Tag Archive: blessings


Say it ain’t so

I don’t know about you, but there are times in my life when I wallow in fear rather than live in faith. I subscribe to the motto typified in the musical the Wiz where the character sings, “Don’t bring me no bad news.”

I’ve been throwing up a lot lately and it has me concerned. Something like seven out of the last ten days within fifteen minutes of waking up I have to race to the bathroom to visit the porcelain God, and dry heave what little water is left in my stomach from the night before. This morning I was driving in my car to get my morning java when I had to abruptly pull over to the side of the road, and now, after seven days of vomiting, my voice is kind of hoarse. So I screwed up my courage and made an appointment to see my doctor today.

I don’t drink alcohol, and I don’t smoke, so in reality it’s probably a case of end of school term nerves, but now I need to schedule an appointment with a Gastroenterologist to make sure my system is still in good working order.

My doctor put me on Protonix, a cousin of Prevacid, but stronger, apparently, and I’m hoping to stop the excess acid production in my stomach. I said, half jokingly, mock serious, “I hope I don’t have stomach cancer.”

“Don’t even say that,” the receptionist cautioned me. It’s almost as though if you give voice to your underlying fears, that somehow might make them come true. People don’t want to hear the “C” word, nor do they want to confront the uncomfortable reality that some people die before their time. A good friend of mine who used to be head librarian at my local library is bravely battling brain cancer, and the longterm prognosis is in months, not years, although she has survived over a year already.

I still want to write my first, second, and third full length novels, and I don’t feel ready to die, but I get nervous that the “best laid plans of mice and men” are going to go astray and that I’m going to be thwarted in my ambitions.

Sometimes I find it hard to believe that I deserve good things happening to me. I think we’re so conditioned to believe that life is supposed to be a struggle that we don’t want to admit that we have been blessed, truly blessed beyond belief. I have great people in my life, including a support group that includes my mother’s cousin who loves me dearly and whom I love in return equally, and many other friends and family members.

The truth is: life is good, and I’m looking forward to creating many more meaningful days before I head into the western sunset. Just keep me out of the doctor’s waiting rooms please.

My philosophy is to aim high. You may not hit the bull’s-eye, but you’ll have a better chance of hitting the target. In terms of my religion, I try to be faithful, but as a gay man, it can be a challenge. Today, when it came time for the announcement of what the faithful should pray for, we were instructed to pray for the preservation of family values and the definition of marriage as between a man and woman. For this very reason, I consider myself a freelance Catholic, what some would term “a cafeteria Catholic.” These kinds of prayers and admonitions tend to leave me feeling left out, and I am considered by those in the Church to be saddled with a special burden to bear in reconciling my sexuality with my religion. No wonder Reform Judaism seems especially appealing!

I am a hypocrite in the sense that as I sat through Mass, and said the revised version of the Mass (which if you’re Catholic and haven’t been to Church for a while–Church with a capital “C”–you will notice things have changed, sometimes subtly and sometimes dramatically), I kept thinking, “Well at least I know the new liturgy,” unlike my neighbor sitting next to me. I took special pride in speaking out all the new parts, secretly gloating while trying to keep my face pious.

In many ways Catholicism is more than a religion. It is almost an ethnicity, something so indoctrinated in your soul as to become a very part of your Being, much like Judaism is both a religion and an ethnicity. It would be hard for me to leave my religion behind for this very reason. It’s a part of who I am, for better or worse.

Speaking of shooting for the stars, and aiming high, I strive to be the best person I can, yet one particular moral failing haunts me. I fear the future, in particular I fear poverty. My very own financial cliff. At one time I was on disability, Medicare, and Social Security, and lived in what could be politely termed a hovel with a man who has both cerebral palsy as well as a mental illness. I hid my impoverishment from friends, didn’t dare date, and grew ashamed of my life circumstances.

