Monday, August 26, 2019

I Want to Know What Love Is

I'm not sure when I first heard the song.*

It came out the year I left on my Mormon mission for France - 1984. (The lead photo was taken a few months before I left.) I was pretty sequestered in the first city I served in - Brest, at the tip of Brittany. We never listened to the radio or saw TV. Heck, we didn't even have a phone in our apartment. We trekked to the local phone booth twice a week to call our zone leaders in Nantes to assure them we were still alive and to report on our missionary work. To make a (very rare) international call or a call to the mission headquarters in Paris, we had to go to the post office.

Memorizing missionary lessons in Brest

But after a few months, I was transferred to Paris, and media were much more readily available. Perhaps I may have heard the song playing there. Not in our apartment, of course - missionaries were not allowed to listen to the radio - but perhaps in someone's home or in a store.

Then, after I had been transferred yet again - this time to the Loire Valley city of Tours - I received an audio tape from the woman who was sort of my girlfriend, and the song was on the tape. I listened to it over and over again (which was against mission rules), haunted by the lyrics ...

I want to know what love is, I want you to show me
I want to feel what love is, I know you can show me ...

I'm gonna take a little time, a little time to look around me
I've got nowhere left to hide, it looks like love has finally found me

In my life there's been heartache and pain
I don't know if I can face it again

Can't stop now, I've traveled so far, to change this lonely life
I want to know what love is, I want you to show me
I want to feel what love is, I know you can show me ...


I was raised in a Catholic home. My mother was abusive and my father was distant and unavailable. So let's just say I didn't learn about love from them. When I was 12, they separated and then went through a bitter divorce.

"There's been heartache and pain .."

When I was 13, I went through puberty and discovered that I was attracted to boys, not girls--a development which came as quite a shock. All through high school and into my fraternity years at university, I can count on one hand the number of dates I had that didn't involve a dance I felt obligated to go to.

As the years passed, I knew my attraction to men wasn't a passing fancy. Nevertheless, I assumed that, one day off in the distant unknowable future, I'd meet a girl/woman, fall in love and get married. I couldn't really visualize that future, however; I had no idea how it would happen.

"I don't know if I can face it again ..."

But then I was introduced to the Mormon Church at a very vulnerable time in my life when I was searching for direction, and the Mormon way of life seemed to offer me hope. With its heavy emphasis on marriage, family and children, I intuited that this path could steer me toward something I wouldn't by nature choose--although I did want a family and children; it was the marriage part that I couldn't conceive happening "naturally." I would have to be "fixed up."

And so I was. I joined the Church and prepared to go on a mission. Then I met a sister missionary who, with her companion, taught my father, step-mother and sister about the Church. They all joined. It's a very long story that I'll someday write about in my memoir. but I became convinced--as did she--that this sister missionary and I were to be married. Thus, the "sort of" girlfriend I had while on my mission. (I never realized until sitting down to write this post that I never considered her my "girlfriend." The last girlfriend I had was when I was in the 6th grade, before I discovered I was gay.)

I thought that God, through my relationship with this woman, would show me what love is. Looking back on it, I didn't have a clue at that point in my life what love was/is. I hadn't learned about it from my parents. I'd never been in love, though I experienced serious infatuation with a boy when I was a senior in high school, something "normal" heterosexual teenagers might call puppy love. And so I trusted that God, through marriage to this woman, would provide/show/teach me what love is, would help me to feel loved and to love--romantically as well as otherwise.

"Can't stop now, I've traveled so far, to change this lonely life
I want to know what love is, I want you to show me
I want to feel what love is, I know you can show me ..."

And so I got married.

It wasn't until 25 years later, after I came out and met Mark, the man who would become my husband, that I realized what love is. Truly is. Though I had loved my ex-wife, it wasn't until I came out, met Mark and fell in love with him--and he with me--that I came to realize that I was never "in love" with her. It took meeting Mark, him showing me what love is, me loving the way I was wired to love, for me to realize what had been missing in my marriage.

