Saturday, July 23, 2016

william collette

Listen, my children, and you shall hear . . .
-- Paul Revere's Ride


"Mr. Collette is coming!"

Nine and ten year old boys are squirming at the rumor, and Miss Barlow, you can see, is losing track of her French lesson. She knows how this will go. The decks are being cleared for action. Textbooks are respectfully closed, fountain pens and inkwells capped, tablets placed in storage under desks, pencils dropped in the groove that keeps them from rolling onto the floor.

The headmistress steps through the door at the back. "Boys, we have a guest today." In our rising sigh of anticipation he steps to the front, and takes an easy perch on the edge of the desk. Miss Barlow has found a place on the side. We are assembled and composed: our little blue jackets with gold and grey trim, our grey shorts and stockings with the blue stripe at the top, our shirts and ties.*

"Now listen, boys, listen very carefully. Listen to the words. Listen to the sound of them."

And we do. He opens his book to the place marked.

"By the shores of Gitche-Gumee,
By the shining Big-Sea-Water,
Stood the wigwam of Nokomis,
Daughter of the Moon, Nokomis.
There the wrinkled old Nokomis
Nursed the little Hiawatha,
Rocked him in his linden cradle,
Bedded soft . . . "

And I have gone soft. I am gone. But he has stopped now.

"Do you hear it, boys? Do you hear the beating of the lines? How many? How many beats to the line? Listen: by the shores of Gitche Gumee, by the shining . . . "

Someone shouts "Four!"

"Yes. Good. Four beats, every line. Listen some more. What is it like?" And we listened some more.

"Ishkoodah, with fiery tresses,
Showed the Death-Dance of the spirits,
Warriors, with their plumes and war-clubs,
Flaring far away to northward . . . "

"It's like a drum" says someone. "Good" says Mr. Collette.

That night I dream of falling stars and rising winds, spirits of forest and river, and of words that won't stay on the page but fly on my breath and on the four beats of my pulse.

He would come back to our school without warning; always the same commotion, the same attention, and a new song.

"Water, water every where, nor any drop to drink!" That night I carry the weight of the albatross, and cannot find rest until I remember to bless the slimy creatures of the sea.

And again. "The highwayman came riding -- riding -- riding -- " He waits while we dare not breathe. "The highwayman came riding, up to the old inn door." And all night I strain, through the open windows of my bedroom, to hear those hooves coming up Banbury Road, North Oxford.

And hooves! yes, hooves!
"A hurry of hooves in a village street,
A shape in the moonlight, a bulk in the dark,
And beneath, from the pebbles, in passing, a spark
Struck out by a steed flying fearless and fleet."**
Oh yes, we could hear!

We could hear past the words, and past their sound to the thing, to the headlong gallop of the hero's mount that bore the fate of a nation. We could do this, because Mr. Collette had taught us to do it. Or I at least could do it, could not stop doing it, because Mr. Collette had taught me. (I don't really know about the others; I didn't really care.)

And every time Mr. Collette came to my school my dreams would change, and I would make my father buy me the book of a new poem so that I could memorize it, become the verse and then sing the song. And I'd tell my dad the things this piper had taught us.

Until my dad decided that this was a phenomenon. My parents invited William Collette to lunch one Saturday morning. He arrived on his bicycle and parked it by the front door, and there was a leisurely discussion. My father thanked Mr. Collette for being such a teacher, for catching the imagination of his burdensomely intelligent and rebellious boy. And Mr. Collette thanked him, and me, for my attention, and for giving him the sense that he was heard. And he had an idea: he asked my parents if I might be his guest on some Saturdays to see Oxford scenes that were part of his life.

For instance, on one of those spring Saturday mornings, blessed usually with English sunny intervals, this very young and my very old friend went punting on the river Cherwell. After suitable demonstration, I was permitted to take over, and caused only a few gentlemanly collisions in the midst of that tranquil stream.

William Collette was an Oxford schoolteacher, retired I suppose. There you have it. A little tall and slender, balding but not noticeably because the hair on his temples was cut short. Spectacles, of course, and patches at the elbows of his tweed jacket.

On the last expedition, William Collette revealed that he was a change-ringer in one of the spires of Oxford. He introduced me to his seven colleagues. Eight bell ropes came down through the ceiling. Their task was to ring the bells through a series of permutations lasting a quarter hour or more, never repeating themselves or leaving out a line, while not hanging themselves by their own bell-ropes.

My friend took me by spiral stairs to a room even higher than that one, where through a grate in the center of the floor I could watch the now quiet bells when they roused. A gallery ran around the tower, from which I could look down at Oxford in all directions. I marveled at the exactness of temperature, the greenness of greens, the seeming perfection, from this altitude, of ancient stone in haphazard order. Perhaps that is the moment in life when I have best understood English patriotism.

Then the bells started moving. I didn't hear bells, not like you hear them in a movie or a tourist video. It was neither tune nor permutation but a moaning, and the stone became liquid, the tower like the throat of a beast reacting to pain. I held on to the railing that now seemed flimsy, unsure that the writhing beast would not fling me into the town square. When the dust settled, and my friend brought me home to Banbury Road, I could not describe my experience. Now I describe it.