Later, my mother’s cousin moved to the area and helped me rebuild my life. I have even gone back to school, grad school at Northwestern for a Master of Fine Arts (MFA) in creative writing, but somehow, in some ways, have continued to resent my past. I still take Eric, the man I lived with, out to see movies, but sometimes his behavior embarrasses me, especially when he starts talking to himself, often quite vocally (it’s a part of his mental illness). I even, at times, grow embarrassed by my mother’s cousin’s condition. She’s practically incapacitated, and can no longer walk on her own. I take her to church, out to eat, and to movies in her wheelchair, and I love her greatly, yet at times I find myself praying selfishly, “Please let her live until I graduate,” since I could not afford school on my own. Fear of financial insecurity and impoverishment rules my very being.

I pray in the year to come for greater faith, to accept whatever comes my way. This is not an easy prayer, even for someone who went to a small, liberal arts Catholic school as an undergrad. To whom much is given, much is required (this is not something which I naturally consider). I also pray not to resent those around me or the services I perform for them. For the last six years, I have changed my cousin’s bandages, and I hope to be more like Jesus in washing others’ feet, without expecting accolades for my service. I also pray not to be embarrassed by my circumstances, by the fragility of the life I have constructed. Anne Lamott has written a new book: “Help Thanks Wow: The Three Essential Prayers.” She comes from a place of gratitude, but doesn’t whitewash her struggles, most especially her struggle to be grateful.

Please, Lord, make me more grateful this coming year, and maybe just a little neater and organized, and maybe more creative as well, but if you can only make me grateful for my blessings, so be it.

Peddler of Tales

Everyone needs a storyteller in his life. If we’re lucky, we have more than one storyteller. If we’re really lucky, we are also each our own storyteller. I am reminded of the very famous “David Copperfield” quote which begins the novel by Charles Dickens: “Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show.”

It is our nature to tell stories. We need stories more than we need opposable thumbs. Indeed, our brains crave stories because it is the way we remember things.

How in the bible did David slew Goliath? How is that story repeated in the contemporary novel “The Kite Runner” when one of the main characters threatens another boy with a slingshot, and then that boy with the slingshot begets a boy who uses a slingshot to put out the very same villain’s eye and escape to free himself and make his way out of Afghanistan into the free world of America?

What does “To Kill a Mockingbird” teach us about justice and kindness to the unloved among us? What is true colorblindness and what is it like to live without prejudice? What does it mean to say, “You reap what you sow”?

What does “Aesop’s Fables” teach us about the boy who cried wolf, and our need not to clamor for attention so that we will be ignored when we might really need assistance?

One of my creative fiction writing instructors pointed out that we tell stories not only to entertain, but so that our readers or listeners may learn something about themselves and the world around them. We tell stories so that those who read our work can imagine what it might be like to live someone else’s life. It is how we imagine a different future from our past. What if that were me? How would I face that dilemma? Why, in the grand scheme of things, does my life even matter?

As Jonathon Fanzen so wisely pointed out, “The reader is a friend, not an adversary, not a spectator.”

Now a story about a storyteller. There are several versions of this story, but again, it’s a story, so the exact truth of what actually happened is secondary to the meaning of Fyodor Dostoevsky’s near death experience. Based on what the Russian author had written and said, he was condemned to die by firing squad, as per order of the czar. Dostoevsky suddenly appreciated every breath, every moment of his time left on earth, and as he walked before the soldiers, he felt the sun beating down on him with a new intensity. At the very last moment, after he had already been blindfolded, an order for a stay of execution arrived by messenger and he was freed, freed to go on to write some of the greatest works of fiction ever created. In a strange way, I envy Dostoevsky’s near death experience for the urgency it gave to his life. What we do and how we spend our time here on earth matters.

Our lives can change in accordance with the stories we read and the tales we tell. In this way, we become our own reality, based on the sorts of things we take in and acknowledge as important to us. Why do you think various religions counsel us to keep vigilant about what we allow ourselves to be exposed to? The point, however, is that we get to choose what movies we see, what books we read, what family tales we pass on to each other, even how we order our days so that we may experience as much peace and as many blessings as possible.

I wish everyone as many transformative experiences in the new year as possible. Live life on life’s terms, certainly, but make your time here mean something.