wall "runs through southern Ontario from western New York to the Wisconsin/Illinois border." Known as Hamilton Mountain, this Canadian portion slopes up from the shoreline inland almost five kilometres. The 403 highway rises 100 metres (330 feet) from base to the plateau. The slant can be intimidating as cars and trucks fly up and down the great hill with little caution. The edges consist of faced stone and dangling rocks on one side, and a very visible descent down into the Hickory Valley below on the other. Inexperienced drivers timidly find their way via the slow lane. Add just a wee bit of snow or rain, and the driving can quickly become rather treacherous. For the longest time, I would cringe at the thought of travelling on this monolith. While going down the mountain is a relatively easy feat, heading up the slope used to be an experiment in terror for me. I would often avoid this path.  

"There are two things panic patients hate to do. They hate to take medication - and they hate to go to doctors. They hate to come to grips." (Earl Campbell, former NFL running back)

             The trip from Toronto to the mountain took me less than an hour. Traffic was light until I exited on the 403 and headed home towards Brantford. Car after car passed me. My trepidation came more from unfamiliarity than the experience itself. I had rarely travelled this path before. With the exception of light sprinkles of rain, the trip had been uneventful. As I approached the incline, I slowed down to the speed limit and tried to maintain my place in the centre lane. I could feel my heart racing and the pulsing went straight to my head. I felt dizzy and nauseated and would have pulled over if the road allowed for such a notion. Suddenly, as a minivan started honking at me from behind, the stress of it all hit me like a fish to the face. I had never known this state before. I wondered to myself if I was having a manic episode. The Lithium that flowed through my veins had handled my depression effectively, but I still had issues with the hyper side of my Bi-Polar imbalance. Halfway up the side of that hill the voices started. I heard screaming inside my head, warning that I was in peril and quite doomed. My mind raced with irrational ideas. I feared the tires would fly off my car, plunging  myself and the vehicle over the embankment and down to a cruel, fiery death. I started shaking. I was sweating profusely. At one point, I could barely breathe.      
            My first panic attack was nowhere near my last. For years my psychiatrist minimized my condition, believing that to focus on my depressive state was most appropriate. Week after week, the panic got worse. Sometimes it was so bad that I felt compelled to stand in front of a transport truck just so I could make it stop. Over several years, I lost myself to the banshees. It was bad enough having to battle my impulses, but this even more unwelcomed circumstance became quite maddening. Meditation, new medications and even recreational drugs did nothing to move me past this hellish place. I disappeared in it all. The panic grew so extreme that I often felt as if I was having a heart attack. The head attack was more than enough for me. The tightening of my chest became a harbinger of what was to come. I had to remember to breathe or I would likely pass out, again. All the anxiety, all the discomfort, but the feelings were the worst. The self-loathing, angst and all that guilt was overwhelming. In all the time I spent chastising myself over the years, I had never known such utter chaos. When I demanded better treatment, I found myself out of a therapist and any future refills on my Lithium prescription.  I didn't want to take medication. I didn't want a new doctor. I didn't want to have to deal with any unresolved issue that might have precipitated this uncontrollable state of being. I knew I had no choice, I would have to find, for myself, someone who could help me to escape this very unwanted condition.

"Panic is a sudden desertion of us, and a going over to the enemy of our imagination."
(Christian Nestell Bovee, American writer)
            I wasn't wrong, I did need a new psychiatrist. My first session with her stands out as one of the most important moments of my life. It changed everything. After only our initial meeting, she placed me on Seroquel (quetiapine fumarate), and a new world opened up to me. While she determined that 1200 mg of Lithium Carbonate managed my depressive state, it was appropriate, for many Manic Depressives, to piggyback their medications with a combination therapy. She was convinced that this new drug would benefit me greatly. On top of other treatments, Seroquel can be effective in "acute manic or mixed episodes in bipolar disorder alone or with lithium." It has proven efficient in "long-term treatment of bipolar disorder with lithium." I could barely believe the results after only one dose. For me, it was the miracle I had been praying for all those years. It was not lost on me that freedom came from a dispensary and not the Bible.
            Over two decades of sleepless nights and I found rest immediately with my newest friend. After a few weeks, the panic and anxiety didn't just lessen, they disappeared altogether. I stopped all the dreaming, all the nightmares and all the fear. I could finally control myself n a way I would never have thought possible. I could manage and maintain my impulses, completely. As a bonus, I had no real side affects from the Seroquel. Other than a deep seven hours sleep each night, I noted nothing but more favourable results. It was as if a cage door had been opened and the truest part of me found emancipation.  My mood lightened, and I was able to be the very person I had always known I was on the inside.. With some medications, one can lose themselves in the application. My resolve increased and so did my peace of mind. All the voices which had haunted me since I was a teenager, suddenly were gone, lost to Limbo, essentially quite vanquished by those jagged little pills. 