"I've got nowhere left to hide, 
it looks like love has finally found me ..."

I thought of Foreigner's song, "I Want to Know What Love Is," the other day on the sixth anniversary of Mark and I's commitment ceremony. Those who know me or who have followed this blog know that Mark passed away from prostate cancer 3-1/2 years ago. Our time together was short, but he showed me what love is, a precious gift that I will always be grateful for, as well as for the time we had together.

Later that day, as I was out on a long bike ride, thinking about what I've just been writing about, a realization came to me with stunning clarity. It was one of those realizations that, as soon as it is received, seems glaringly obvious, but which is opaque and unarticulated prior to the curtain being drawn back. 

The realization: when I was young, I don't think the thought ever occurred to me, as I struggled with what to do with my feelings of attraction to men, that it would be possible to have a *romantic* relationship with another man. I saw my attraction to men as a very carnal thing involving physical attraction and sexual release; but the thought of *loving* another man? That never occurred to me as a possibility (let alone a *relationship* with another man)--as I'm sure it didn't to many gay men of my generation, because that's just the way things were. Many of us married women, even though we knew we were sexually attracted to men, because we couldn't conceive of doing anything else about that attraction but smothering it--which I thought the Mormon way of life would help me do--while at the same time being deeply ashamed of our innermost desires.

As this realization sunk in, I found myself having increased compassion for the young man I was when I made the decision to get married. I found myself being able to love myself more, to look past the layers and layers of shame that had accrued during my life, to understand and appreciate that sometimes we make decisions in life because of the way we were raised, because of societal conditions and because we simply didn't know any better at the time.

" ... it looks like love has finally found me ..."


* I was recently encouraged by a friend to take up blogging again. I'll see how it goes, but for now I offer up these musings.

Friday, April 19, 2019

The Dream That Changed My Life … 25 Years Later

The events of this past week in Paris brought up many memories of when I was a missionary there. They also reminded of a special anniversary. Thirty-four years ago today, I had a dream that would, 25 years later, play a key role in dramatically changing my life.

A Mormon Missionary in Paris

I was a Mormon missionary in Paris in the winter and spring of 1985. I had arrived in the city shortly before Christmas after spending the first four months of my mission in Brest, a town at the tip of Brittany. It was quite a culture shock going from the provinciality of that place, where there were only two of us missionaries in a small branch of the church, to a bustling city of millions where a dozen missionaries served in the two congregations of the church that existed in Paris proper – one consisting of families and older single people, the other of young single adults from the Paris area.

That winter of 1985 was one of discontent. Missionary work was hard in the best of circumstances. But I faced struggles that went beyond the emotional demands of daily trying to trying to talk to strangers about the Book of Mormon and the “restored Church of Jesus Christ” and facing the inevitable rejection, time after time, day after day, week after week. Beneath this superficial layer of emotional trauma that all missionaries faced lay a struggle, increasingly strident, that I also coped with on a daily basis: the struggle with “unwanted feelings of same-sex attraction." Like countless others who were "like me," these feelings engendered fear, self-alienation and self-hatred.

At the Louvre

When I had joined the LDS Church almost two years before, I had truly believed that I could leave my same-sex attractions behind me, attractions that I had experienced, by that point, for over 12 years. One of the things that had attracted me to the Church was its teachings that someone like me could live a "normal" life, could get married to a woman and have a family. That is what I wanted. I thought I had finally found "the cure."

I had believed the Church's "line," and I had worked diligently in the ensuing two years to discipline my mind. I had prayed. I had done everything I was “supposed” to do, and more. I wanted to “change,” and I believed that I could/had.

That is why what was happening to me in Paris was so distressing.

The first four months of my mission in Brest were fine, i.e., I experienced no “temptations,” and I had little trouble controlling my thoughts. But after being transferred to Paris, temptations to "unclean thoughts" seemed to come at me from everywhere: attractive young men who attended our English classes; beautiful men on the street; scantily clad male models on billboards; works of art in the Louvre whose homoeroticism moved me; sensuality that was palpable.

