(Pictured above: “Winter 1946” by Andrew Wyeth.)
In 1999, my life ended and my life began. On a chilly late-winter-night, I took one last shot at happiness as a “gay” man. By then, I was destitute and desperate. I believed I had nowhere else to go, so I voluntarily delved into darkness – looking for something; willing to trade my life for a moment of peace. Somehow, I even thought I would finally feel loved. When it was over, it was over. And I walked away with nothing. Later, I wandered out into the street, a battered and dying man. I collapsed in the gutter. But I didn’t care. For a moment, I even hoped for hell. I wondered, maybe love hid somewhere in desecration. Only, when that bleak reality drew ever nearer, I panicked and strangely called out the Name of Jesus!
Over the previous decade, I passed from young and hopeful to prematurely old and disappointed. I arrived in San Francisco a confused kid, eager to discover my sense of identity. I had been promised that if I would decisively embrace my sexuality, that I could be loved – by myself and others. Even though it was the center of the AIDS crisis, and men were dying every day around me, I felt mythically reborn. The bullied boy that was always alone and unliked was instantly accepted and desired among a community of men. At first, I thought that such handsome and masculine men, who I once only dreamed of, or distantly leered at in gay porn, condescended to even look at me out of sheer pity. Later, I believed that here did I find my true worth. Though the scale of desirability always hinged on my appearance, what I was willing to do sexually, and my age. In the beginning, because I was so hungry for affection, any attention bestowed upon me, for any reason, was enough. I thought I had found the cure and I truly felt acknowledged, but as I got older I never actually believed that I had been loved.
This realization became more apparent as a series of men, who I hoped would become more than just sex-buddies, quickly moved in and out of my life. I was ceaselessly anxious, but homosexuality was momentarily easing a growing restlessness; I was subsisting on little instances of tenderness – with sex as a substitute for genuine love. In the midst of my quest, death moved ever closer as AIDS first struck a few older men who I barely knew and then began to make inroads into the circle of friends closest to me. Out of a collective fear, some of us decided to check out from the scene and try to permanently couple-up. For a while, we primarily socialized only within a relatively small group of like-minded men. Later, individuals began to intermingle and a negotiated sort of alliance replaced any strict adherence to monogamy. Today, a near identical fear continues to pervade those same couples who have since grown a little older. Yet, they inherently sense the instability in their relationships and were the primary movers behind the push for the legalization of “gay” marriage.
As for myself, I longed for something more. For a more intense feeling. For something that I thought would last. That is why I became attracted to extreme perversity, hoping beyond hope that the harder the experience the greater the impression it would make on me. It never worked. Returning to a similar routine that was easier to endure as a younger man, I quickly realized that I couldn’t keep having sex all the time. And the rush of adrenaline increasingly dipped and flattened out into the mundane. I couldn’t explain why – but I always felt unfulfilled. Especially after sex, I was left with this overwhelming sense of emptiness. Someone was in the bed next to me, or I was having sex in a room filled with men, but when the excitement subsided, it was as if I were the only person in the universe. For that reason – I believed I had to risk it all.
When I lost, and it looked like only hell wanted me, I was given a second chance. I didn’t know why, but as Christ held out His hand – I took it. While I was incredibly grateful, I was also persistently fearful. I didn’t understand why Jesus had saved me. I thought He merely pitied me. He was like the “Good Samaritan” picking up the heap of human flesh on the side of the road. For some reason, I couldn’t see the love in that act. Christ left me in the inn to be healed, but now He was literally out of sight. I felt oddly alone and constantly on the edge of terror.
As I had done before, I decided to run away. Without any forethought, I went out in search of a safe place to hide; where the looming presence of a ceaselessly pursuing death would forget about me and move on to other oblivious targets. At least for a short time, I thought I found such a home in self-exile. Now, I was far away from San Francisco, and the graves of those I once knew seemed like a dream within dream. Perhaps they were all still alive somewhere. Maybe they were happy.
Over the next several months, my thoughts were always inward. I endlessly walked about and read from the Psalms. I was obsessed with them – my favorite being #71. I became a living incarnation of Andrew Wyeth’s stark winterscape of 1946. Everything around me looked barren and devoid of companionship. I called out to God, but He didn’t listen. It was as if everything I thought I was had been taken away from me. I had nothing to hold onto. My homosexuality, which had been my hope, undeniably failed me. So I offered myself as an oblation. I took great pride in how I gave up gay sex while neglecting the fact that when Christ entered my life, that was the only option left open to me except death. Nevertheless I thought I sacrificed much, and that such penances deserved a reward. But when I felt slighted by God, I returned to the warm fleshiness of the men in my memories. I needed to recognize those phantoms as a false hope, but I saw nothing in front of me to replace them. I wanted Christ to be near me – for someone to finally love me. Only, He had been with me all the while.