"Madness need not be all breakdown. It may also be break-through. It is potential liberation and renewal as well as enslavement and existential death." (R. D. Laing, Scottish psychiatrist)

            Many years have passed and I rarely have to see my psychiatrist. Three times a year she renews my prescription and sends me on my merry way. There is no need for therapy, or much clinical analysis. All is well. I now live the life that eluded me in my distant past. Quite often, I still find myself looking in a mirror with much gratitude, no longer asking just who they hell I am. Taking all those pills every night may be a pain in the ass, but the consequence of doing so is in no way hard to swallow. For almost a decade now, I have wandered free. I have made a forest for myself where once no tree could grow. I am rational. I am logical. I have control, self-control. I am no longer, in any capacity, bound to the impulses which once ruled my roost. I still have the same emotions as other people. I still get angry, even furious. I have even had small panic episodes under tremendous stress, as with the death of my Mother in 2010.  I am finally, once and for all, without question, able to be fully human without being completely unbalanced.
            I once believed that I was destined to dwell in my mental darkness, but I quickly discovered I held a place in the light. Words cannot express the gift I have been given. One criticism of modern pharmacology is that it curbs creativity and dampers the more positive benefits of an unrestrained mind. In my case, this could not have been further from the truth. It seems to have worked the other way around. I have never been more unbridled in my expression, more creative in my nature. The convoluted brain which once restricted me now flows with milk and honey. 
            The mountain which once brought me great dread no longer has a power over me. I have travelled up and down its slope so often that it rides like second nature. It was the catalyst to my sanity. When I used to travel that fifty minute trek from Toronto to Hamilton, I was never able to see past all the shops, buildings and signs that cover and block out the shoreline. I am now optimistic that the lake is still there.

"Sanity is madness put to good use."
(George Santayana, Spanish-American philosopher)





Tuesday, December 2, 2014

I Am Not Jesus

"I found a little beetle; so that Beetle was his name,
And I called him Alexander and he answered just the same.
I put him in a match-box, and I kept him all the day ...
And Nanny let my beetle out -
Yes, Nanny let my beetle out -
She went and let my beetle out -
And Beetle ran away.

She said she didn't mean it, and I never said she did,
She said she wanted matches and she just took off the lid,
She said that she was sorry, but it's difficult to catch
An excited sort of beetle you've mistaken for a match."

            Throughout my lifetime I have wronged many, just as I have been wronged by many. The list of trespasses against myself and others is long and daunting. It was convenient to just regret these incidents, then put them away and try to forget all about them. Each always seemed to fall back upon me and I never understood just why. There was a time I found it almost impossible to forgive others for what they had done. It was even harder for me to forgive myself. In most of these cases, including my own, it was not that forgiveness wasn't possible on my part. I don't believe I was strong enough to make such a commitment. Forgiveness requires great strength. It was extremely difficult to let go of my anger because, with most of these individuals, their behavior continued. It is easy to hold disdain towards a repeat offender. I have always believed that you shouldn't say you are sorry unless your intent is not to reoffend in the same manner. All mistakes are  forgivable, but we must find the resourcefulness to admit them first.
            When my maternal Grandmother died in 1999, I was bound and determined to hold her in contempt. It mattered little to me, if at all, just how ill she was leading up to her passing. I used to listen to my Mother talk about all the abuse and issues that met her at the hands of her parents. A few of these revelations shook me to my very core. When my Grandfather died a few years before his wife, I told myself that we were better off with him long gone. When my Grandmother died, I almost felt pleasure and I was suddenly confronted by my own propaganda. I could barely look in a mirror. I realized just how hateful and ungodly my own issues had made me. It serves no purpose to go into the private lives of these people, somehow expecting their behavior from the past might serve some purpose or example for me. It is only in recent generations that such forms of abuse are condemned, let alone spoken of. Standing over my Grandmother's coffin, I was so filled with rage towards her. I was glad she was gone. The final death of these two villains would give all of us, especially my Mother, a chance to move on and put them behind us. As I stood there, full of pomp and circumstance, I was strangely overcome with guilt and remorse. I could not believe it but I cried a little.
            As I left the cemetery and made my way back to my own life, I realized just how selfish and cruel I was being. I knew I had to forgive myself for hating them and for not forgiving them like I should have. As I drove along the 401 corridor to my destination, the history of all I had been exposed to played out in my mind. It hurt that there had been no real resolution, either for my Mom or for me. In a moment of clarity, I realized that the only way to truly escape all the negatives involved was to forgive them and to let them find some peace. With both now gone from us, I recognized I really had no choice. For the first time in my life, I tried to see their point of view. Empathy had never been my strong suit. Like dominoes, each memory, each moment floated past me in symmetry. Layers of dreamscape were knocked down in a mosaic of all the hurt and joy and pain they had caused. In that moment, I finally knew. It wasn't just the two of them that was the problem. It had actually been me who fed myself all of the poison and granted it permission to dwell within. Needless to say, this benchmark changed me.
            The only way to forgive another is to first forgive yourself. Shadows cannot force shadows from the darkness. As Martin Luther King Jr. said, "Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that." Once the light of reason found entry, it was a simple matter for me to begin to heal, although my response was slightly over the top. I started to try and contact anyone from my past who had wronged me or that I had wronged. I called phone numbers I was unsure would still be in service. I sent emails and letters, trying desperately to free myself from the reality of my newfound awareness. It was almost alchemy. When the light came in, the burden flew out. Suddenly, I found myself able to forgive both myself and others. My understanding, in a sense, turned from lead to gold. Forgiving was the easy part. It was no challenge for me in the least. As a matter of fact, it continues to be a comfortable thing for me to do. While forgiving was no longer a hurdle, forgetting became the obstacle.  It remains my challenge to this day.