Then, for the first (and only) time in my life, I was publicly propositioned by a guy – directly, unmistakably, in a store in the heart of Paris. It scared me to death.

Then there was the older male member of the Church, in a leadership position, who had befriended me. I strongly suspected he was gay, but I enjoyed the attention and--as an older missionary (I was 27, whereas most missionaries were 19 or 20)--the friendship. Another male member, also in a leadership position and also probably gay, seemed to see right through me, memorably asking of me one time, "What's behind that mask of yours, Elder?"

Again, I was scared to death. Why were these things happening to me? I felt like I had a sign hanging around my neck--apparently visible to some--that said, “I am gay, but don’t tell anyone.” It's not like I was tempted to hop into bed with a man. What was so disturbing to me was that I thought I had "overcome" this part of myself.

Missionary skit. My favorite picture from my time in Paris.

But as unsettling as all of this was to me, I was at the same time feeling somewhat enlivened. For the first time since joining the Church, I allowed the genie of my repressed sexual orientation to waft out of the bottle of its imprisonment and allowed myself to contemplate who I really was—or might be. It was exhilarating, but it was also frightening – particularly since I was a missionary.

The Dream

It was after struggling with these thoughts and emotions that swirled around me during that Parisian winter and early spring of discontent that I had a dream that was unlike any that I have ever had, then or since. It was so palpable, so real, so revelatory. It was and is, without question, the most vivid dream I have ever had—then or since. Even today, 34 years later, I can remember it as if it were yesterday.

I dreamt that I entered a large room filled with people dressed in white. At the front of the room was a person whose presence seemed to tower over the others. All in the room, including myself, were drawn toward him. As I made my way to the front of the room, my eyes became locked with his and he beckoned me to come to him, to take his hand and embrace Him. I remember thinking: “He’s real! He really does have a tangible body.” 

As soon as I took his hand, we were transported, just the two of us, to another place, where we sat across from each other and talked. Rather, I talked; he listened lovingly and patiently, about my fears and joys, the deepest corners of my soul … and my ultimate secret. 

My gaze never left his countenance, and in his beautiful eyes, I saw love such as I had never before felt. In those eyes, I saw no judgment, no guile; only perfect, total understanding. His very countenance radiated such intense purity that I felt as if I would faint from bathing in such exquisite peace and love. In this setting, enveloped in love and light and truth, I told him of my ultimate secret, something I had never shared with anyone. I told him of my attraction to men and how I had struggled against it but how it wouldn’t let go.

I suppose that, possibly, I expected him to miraculously change me at that moment—to make me straight. Right. True. Whole. But that didn’t happen. Rather, in that atmosphere of unworldly love and transparency, he looked at me with, if possible, increased compassion with a face that had grown, if possible, even more lovingly beautiful, and uttered two words: “It’s okay.” Then, he smiled, and I was given to understand that he loved me just the way I was. Then, the dream was over. 

The following morning, I woke up and wrote in my journal that “I had a very interesting dream last night.” Then I went about doing my missionary work. Ten days later, I was transferred to a new city in the Loire Valley. My life went on. The “temptations” and thoughts and anxiety subsided. Within eight months, I was home. 

One might have thought that this experience of my dream would have given me permission to embrace my gay self. But the message of the dream and the message of the Mormon Church regarding homosexuality in the mid-80's were completely opposite to each other. And I wasn’t strong enough to accept my attractions, let alone embrace who I really was. Nevertheless, I hated myself a little less and accepted myself a little more following that dream. I also learned that these attractions weren’t something that could be prayed away; they could only be managed.

An outing to the chateau of Vaux-le-Vicomte shortly before I left Paris. The lead picture,
above, was taken that same day when we came upon an abandoned house with those words painted on the wall.

And that’s what I set about doing. However, even though I married a woman and vowed I would never come out and that I would make a success of my marriage, the memory of this dream and its piercing message sustained me in believing that God didn't condemn me merely for being who I was, for having the attractions that I did.