Suddenly, everything appeared to go wrong. I had to return to San Francisco, and face my past. I spent days wailing to God. I thought that I was completely alone. The man rescued by the “Good Samaritan” had been saved; his wounds tended, and eventually healed of the abuse and trauma he endured. But I still felt injured and oddly neglected.
At the time, what I didn’t understand is that being scooped up and carried away by Christ was a singular moment in my life. A rather ordinary act of kindness, but a miraculous one for me. Someone I didn’t know cared enough to help. However, healing was a process. For that reason, the innkeeper was paid to watch over the ailing man found half-dead by the roadside. But because I was not summarily healed, I became anxious and preoccupied, forgetting the great selfless compassion shown to me. I judged Christ as cruel for keeping me alive, but not immediately curing all of my ills. And that is why I thought he had abandoned me.
Looking back, as difficult as that time in my life was, I almost long to experience it once again. Because while I thought Jesus was ever remote, He was never closer. In my great anguish, and even in my anger towards Him, there was a distinct process taking place: wounds that had been allowed to fester and become infected were finally being deeply cleansed and properly bandaged. This was all painful and uncomfortable to endure, but necessary if I were to ever become well. But, I was impatient as homosexuality taught me that happiness should arrive almost overnight. And, in that world, a certain relief, after years of anxiety and loneliness, did happen rather quickly – at first touch. Only it never lasted. Now, I was finding true love that asked nothing of me, except for love in return. Then I realized that far from leaving me alone, Our Lord Jesus Christ had always been with me; I was just too deceived and preoccupied to notice. When I spent hopeless years looking for Him in every man I ever reached out towards – I was reaching out for Him. I was never alone. Christ never abandoned me. Even when I lay dying in the dirt, and nobody wanted me, He was the only one who stopped. And at that moment, Christ could have held me in His arms and wiped everything away, but that would have been too easy – for me. Because without those days of feeling forsaken and lonely, I never would have understood the true meaning of love.
“Love is patient…Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.”
The lord had been infinitely patient with me, now I needed some patience.
In thee, O Lord, I have hoped; let me never be put to confusion:
deliver me in thy justice, and rescue me. Incline thy ear unto me, and save me.
Be thou unto me a God, a protector, and a place of strength: that thou mayst make me safe. For thou art my firmament and my refuge.
Deliver me, O my God, out of the hand of the sinner, and out of the hand of the transgressor of the law and of the unjust.
For thou art my patience, O Lord: my hope, O Lord, from my youth;
By thee have I been confirmed from the womb: from my mother’s womb thou art my protector. Of thee shall I continually sing:
I run become unto many as a wonder, but thou art a strong helper.
Let my mouth be filled with praise, that I may sing thy glory; thy greatness all the day long.
Cast me not off in the time of old age: when my strength shall fail, do not thou forsake me.
For my enemies have spoken against me; and they that watched my soul have consulted together,
Saying: God hath forsaken him: pursue and take him, for there is none to deliver him.
O God, be not thou far from me: O my God, make haste to my help.
Let them be confounded and come to nothing that detract my soul; let them be covered with confusion and shame that seek my hurt.
But I will always hope; and will add to all thy praise.
My mouth shall shew forth thy justice; thy salvation all the day long. Because I have not knows learning,
I will enter into the powers of the Lord: O Lord, I will be mindful of thy justice alone.
Thou hast taught me, O God, from my youth: and till now I will declare thy wonderful works.
And unto old age and grey hairs: O God, forsake me not, Until I shew forth thy arm to all the generation that is to come: Thy power,
and thy justice, O God, even to the highest great things thou hast done: O God, who is like to thee?
How great troubles hast thou shewn me, many and grievous: and turning thou hast brought me to life, and hast brought me back again from the depths of the earth :
Thou hast multiplied thy magnificence; and turning to me thou hast comforted me.
For I will also confess to thee thy truth with the instruments of psaltery: O God, I will sing to thee with the harp, thou holy one of Israel.
My lips shall greatly rejoice, when I shall sing to thee; and my soul which thou hast redeemed.
Yea and my tongue shall meditate on thy justice all the day; when they shall be confounded and put to shame that seek evils to me.