"She said that she was sorry, and I really mustn't mind,
As there's lots and lots of beetles which she's certain we could find,
If we looked about the garden for the holes where beetles hid -
And we'd get another match-box and write BEETLE on the lid.

We went to all the places which a beetle might be near,
And we made the sort of noises which a beetle likes to hear,
And I saw a kind of something, and I gave a sort of shout:
'A beetle-house and Alexander Beetle coming out!'"

            To forgive is human but to forget is Divine. I can easily forgive but I cannot forget. Some would argue that this position is simply another way of saying that I will not forget. Logically, I would like to know how I am supposed to do the latter. Memories don't just fade away, never to be called upon by choice or by circumstance. The wrong done to us by others is forever stored in our minds, an association with the person in question. We may fall prey to dementia, or some disease of the mind, but that in itself is an entirely different story. I would argue that forgetting merely gives the offender permission to do it again. One doesn't have to hold on to an experience to be wary when someone exhibits ill will. When it comes down to the act of self-forgiveness, the same rules apply. If I forgive myself for something I have done, to myself or another, then I continue to demonstrate that nothing is different, all that forgiving was for naught. Forgiveness is not like discarding garbage. You can't just throw something away and expect it to never rear its ugly little head again.
            Others may argue that when the behavior of another becomes unforgettable, it is only defensive posturing on the victim's part. I would argue it is human nature. Why would anyone not regard warnings from the past? Who would give someone the opportunity to bring havoc and chaos back into their life? A few years ago, when one of my brothers and I parted company, it was easy to forgive him for the things he had said and done. Considering how much practice I had over a thirty year period, it was a lenient thing to do. Considering his observable limitations with trust, it was the safest thing to not forget. When my Father asked if I would attend Christmas celebrations in 2013 if he invited that brother, I duly noted that the possibility existed that he may show up, which he did. For me, it was as if he was not even there. Had he, at any point, apologized or shown contrition, I may have acknowledged his existence. Still, any current change in the tides involving him would make little difference to me. It is not only his behavior towards myself that has left piles of crap on my shoe but his inconsideration for elder members of the family that has sealed his dismissal. As far as I am concerned, I would prefer if he just stayed away.
            So what about the admonition by Christ that we should "not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also" (Matthew 5:39, NIV)? I would argue that may all be well and good but look what happened to Him. Unlike some incarnation, I am simply a human being. So imperfect is this mortal. Despite the lesson learned through the death of my Grandmother, I will not allow myself to fall prey to the whimsy of some narcissistic repeat performance. While it is my responsibility to forgive without question, nowhere in the annals of religion does anyone instruct me to forget what has happened. If you ask me, it would be impossible to do. Forgiving is a very human notion, the act of forgetting is beyond us. You can't even do it if you try. No matter what anyone may say, I believe forgetting is something only God Himself can do.
After all, that is what a God is for. Regardless, I am not Jesus. 

"It was Alexander Beetle I'm as certain as can be,
And he had a sort of look as if he thought it must be Me,
And he had a sort of look as if he thought he ought to say:
'I'm very very sorry that I tried to run away.'

And Nanny's very sorry too for you-know-what-she-did,
And she's writing ALEXANDER very blackly on the lid,
So Nan and Me are friends, because it's difficult to catch
An excited Alexander you've mistaken for a match."
(Forgiven, A.A. Milne 1927)


             It's never too late to start over. This, of course, does not apply to the dead. If there is one thing my Grandmother's passing taught me, the living always have that option. We can choose to see things as something else. This is an inconvenient truth considering her state of decay. The anger and ambivalence we lean on throughout our lives does nothing but give the past a power over us. We can revise our position. We can choose to let go. Forgiveness is a subjective tool we can harness to do just that. When we clutch to our more negative experiences, they remain as such. When we forgive, the incidents in question don't just disappear as if they had never happened. It is what we do with those experiences, and the memory of them, that will determine their effect over us. Forgetting what a person has done to us, or others, is an unreachable goal. It is forgiveness that changes how we react and, in turn, how we riposte. Unless we learn to forgive, we can never forgive ourselves. I will never forget the reasons for such a lesson. 
            When my Grandma was alive, I hated her guts. She knew this was so since I told her just that, several times. All the things she had done and continued to do up to her death alienated her from me. So much time has passed but not much has changed. It is a difficult thing to resolve an issue when half of the problem is dead and gone. You can't fix something when its substance has dissolved itself. It was her death that showed me just how much I needed to forgive. Forgiving allowed me to see her from a new perspective. Forgiveness breeds understanding and understanding creates empathy. Instead of continuing to think of her as a villain, and measuring her by her faults, I started to see her as a person, just like me.  I realized, she wasn't Jesus either.





Tuesday, November 25, 2014


"I went to see my sister
She was staying with a friend
Who had turned into a preacher
To save the world from sin
He said 'First deny your body,
Then learn to submit
Pray to be made worthy,
And tithe your ten percent'
I said 'Is this all there is,
Just the letter of the law?'
Something's wrong ..."