25 Years Later

Now, fast-forward 25 years, to Sunday, October 3, 2010. That morning, I heard four sentences that wrecked my faith in Mormonism, eventually shattered what was left of my marriage (which had already been on life support for several years) and destroyed a false persona that I had carefully maintained for decades. 

These words, which quickly became infamous, were uttered by the second most senior apostle of the Mormon Church in his address at the Church’s worldwide October General Conference. In the midst of a sermon about moral purity, President Boyd K. Packer read the following sentences: 
“Some suppose that they were preset and cannot overcome what they feel are inborn tendencies toward the impure and unnatural. Not so! Why would our Heavenly Father do that to anyone? Remember, He is our Heavenly Father.” 
As a heavily closeted gay man, these sentences cut through my heart, as they no doubt did with countless other Mormon men and women who were privately and painfully struggling, as I was, with same-sex attraction. Packer’s words, heavily coded, were reminiscent of the period of my young adulthood when the LDS Church railed vociferously against the “abomination” of homosexuality. I felt that I was being dragged back into a very dark place of self-loathing, shame and despair.

Not only had President Packer called me, and those like me, “impure and unnatural,” he had poured salt in open wounds by saying, in so many words, that God would and could never make such a depraved person as me, nor could or would he love me for who I am. Even before God, in the tortured chambers of my innermost being, could I be my true self because my true self was not acceptable, let alone lovable. 


But. I knew differently. In the most sublime spiritual experience of my life, in the most vivid dream of my life 25 years earlier while a confused and disheartened missionary in Paris, I had been told that God loved me just as I was: gay.

That is why, when President Packer said those infamous words, I knew he was wrong and that he was not inspired by God--even though for the past 27 years I had regarded him as a prophet, a man who communed with God. What had been the most spiritual experience of my life that night in Paris had convinced me that God did not condemn me. 

Packer’s words, as well as the vast theological and cultural dogma and mindset that lay behind these statements, caused a tectonic shift deep within me. In the moments, hours and days that followed, I realized that I was no longer willing or even able to repress who I am and that my homosexuality is a fundamental part of who I am. Furthermore, I was tired of feeling guilty and dirty about it. 

Thus began my journey out of the closet, marriage and Mormonism, thanks in large part to a dream I had had 25 years earlier but which, at the time, I could not fully appreciate or understand. Even now, I don’t claim to fully understand it. But I know that it eventually helped to change my life, and that Paris would forever hold a special place in my heart because of it.

It was perhaps appropriate that the first time I saw Paris again after leaving my mission on a cold overcast day in November 1985 was on a brilliant sunny day in September 2012--in the company of the man who would become my husband. As Mark and I walked the streets of Montmartre and the Latin Quarter, rode bikes along the Seine and toured Notre Dame and the Louvre, I marveled at where life had brought me. And I thought of the dream I'd had that April night in 1985, and I was grateful.

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

"I'm So Grateful for Marriage Equality"

They weren't my words.

Yesterday, I went for my appointment, made over six weeks ago, at the Social Security office here in Salt Lake to claim survivor benefits as the widower of my late husband. 

On the day Mark was diagnosed with inoperable, terminal prostate cancer in April 2013, I couldn't have imagined what I experienced yesterday. But then, three months after that diagnosis, the United State Supreme Court ruled that the federal Defense of Marriage Act was unconstitutional and that all benefits under federal law that accrued to heterosexual couples must also be made available to legally married same-sex couples.

But we lived in Utah, where there was no recognition of same-sex marriage. 

That fall of 2013, marriage equality became the law in the state of Hawaii. The following month, a lone, very courageous, district court judge in Utah ruled that our state's constitutional amendment barring recognition of same-sex marriage was unconstitutional. The governor and our state's attorney general (who used to sit in the office next to me in my law firm in Salt Lake) appealed.

Meanwhile, on a beach in Maui on April 15, 2014, Mark and I were legally married. That fact meant that, under federal law, our marriage would be treated in the same way as a marriage between a man and a woman. 

Later that year, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeal upheld the ruling of Judge Robert Shelby, and marriage equality became the law in the State of Utah. The following summer, the United States Supreme Court made marriage equality the law of the land throughout the country, based in part on that courageous, well-reasoned ruling of Judge Shelby.

I was a little apprehensive as I arrived for my appointment yesterday. I had heard horror stories of rogue Social Security staffers refusing to process applications such as mine. I wondered how I would be treated. It didn't help when I glanced at my appointment letter and saw the words "Widow claim" or when I glanced at the wall in the waiting area and saw staring down at me the faces of our current president and vice-president, the latter of whom, particularly, has made no secret of his animus toward gay people and the advances we have made toward full equality in this country.

Soon enough, my name was called, and I went to the designated window to complete my application. A woman on the other side of the glass pleasantly greeted me and explained that she would assist me in completing my application for survivor benefits. We started going through the formalities. She asked a litany of questions, including asking whether Mark had ever served in the armed forces. I replied that he had served in the Coast Guard in the 70's.

At some point, I'm not sure where exactly, we reached a point where the obvious had to be addressed: Mark and I were a same-sex couple. I am gay. He was gay. Perhaps it was when I presented a copy of our marriage license. That's when she said it.

"I'm so grateful for marriage equality," she said. "I remember the day it became law here in Utah. My step-daughter called me and said, 'Mom! Same-sex couples can get married in Utah!'"

I was, well, moved. 

Dignity. Such a simple thing which is too often withheld. And here it was, being freely offered to me.

"Thank you," I said, my eyes meeting hers. 

The clerk smiled. "Of course," she replied, before turning back to her computer screen to complete the application.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

"If I Can Help Save Just One Young Man ..."

"If I can help save just one young man from the lies of Satan, then what I have been through will be worth it."
I wrote these words in my journal a couple of months after I joined the Mormon Church. I was 24 years old. I hadn't thought of them in a very long time, but they were brought to my mind last night as I watched an advance showing of the new movie, Boy Erased, which tells the true story of a young gay man who was put into a "Christian" conversion/reparative therapy program by his very religious, but misguided, parents.

When I wrote these words in the summer of 1983, I had been dealing with feelings of same sex attraction for over ten years. During those years, I had struggled to understand what I felt. Was I gay? Would these feelings go away when I "met the right girl?" Were they sinful? Was I condemned to a life as an "other?" How could I, who had always striven to excel at everything I did, accept this about myself, condemning myself to a life of seeming marginalization and debauchery?

I was confused. And I was at a particularly vulnerable point in my life when I was introduced to and joined the Mormon Church. I was seeking certainty. Direction. I wanted to have a family.

These are some of the reasons why I was prepared to accept what the Church taught me about myself and my sexuality: It was Satan who planted these thoughts of same-sex attraction in my mind. It was he who sowed confusion. I could change. I could rise above my feelings and thoughts. I could be happy married to a woman. But it would require an unbreakable and unswerving devotion to living the commandments and precepts of the Church, ironclad control over my thoughts and a rejection of everything I had previously wondered about myself.

In short, I would have to put myself through my own conversion/reparative therapy every day of my life.

At first, I thought it was going to be easy. The Lord would bless me, open the way as I remained faithful and diligent; and indeed, this seemed to be the case. I carefully guarded my thoughts as I prepared to go on a mission for the Church. Before I left, I met a young woman whom it seemed the Lord had placed in my path, a woman whom I could (and eventually did) marry and with whom I could (and eventually did) have a family.

In my zeal and naivete, I wrote the above-quoted sentence in my journal. Not only could I heal myself, I thought; I could perhaps help other young men who experienced the same struggle.

But it was on my mission in Paris and other cities in France that I realized that my feelings and thoughts would never go away. They were something I would have to live with and fight, most likely the rest of my life.