            I didn't just decide to come out of the closet. I really had no choice. At almost thirty years of age, I would no longer deny myself or the secret life I had been living. Just weeks after the suicide of my partner, I would not abnegate him or the relationship we had maintained privately over an almost seven year span. I sat with my parents in a small diner in Stratford, Ontario just having left the cemetery on a warm early March day. While I maintained it was privacy that had kept me silent for all those years, it was in fact a much more complicated matter. I had always felt great shame for being a homosexual. I was embarrassed and contrite. My sin was heavy on my shoulders and it, to my mind at least, was the primary reason such a devastating event had occurred. Coming out to my Mother and my Father was one of the most significant and challenging moments from my life. The rest just seemed to fall into its place.
             I spent my teen years bombarded with the idea that my hidden sin was greater than most. I was an abomination and should be stoned to death. I really thought I had given myself up to ungodly things and deserved everything that life had dealt to me. I was under punishment for not towing the line. My judgment was clear. Whether this was actually true or not never crossed my mind. My entire religious life I had been indoctrinated into believing in the infallible nature of Scripture, both Old and New Testament. Passages from Leviticus, Romans and 1st Corinthians chased me as if they were demons. I came out to my family because I would no longer deny the love I had with my late partner, but with him gone, I chose to allow God to take this weight from me. I no longer had a reason to rest in my sins.
            I swore to battle my shame and tried chemical castration. After all, Jesus expected me to be a eunuch, stating clearly that "there are those who choose to live like eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it.” (Matthew 19:12b, NIV). I believed that if I could not control myself then this was demanded of me. Although the physical part of me that I felt was tied to my sin stopped its normal function, within me there was nowhere left for me to hide. I cried out, I begged, but God did not take it from me. This sin was of me and no saviour came to free me from it. I had given my all and that was the best I could do. If God didn't want me, regardless of any penance I made in atonement, then I didn't want God. It was bad enough being an outcast in society. The free thinking and moral moderation which flourish in our modern landscape did not when I first revealed my greatest sin.  As time passed, I learned to love myself despite the demons still running, still chasing me inside my head.  Along the way it got easier to be gay in our society. It matters little the social changes. Everywhere I look people still condemn gay men and women for the sin of being who they are. We know we can't change it no matter how we try; no matter what they claim. It is not that it sits there, quietly waiting to unleash some ungodly thing. It is just there, a part of what we are. Most gay people will tell you that it was there from their start. Regardless of our social evolution, gay people still heed the condemnations and gay people still jump off the sides of buildings because Jesus doesn't love them.

"Something's wrong in heaven tonight
You can almost hear them cry
Angels to the left and the right
Saying 'What about the love
What about the love
What about the love?'"
(What About the Love?, Amy Grant 1988)

            One of my teenage nephews once asked me, "Why don't you act like other gay people?" I had to explain to him that I am like most gay people. You can't tell who we are or recognize our sexuality from the shoes we wear. The most effeminate of men may well be heterosexual. The most masculine man may well be the most homosexual. You just can't guess, or assume, you have to hear it from the source. The stereotypes and attitudes he perceived as true (towards gay people) are not some foreign virus that trickled down from heaven. Gay people are still treated with the same underlying ignorance as when I first discovered my orientation in the early 1980s. Characters like Jack McFarland, from Will & Grace, may no longer be the homosexual norm on television and in movies, but mass media still allows itself to be an agent of shameless moral judgments and agendas. People still hate gay people and you can tell so from the nightly news.
            Countries like Nigeria and Russia have only self-validated this right to hate, the world press made sure of it. Their message of ignorance and intolerance only cements an already existing example of how the more things change, the more things stay the same. When Phil Robertson from A&E's Duck Dynasty compared homosexuality to bestiality in GQ magazine, claiming scripture backed him up, the outcry was not for the victims of his ignorance but rather viewers and supporters demanding he be un-suspended for stating his position. People cried foul over his right to free speech while my late partner turned over in his grave. I thought demonizing, slandering and preaching vile things was hatred, but I guess only for a Nazi. One man's ignorance is another man's manifesto. All the while, we still kill ourselves to silence our shame. Every day, homosexual men and women are murdered just for their inclinations. Many would see us removed. Most of the Arab world and fundamentalist Christians differ on little, especially if left unchecked. It is a slippery slope and I fear we have come upon it.
            There is good news. An enlightened state of empathy and understanding has crashed upon many shores across this planet. In safer lands, gay people are now free to be who they want to be, love who they want to love and live as they see fit. We too seem free at last. Freedom, unfortunately, comes with a price. There is still a danger for gay people who leave the confines of that freedom. In many states, provinces and other countries, hatred is tolerated as long as you suck cock or wear your hair in a mullet. For all the benefits of this enlightened age, we still have much to fear. Their fear is built on ignorance. When Evander Holyfield claimed that homosexuality could be fixed like a gimp leg would be, I took notice. When ABC's The Bachelor, Juan Pablo Galavis,  expressed that gay people are a bad influence on kids, I shuddered. Every Wednesday, I sit down to watch a couple of fruit-loops prance about with their Modern Family. I firmly believe this type of exaggeration, this newly defined but stereotypical gay lifestyle, may ultimately bring more harm than good, regardless of modernity. Backward, redneck, Muslims and Christians watch that crap and that crap defines us in their minds. It's bad enough that we have to overcome Hollywood but then we do ourselves no favour. Every year, city after city hosts their gay pride parade. It is not the mothers and fathers marching for their children that make the evening news. The "regular" homosexual is much too boring to capture in sound bites. Gyrating Speedos, colourful dildos and all the sequins and boas titillate the crowds just like those ancient pagan festivals worshipping Saturnalia two thousand years ago. Everyone has the right to be who they want to be but when you do so in a public forum, you have to prepare yourself to pay the price. People are unpredictable. Most cannot be trusted. Hatred is still a weapon and mass media seems to supply fuel for the firearms.
            I have, on occasion, considered whether my late partner's suicide would no longer be necessary for him had he lived in these modern times. The compassion of Pope Francis, and his mission to reshape the Vatican, strikes at the root source of most hatred. Celebrities like Matt Bomer (White Collar) demonstrate that not all gay men are queens. Unfortunately, his sexuality (most likely) cost him the role of Superman ,which went to Henry Cavill instead. When Robin Roberts, from Good Morning America, finally revealed her orientation, no one really seemed to care. It was a non-event, which is always a good thing. Ellen DeGeneres continues to raise the bar higher, her irrelevant sexuality a stark contrast to her coming out episode in 1997. We have even discovered that First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt was gay. History stands as a testament to those who suffered in silence. Even sports stars have peeked outside the closet door. Jason Collins, a former NBA star, was the first professional athlete to truly come out and say he was gay. Slowly, other athletes have followed his lead. It is a nicer place, at times, down here, now, but it is not really any safer.