And fight I did, until eight years ago when I finally decided I couldn't and wouldn't bash my head against that cement wall any longer. I came out. It was then, paradoxically, that those words I wrote in my journal all those years ago took on a new meaning. I began to blog, first under the pseudonym of "Invictus Pilgrim," and then on this blog, and one of my primary motivations for doing so was the hope that I could possibly help just one young (or older) gay man to overcome the lies he had been taught about himself--not by Satan, but by misguided religious teachings--and to come to not only accept, but also love, himself for who he was/is.

This same motivation led to my involvement in the production of a soon-to-be-released documentary that also deals, in part, with the destructive effects of so-called "Christian" reparative/conversion therapy. For They Know Not What They Do, directed by independent filmmaker Daniel Karslake, tells the story of the Robertson family, an evangelical couple who put their son in conversion therapy when he came out to them as a young teenager. The film, which has been submitted to a major film festival,** also powerfully addresses issues faced by transgender individuals and their families through the stories of two individuals, one a transgender woman and the other a transgender man, both of whom were raised in conservative Christian environments. Lastly, the film tells the story of Vico, a young Puerto Rican gay man who was first rejected, then embraced, by his devoutly Catholic family before he experienced the horrors of that terrible night at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando.

I'm glad I was reminded last night of those words I wrote all those years ago. I'm glad I was reminded of what I went through and how I felt, both before and after I joined the Mormon Church and both before and after I came out. Though I have experienced many trials and struggles in my life, I have also been richly blessed, my children and my late husband, Mark, chief among these blessings. Those words reminded me why I am here and what I can do. I hope I will always remember that.

"Just one young man ..."

** The production of For They Know Not What They Do has been entirely funded by tax-deductible donations. We are still a bit short of our financial goals, and contributions of any amount, which can be made online through the film's website, would be welcome. Every contribution will help make a difference in the life of not just one young man or woman, but in the lives of countless individuals and families around the world who will eventually see this film.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

See You in September

September has always been a special month for me, partly because it is the month of my birthday, partly because it is also the month of the birthday of my oldest child, and partly because it marks what for most of my life was my favorite season.

During the past eight years, however, September has become even more special to me. I realized the other day that this will be the first one in eight years that I have mainly spent at home ... and as I reflected back on the past seven Septembers, I realized that, in addition to everything else, September has become a month of memories for me ...

On Alcatraz

As September 2011 dawned, I had just met Mark several weeks before. I had also been unexpectedly served with divorce papers. Mark had long planned a road trip up the northern California and Oregon coasts, and he asked me to go with him. It was a tough decision: my professional and family situations were precarious. On the other hand, I knew instinctively that this was an opportunity to follow my heart in a way that I had never done before. I chose to go, and as a result, my life was forever changed.

Wine tasting in Sonoma

Mark drawing "Mark Loves Joseph" in the sand on a California beach.

One of our all-time favorite pics together, on the Oregon Coast.

We hadn't been home long from this first trip together when Mark scheduled our second: a cycling trip in Europe the following September. I basically hadn't been on a bike since my mission days in the mid-80's, but never mind. Mark had confidence that I could do it, and after training hard the summer of 2012, we went.

One of the highlights of that trip was taking my partner back to where I had served as an LDS missionary 27 years before.

In the interior of Corsica during our bike tour there.

Cycling up to the Col du Galibier in the French Alps.

Our world was rocked the following spring of 2013 when Mark was diagnosed with inoperable prostate cancer and he was given 3-5 years to live. As we recovered from the shock, we decided to have a commitment ceremony in late August, followed by a honeymoon to Maui and Japan in September. It would also be a homecoming for Mark, as he had spent most of the first 11 years of his life in Japan where his father was a Lutheran missionary.

On Big Beach on Maui prior to traveling on to Japan.

One of my most memorable birthdays: Mark took me to dinner at the Four Seasons on Maui and surprised me with what had become my traditional birthday treat - a piece of pumpkin pie.

The following September of 2014, we went on another bike tour in Europe, from Geneva to Nice. Afterwards, we went to Rome and Athens and did a week-long cruise of the Greek islands -- something Mark had long wanted to do.

One of my favorite pictures of us, during the cycling tour in France.

By the following September of 2015, Mark's health had begun to seriously decline. Nevertheless, we went on a six-week tour of Europe, visiting Venice and Rome, cruising in the Adriatic up the Croatian coast, visiting London, Amsterdam and Bavaria before concluding with a river cruise from Nuremberg to Amsterdam. It was a magical time for us.

In the Dolomite Mountains on a day trip from Venice.

With new friends on our cruise.

That was to be our last trip together. Mark died the following March of 2016. The cruise company that had organized the Croatian cruise was offering one in Tahiti the following September, so I went on that, partly in connection with the film I had become involved with, partly to see friends I had made the year before. It was one of my first forays into a world without Mark in it.

Upon returning home from that trip, I celebrated my birthday with eight of my ten children. It was to be one of my most special birthdays because of that.

Eight children, a son-in-law and two grandchildren. A wonderful evening.

Moving forward with life after Mark's death was one of the most difficult transitions I have made in my life. There was much I needed to process, much I needed to learn about myself, much I needed to ponder as I felt my way forward. I took up cycling again and went on a couple of tours during the summer of 2017. In September, I went on another gay cruise, this one from Rome to Nice. Afterwards, I ventured out on my own with several day trips from Paris, followed by a visit to Berlin where I celebrated my birthday with my friends Dan and Russ. 

With my friend Dan in Rome

Mont Saint-Michel in France

In Berlin on my birthday with Dan and Russ.

Now, here I am in September 2018, getting ready to celebrate a landmark birthday. As I look back on these past eight years, I feel gratitude for all that I have lived, for all that I have seen and for all--most of all--that I have felt in my heart. I'm grateful for the love I shared with Mark and for all that we were privileged to see, do and feel together. 

But I'm also grateful for the process I went through in the two years after he died and grateful for where I am today, ready for life's next great adventure ...

Friday, September 7, 2018

What I Learned About Love on Santorini

My friend and I were sitting in an open-air restaurant with commanding views of the blue Aegean below us. Despite all the throngs of people wending their way up and down the main shopping street of Oia, a town at the northern end of the Greek island of Santorini, a sense of peace and tranquility surrounded us as we gazed at the water.

I had wanted to return to this place where, four years earlier, Mark and I had visited an art gallery and bought a beautiful reproduction of one of the frescos found at the archeological site of Akrotiri at the southern end of the island. My friend, Craig, had wanted to return to a crystal shop where he had, also four years earlier, purchased a necklace for his partner. We had therefore decided to set out together that morning from our cruise ship to visit this place that was special to both of us. I was, perhaps fittingly, unable to find the art gallery, but we did manage to find the crystal shop and had each purchased a piece of jewelry as a souvenir.

Now, we were sitting in the restaurant, enjoying a glass of wine as we awaited the arrival of my friend's partner from another part of the island. We smiled as a string of donkeys was led down a path next to the restaurant.

As my friend and I talked, the subject of my recent re-entry into the world of dating came up. Craig had met Mark six months before he died, but hadn't had a chance to get to know him. "I'm sure," Craig said at one point, "that Mark told you before he died that he'd like you to be happy, to eventually find someone who you could share your life with."

I looked at Craig and smiled. "Actually," I replied, "no, he never said that. We never had that conversation." A puzzled look crossed Craig's face. I smiled. "That was one area," I continued, "where he simply couldn't go. He never said those things to me because frankly he just couldn't handle the thought of me being with someone else. It was too much for him."

This wasn't the first time someone had made the assumption Craig had made. I think it's part of the story people make up in their minds about people who have a terminal illness. I understand it.

What I didn't say to Craig is how, during the months -- and years -- after Mark died, there were times when I had mourned this inability of Mark's to let me go and wish me well, to leave his blessing upon me to eventually find happiness with someone else. I also came, only fairly recently, to realize how this had held me back from "getting back out there" because I carried feelings of guilt and not wanting to hurt Mark's feelings, even though Mark was no longer here.

Oia: Homes and hotels cascading down toward the hillside.