"I make you uncomfortable
When I'm around
You always find a reason
To shut me out
You don't understand me
So you push me away
And you claim
Jesus lets you live that way"

            When I was growing up, I understood that homosexuality was frowned upon by God because it was not natural. Once I had grown up, I discovered how to use the dictionary. Something that is natural (adj.) is "present in or produced by nature." It relates to or concerns nature. To be natural is "conforming to the usual or ordinary course of nature." Homosexuality is not exclusive to homo sapiens. Researchers have found that "various forms of this [homosexuality] are found throughout the animal kingdom."  More than "1,500 species, ranging from primates to gut worms, have been observed engaging in same-sex behaviours."  Homosexuality is a part of nature. It is a naturally occurring behaviour in animals, not the peccatum contra naturam (sin against nature) that thousands of years of religion would have us believe. There is great error in the assertion "that being a homosexual is not a commonly occurring event in humans." If nothing else, clearly that is not the case. Those things which manifest in nature are by definition natural.  Scripture would have us believe that any thing that doesn't occur in nature is an "abomination." If homosexuality wasn't apparent in nature then it would be abnormal, like getting a tattoo or speaking in unintelligible tongues.  
            Scripturally, even when homosexuality was not recognized there have been gay people. In biblical passages, there are ambiguous instances of same-sex love.  The relationship between King David and Jonathan (1 Samuel 18:1) was "more wonderful that that of women" (2 Samuel 1:26, NIV). After Jonathan's death, David went on to become one of the greatest biblical heroes, flaws and all. In the book of Ruth, Ruth and Naomi share a regard for each other unseen in other biblical stories. From the story of Ruth (1:14, NIV), the word dabaq ("clung") is used to describe Ruth's feelings towards Naomi. The same word, dabaq ("clung"), is used in Genesis 2:24 to describe how Adam felt about Eve. In the case of Ruth, "her feelings are celebrated, not condemned." Ironically, the word dabaq, from the Hebrew, is primarily associated with "how spouses are supposed to feel toward each other." It has even been suggested that the relationship between Jesus and John, "the disciple Jesus loved" (John 13:23; 19:26; 21:7; 21:20), was more than a casual fondness. This interpretation seems highly suspect to me. Regardless of how we perceive biblical teachings about homosexuality, nowhere in the pages of the Bible are people condemned for having homosexual tendencies. Some homosexual relationships, it can be argued, were as valid as heterosexual relationships. 
            Sexual Orientation is not a sin. Certain actions, which are prohibited by specific teachings from the Bible, are considered abominable. When these unnatural acts are presented in varying scriptures, they are accompanied by some form of chastisement or punishment by god or his agent. It was not homosexuality that produced destruction for Sodom and Gomorrah. It was cruelty, lack of hospitality, and rape that sealed their doom. Both have become "synonymous with impenitent sin, and their fall with a proverbial manifestation of God's wrath." God sent three angels, disguised as men, to inform Lot of this impending destruction (Genesis 18). The die had already been cast against the cities. When the people of Sodom attempted to rape the disguised entities, the clock was already ticking (Genesis 19:4-5). Divine judgment by God had already been passed upon Sodom and Gomorrah, along with several neighbouring cities.  
            Also from the book of Genesis comes a tale of woe upon the patriarch Noah. It is suggested that Ham, one of his three sons, raped his father while he was sleeping. Noah was apparently passed out from a drunken binge (9:20–27). There can be little question that a sexual transgression occurred for "when Noah awoke from his wine and found out what his youngest son had done to him,  he said, 'Cursed be Canaan! The lowest of slaves will he be to his brothers.'” (9:24-25, NIV) For some reason, Noah cursed Ham's son Canaan, rather than his own. This curse may simply be a justification for slavery, demonizing the Canaanites and the later subjection to the Israelites, or it may condemn the unnatural act of incest and rape that occurred between the two characters. It should be noted that in antiquity, "one male sodomizing another man was often seen as an act of aggression and represented a power relationship." The sin here is not homosexuality yet the punishment quite heavy in its nature.

"Why me?
Why am I not welcome in your company?
Why do you treat me like an enemy?
If you believe the way you say you do
Then why am I unlovable to you?"
 (Unlovable, Plumb 2013)

            In both the Old and New Testament, acts of homosexuality were "strongly associated with the idolatrous practices of the pagan nations surrounding Israel." These pagan gods were worshipped using "vile" acts and therefore idolatrous. In Leviticus 18:22, God is not warning homosexuals of His judgment. Gay men and Lesbians are not even mentioned. Use of the word abomination, tow' ebah, "means something morally disgusting, but it also has a strong implication of idolatry." Bible scholars agree, "the condemnations in Leviticus are more a condemnation of the idolatry than of the homosexual acts themselves." In Leviticus 20:13, God is not addressing some San Francisco gay bar. God is in fact addressing heterosexual men (but not women). He doesn't even condemn one who should sleep with women, or is supposed to sleep with women, the wording is clear, "as one does with a woman" (NIV). In the Old Testament, there seems to be a difference between gay love and homosexual acts committed by heterosexual men. God's sentence is passed upon men with a natural inclination towards women; their actions go against their nature.
            In the New Testament, Paul clarifies the argument. The book of Romans addresses this idolatry: "They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator" (Romans 1:25, NIV). Because they have worshipped other gods, "God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error." (1:27, NIV). This was not a "blanket condemnation of homosexual acts," but suggests "that the passage condemned heterosexuals who experimented with homosexual activity." We must remember that Paul was "relative to his own culture," and his culture did not understand homosexuality "as an orientation" but one "in which being penetrated was seen as shameful." Even in 1 Corinthians (6:9-11), it is "certain actions that are prohibited by Bible teachings, not tendencies or feelings."  Those who will not inherit the kingdom of god vary in their sin but each one (sexual immorality, idolaters, adulterers, "men who have sex with men," thieves, greedy, drunkards, slanderers, swindlers) is seen as a physical, unnatural act against God's law.

            Jesus never mentions homosexuality or any sexual practice outside of  the general term "sexual immorality" (Mark 7:21, NIV) and the very heterosexual act of adultery (7:22). He is clear, it is “what comes out of a person" that "defiles them" (7:20, 7:23). He is also clear, throughout his ministry, that we are not to judge other people for what we see as their sin (Matthew 7:1-5).  He refused to cast the first stone (John 8:1-10). He promises to love us all despite our ungodliness. If in fact homosexuality is a sin, then it differs only from others in the manifestation. All people sin and all sin is equal in God's eyes (Romans 3:23). As Paul put it, "None is righteous, no, not one" (Romans 3:10). Anyone who follows the Bible, "but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it" (James 2:10-11, NIV). Something  like comparing homosexuality to bestiality may come from ignorance but it is also placing a judgment on other human beings with total disregard for their place in the kingdom. There is no reason to condemn gay men and women. If the observation of nature has taught us anything, homosexuality is as normal and natural as heterosexuality. Apparently, certain members of the heterosexual community should be paying more attention to where they lay their heads.
            People of faith, whether Christian or Muslim, or the pick of the litter, need to remember that when it comes to sin, they are in exactly the same boat as everyone else, including homosexuals. All these semantics regarding who gets to go to heaven are nothing but that. After all, "Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye?" (Matthew 7:3-4, NIV). Although the tide seems to be turning in our favour, we have much reason for trepidation. It is not the heterosexuals who get hung from a tree for just being. Gay teens continue to slaughter themselves all the while thinking they are not worthy of God's love. When was the last time a hater bashed then stabbed a breeder simply for the act of kissing his girlfriend? It was not heterosexuals who were gassed in those concentration camps. It makes you wonder just who is ungodly? People who profess to follow Jesus, or Allah, or whatever monster they serve this week, tend to be hypocrites. They go against what their god has instructed. Perhaps they should leave all the condemnation to Him and mind their own damn business.  

"Let it go,
 Let it roll right off your shoulder
 Don't you know
 The hardest part is over
 Let it in,
 Let your clarity define you
 In the end
 We will only just remember how it feels"

            Our civilization is changing and with those changes people are recognizing that members of the overall gay community are really no different then the rest of mankind. We all make mistakes and we all sin, regardless of what sin it may be. Men of God beat their wives, rape children and they steal and make war, yet they condemn others because in their minds the Bible tells them that it is okay. In many parts of the world, gay people can marry, have equal rights and freedoms and are finally being recognized for their contributions to history and society. The message is clear for all the haters who remain defiant of the modern movement towards enlightenment. Clearly, homosexuality has been a normal occurrence in nature and throughout history. Finally, we seem to be winning the struggle. Those who cannot find it within themselves to allow others those same rights and freedoms they have are about to be left behind, all the while clutching to their holy books and crying out for justice. I say you get exactly what you give. The times are changing. People are evolving. Mankind is becoming better, although it is taking us an awful long time. All these twists and turns are leading us in the right direction. I am convinced that it is the heart that really matters in the end.
"All of my regret
 Will wash away some how
 But I can not forget
The way I feel right now"