As I sat there in the moments following my response to Craig's statement, gazing off toward the Aegean, I thought about yet another realization I had come to only a week or so before I had left for Greece ... 

The love that Mark and I had was profound, rich ... and rare. Many, many people expressed this to me both before and after he died. "Most people never experience what you two shared," was a not uncommon statement. What I didn't realize until 2-1/2 years after Mark's death is that those statements had contributed to a belief I carried deep within me that they were right ... and that I would never again find love, for my ability to do so had died with Mark. Furthermore, during those dark months after he died, I could only see the love that he had proffered me, not the ability within me to love freely and deeply, as I had done with him. In those lonely times, I saw not the possibility for me to attract deep love, only the absence of the love I had felt from Mark.

These realizations had only come after I had finally reached a point this past June where I decided two milestones had been reached in my personal development that told me I was ready to start dating. First, I felt I was strong enough in myself, in my sense of self following the deep enmeshment that existed between Mark and me during the three years following his diagnosis, to contemplate entering into another relationship. When Mark died, I didn't know who I was. It took a while for me to find myself. Secondly, I felt like I had grieved completely what had disappeared from my life -- Mark and my relationship with him -- in order to allow me to enter into another relationship without comparing it to what Mark and I had or to compare another man to Mark. 

Me, Rafi and Craig in Oia

All of this flashed through my mind as I sat in that restaurant in Oia. And then it came: Suddenly, I felt Mark's presence in my mind, and the realization burst open there that he had continued to progress, wherever he is, and that he was now in a place where he could joyfully and lovingly wish me well in finding someone to share my life with. There was also a note of apology that he had not been able to do this while he was still here. But the love that I felt from him during that moment, the earnestness of his desire that I find happiness with someone else, more than compensated for any regret or sadness.

A huge smile on my face, I turned back to Craig and shared with him what had just happened, and later, with his partner, Rafi. My heart was singing. Perhaps I would have come to the realization I had just received somewhere else at some other time; but I couldn't help but feel that I was meant to receive it there, among friends in a place that had been special to Mark and me. I knew that this alone had made my trip to Greece worthwhile, and I returned home a changed man.

Monday, July 9, 2018

Rest Day Reflections

Eight days of riding. 434 miles. 44,000 vertical feet. Five more days to go. Sore legs. Sore butt. I again ask myself, "Why do I do this?" 

A rest day is a good day to think about answers to that question. I've mentioned a few in social media posts this past week: being enveloped in spectacular mountain scenery that one crawls by and through, rather than whizzing by in the enclosed space of a car; feeling young at heart (if not young in body); the thrill of the descent that is immeasurably sweetened by the effort one has made to get to the top.

But there are more, and one of the main reasons is because I'm with a group of people with whom I've shared memories over the course of the past six years. A group of people who knew Mark, who shared riding experiences with me/us in Corsica and southeastern France. It's been fun to laugh and reminisce, to savor and appreciate.

Mark and me in Corsica

Patti and Ross in France. They've been on all my Erikson tours.

Me and Mark outside Gourdon, France in 2014

Tom and his niece, Heather, in Annecy, France in 2014. Tom's been on all my tours.

Playing boules in France, 2014. Mark, Tom, Michelle and Galen.

Mark in the Vercors, France, 2014.

My last post was about looking but not finding meaning in memories embedded in places and people. In contrast to my experience in Pau, being with this group of people for the past week has gladdened my heart and I have found richness and sweetness in shared memories. I'm grateful to be here. For the beauty, yes. For the thrill of the descent, yes. For feeling young at heart, yes. But more than all of that, I'm grateful for what this group of people and I have shared together and what we continue to share.

Tom (right) and me with Jeff and Sylvia. They're from Salt Lake and were on the 2014 tour with us.

Sylvia with Glenn Erickson, founder of Erickson Cycle Tours.

Tom and Heather.

So, is it worth it? Yes. The sore legs and sore butt and sore back are all worth it. Just to be here. To experience what I'm experiencing. But. I am SO grateful for a rest day.