            I suppose I have always been a fortunate son. While I worried what might happen  when I came out to my parents, considering their religious association and conservative views, this benchmark was nothing like what I had feared it would be. It was their unconditional love and support that helped me through the hardest period of my life. They never judged, they never condemned me. They never even told me that I needed to change my sinful ways. Every aspect of their relationship with me remained intact. Actually, the entire experience only made us that much closer. For me, their reaction and understanding reflected what a true person of God is supposed to be like.
            Regarding my sexuality, outside of God, I have only ever cared what my Mom and Dad thought of me; nothing else really mattered. It is the example and manifestation of this type of love from them that has left a lifelong impression on me. It represents just how a person of God is supposed to be. I stand firm that this is how God wants us to interact with and treat our fellow man. Most religious people seem to take pleasure in reminding me I am not good enough. Those voices can still haunt me from time to time. I am glad that time now falls away. I am grateful that my parents let their lives be a picture of Him. It is these tiny morsels of God's love that are reflected in how we treat each other. For me, they mean the most. This is how Jesus behaved. It is the landscape of the kingdom and the real nature of the Divine. No longer do I feel ungodly.
 "Our lives are made
 In these small hours
 These little wonders,
 These twists & turns of fate
 Time falls away,
 But these small hours,
 These small hours still remain."
(Little Wonders, Rob Thomas 2007)








Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The Happy Place

"You are imperfect, permanently and inevitably flawed. And you are beautiful."
(Amy Bloom, American writer)

            I do not believe it is a stretch, by any means, to conclude that most people are not happy. They may claim to be, they may even act the part, but if you spend any amount of quality time with them you discover there is a pretense to their jovial disposition. Their joy is artificial, for the most part. People just don't seem able to preserve any semblance of peace in their lives, let alone maintain the elusive state of felicity we all seek at one point or another. We all have our reasons to flounder in our discontent. Our experience, our journey does not usually give us much reason to celebrate. The adage that life is hard is the gravest truth. It is difficult to be human.
            By no means does this restrict us in doing so. I believe we all really do want to be happy. Whether we just don't know how, or circumstance makes it almost impossible, I stand firm that we all chase this dragon. We all want things to be better and for life to have more meaning than it seems to have. Some of us turn to the material world hoping to fill the emptiness. Some turn to religion and its promise of a happy place where streets are paved with gold. Many give in to their heavy burden and just cannot find their way. I do not suggest that we never have moments where life seems worth living. The problem does not lie in not knowing how to be happy, we just can't seem to sustain the state of being happy.
            Happiness requires self-knowledge. Without it, our own feelings cannot guide us on a daily basis. We cannot maintain it. It is because we do not recognize our own behaviour that we treat ourselves so badly and the world around us then suffers as well. Our self-ignorance is reflected in how we treat others. When we do attempt to recognize our condition, we become so sure that external factors can bring us this great elusive state. We allow these extraneous components from our lives to dictate and define what our happiness should be. Everyone has heard the voices. We know what can and cannot buy our happiness. We have been told, over and over, what happiness really means. If we get this, or we do that, we are guaranteed to be. Unfortunately for people who buy into this thinking, they tend to end up even more in decay.
            I used to hold true that happiness was something to be achieved, that by trying I could find it and keep it. Happiness is a process one cannot capture, like the distant butterfly or the cold and flu. Happiness is not something that is easily made. Happiness just is. It comes to us through our actions. How we treat ourselves and how we treat others is a testament to its cause. It is our state of mind and our state of being, not our state of security or position or rank. It is not merely what we do but why we do it. It evolves as we travel down our never ending path. You take one step forward and then you keep on walking. Eventually, if the time is right and you look inside, it will come to you. The moment you first meet it, that second of enlightenment can last a lifetime if you let it. Through the darkness comes the light and you must make it all your own. This benchmark can change you, reshape you in that instant and it can always remain with you if you know well enough to claim it. Happiness does not mean you have a happy life. When one achieves true happiness, such things just don't matter.   

"Happiness is not a goal; it is a by-product."
(Eleanor Roosevelt, former First Lady/activist)

            A few weeks ago, I sat down with a friend of mine I have known many years. He is a talented and rational person with little room for things such as religion or spiritualism. I had not seen him, or really gotten the chance to talk face to face, since my Mother died in 2010. We spent most of our time together that day catching up on the events and challenges we both have had to deal with since then. We had talked online and even Skyped a few times, but this type of social networking leaves little room for truly meaningful content. You catch up, you laugh a little, then you go back to the life you lead without them.  He was surprised how well I was doing.
            When someone knows you really well, they seem to base who you are on your circumstances and experiences. While it is true that most people linger in their misery, he was surprised at the degree to which I was coping with mine. He doubted me when I told him I had found my happy place. He could not see just how this could be so. He noted that I lost a partner to suicide, my Mother died, I am Bi-Polar, my life has been a hellish ride. He knew of all the places and faces that have passed before me. He remembers all of the pain and suffering I have met along my way. He knows my shame. He pointed out that every incident, every cataclysm that has been placed upon me was written all over my face. He injected out loud that he did not believe me.
            I have a pretty gruff exterior if you were to pass me on the street. My usual expression tends to evoke caution in many. I look like a son of a bitch, I would say. I have always maintained that I have no control over how my appearance comes across to others. I am never just walking around thinking this is how I want to appear. I suppose that years of scars and sorrow can show when we do not consider who is looking. I am, however, fully approachable despite how I may look. Looks can be deceiving. When someone takes the time to interact with me, I just cannot help it, the sun shines through. People who have contact with me on a daily basis do not always know my past yet they are still quite surprised at how nice of a person I can be. I take pride in being well-liked. I am considered polite and friendly, "a good guy" as one mate defined me. If you ask me how I got to be the man I now profess to be, I would answer you simply, "It just happened." I really have found my happy place.
            Happiness is not an exterior expression. It is an internal mechanism that becomes one's second nature. True happiness ceases suffering. There is a difference between this suffering and pain. Pain is "a physical or emotional sensation that we feel immediately, and then it passes."  Suffering, however, is "the subsequent story that follows the pain." Suffering comes from our thoughts and how we experience them. Pain is fleeting, but suffering we allow to go on and on. Sometimes our suffering is the only thing we have left to hold on to so we allow it to last for months or even years. True happiness occurs when we escape the thoughts inside our heads. They seem to become faint and intangible, some even disappear when we realize all the things that have happened to us are in fact already gone. Our experience may well be our story but when we see the past as such, a tale once told by the person we used to be, the past becomes history. When you rid yourself of the things which cause you suffering, they no longer have a hold over you. You still feel pain. You still experience both the good and the bad. The world will continue to be but it doesn't have to rule you.        

"There is only one way to happiness and that is to cease worrying about things which are beyond the power of our will." (Epictetus, ancient Greek philosopher)

            Happiness is not some theoretical dialogue. In most cases, the consequence of external events we experience are far beyond our control. This in no way means we are required to simply and calmly accept what happens to us. We are, however, responsible for our own actions which we can control through self-discipline. Pain is inevitable but suffering occurs when we try to control the uncontrollable or neglect situations that are in our power to change. It is our duty to not only care for ourselves but also our fellow man. When we achieve this state, happiness and peace of mind are available to us.
            For me, I have never been able to maintain any sense of peace or happiness without God in my life. God and happiness go hand in hand as far as I am concerned. You cannot discover God without a sense of happiness and you can never be truly happy without  God, whatever form your deity may take. Happiness is not unattainable nor is it elusive in its nature. Where our gods and happiness meet, we find joy. Our natural state, I would argue, is to be happy. When the past is still, when we are fully present in the now, when we settle god in the place it belongs, then we experience that peace which surpasses all understanding. When we learn to shut down all the commentary, both from our history and from religion, we move past the story that follows any actual event. This does not mean you no longer have memories, or doubts, or visions of yesterday running through your head. Living in the present, in the now, strips such things of their influence. The past will always be the past but when you move forward, you no longer have to travel that course. You are free to go your own way.
            You are the protagonist in your story and you always have the option of starting a new chapter. Life lies waiting on another page. Rewriting what has been, over and over, doesn't work. Concentration on your suffering only leaves room for more suffering. You have to let it go if you want to travel lighter and freer. Let go of the things you cannot change. We hold on to the ache, to the point where we can hardly breathe, and this has never been productive for anyone. You have to stop the past from defining you and start seeing yourself as God does. You are beautiful, despite what your story may have to say about it. In the end, most people are as happy as they allow themselves to be. It makes no sense to turn around and look back since you can only go forward.
            When a person overcomes suffering brought on through interaction with other people, we call them "strong." When someone overcomes themselves, we should call them "mighty" (Lao Tzu). Your happiness and your salvation you have to achieve for yourself. No one else can do it for  you. Every person on this planet is good enough, important, worthy, inspiring and quite beautiful. Unless you can convince yourself this also applies to you, you will never have the benefit that comes with this realization and you cannot make a difference if you do not have a joy to share.

"Everything has its wonders, even darkness and silence, and I learn, whatever state I may be in, therein to be content." (Helen Keller, American author/activist)

            Some benchmarks are concrete. When my Mother died, I started writing again and have yet to stop. The change that occurred within me is measurable. I can tell you when it happened. I have all the dates and names. Some benchmarks are cumulative. Multiple factors with similar symptoms may occur over a lifetime and all point to the same lesson. Obviously, there is a good chance we have yet to awaken to this instruction. Some benchmarks are intangible. We do not know when they occurred or how they happened. Some benchmarks just are. One day you wake up and things are different. You don't know what the date was or even the time. You can't hold it in a book to remember as an heirloom. Sometime, somehow it just was.

"Being happy is not the only happiness."
(Alice Walker, American author)

            I must have been to the cemetery a thousand times. This day was special in a slightly morbid sense. For the first time since the event, the anniversary of the day and date lined up. I even managed to arrive close to the time they told me it had happened. I felt kind of guilty standing all living and such, but I had felt that way too many times before. I would not let it take me. For a moment, I could see him and I smiled.