Once again the substance of a dream. Once again this mild and gentle man had shown me through a portal of uncanny. A strange friendship, and I the strange child who more than others could follow him to mysteries concealed by the tranquil life. Perhaps not so tranquil after all. In the quietest of country houses, there may be a wardrobe with no back, a conduit from tedium to immanence. That's what Lewis thought, and he left us Narnia.


*The uniform of North Oxford Preparatory School, where I did an equivalent of fourth grade while my father was a fellow at Queen's College, Oxford University (1955-56).

**See Longfellow's "Song of Hiawatha" and "Paul Revere's Ride," Coleridge's "Rime of the Ancient Mariner," and Noyes's "The Highwayman."

Thursday, July 21, 2016

pour out


It is beginning to seem possible that birth -- as well as the subsequent life cycle that follows it -- may be a serious safety risk for all those involved.
-- the Onion*

He made himself nothing
    by taking the very nature of a servant.
-- Philippians 2:7 (NIV)

No doctor ever saved a life. So far, every doctor's every patient has died, or is expected to.

In the last century and a half, doctors gained powers to delay death. Sometimes they give us options about how, or when, or for what we die. I did not have to die of a ruptured appendix at the age of forty-four, but was given the option of living a second half of my life, doing the things I've done, learning the things I've learned, loving the ones I've loved -- for which I am grateful. These are the meanings of my life since then. Yes, I gladly took the option.

A doctor once said to me, "I have good news. You'll die of something else." I laughed and was glad, for it really was good news. I will die of something someday, but not now. That's what a cure is: you don't have to die right now of this, but can die some other time of that. And we are usually glad for the option.

And yet sometimes the cost of a cure is high, and various cures must be weighed against each other. Sometimes a cure is worse than the disease. And sometimes there is no cure to offer, for this is what one will die with. It has been thought that such a moment terminates medicine. But not so: this is not the end of medicine. In such a time the doctor's work resembles mine: the doctor is now exposed as a counselor. This is called palliative care.

One can endure great pain, incur great expense, wait out great passages of time, in the hope of a cure. But if there is no cure, one wants a different schedule of benefits. One might want, right now in this time of sickness, to be relieved of pain. One might hope to avoid annihilative expenses. One might want to spend the time not in a fruitless quest but on a fruitful presence to something, someone.

This kind of contract begins with a renunciation. I am not here, says the doctor, to do what doctors do. I am not here to cure your disease. If we are agreed on this, I can help you live with your disease, even if the disease is killing you. I have tools and technologies, compassion and skill. What is it you most want in this time of sickness?

A counselor's work also begins with a renunciation. I am not here, says the counselor, to fix you. Or cure the "thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to." Or relieve you of the need to die. If we both agree that I am not here to fix you, then I might help you live with your brokenness, your shocks, your need to die. What is it you most want in this time of mortality?

The hardest part of it comes at the beginning, as we begin again and again. The hardest part is to keep it clear that I am not here to fix you. Because I want to fix you. It's hard to look into your brokenness, so I want to squirt in some medicine, sew you up, suture and bandage you -- there, no more of that. And this would make me feel powerful.

And you want me to fix you. You want me to make your death and grief go away.

We can't help it. We're only human.

But sometimes, having thrown every tool and device, slogan and ideology, into the struggle and lost them, we stop and there is silence because nothing is left to say. We are finished. Done. Kaput. Out of breath. We remember that humanness can't be fixed, and that's when it begins. Don't just do something! Sit there! The healing starts. Some would say, the Glory of the Lord, descending on cables like a set piece into your scene. Nothing to be said. Just a little music, please maestro, to cover the creaking of the pulleys.

Some of the followers of Yeshua said that he had poured himself out, emptied himself of power, in order to defeat the power of death. Regardless of those metaphysics, we know that Yeshua was a Jew, one of those whose national identity was a rescue of victory from utter defeat. Where there is no cure there may be a kenosis. You have to die before you can push the stone aside.

*"World Death Rate Holding Steady at 100 Percent," Vol. 31 Issue 2 (January 22, 1997)

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

olden days

. . . his youthful hose, well saved, a world too wide
For his shrunk shank . . .
-- As You Like It, II. vii. 164-5
I've become in my certain age a conservative in dress. As a younger fool, lacking sense of the impression I made, I put on the thing I thought would make an impression of me. Bell-bottom trousers, a Nehru jacket, a large pendant of indeterminate holiness, a romeo shirt, a black beret -- oh, the humanity!
I haven't mentioned the colors. I once combined red-white-and-blue vertically striped slacks, and a polo shirt with red-white-and-blue horizontal stripes. I went out of the house this way after having looked in the mirror. I thought it was funny. I'll say in my defense that in those days I was qualified in one way to carry such a thing off. I was in good shape: I had a waistline, and my abdominals could be counted. But I was venturing into badlands far too rugged for my city feet, whose terrors I could only learn by trial and disaster. My department head was quite annoyed. I found his reaction funnier than my original idea had been. Now they tell me: when you're in a hole, stop digging.
I loved to go to a departmental party in a pair of bright blue trousers, a swirly shirt like an undiscovered draft by Pollock, and sometimes -- mea maxima culpa -- a neckerchief. I was of course trying on a role. I wanted to be Errol Flynn but lacked the skills of the role, which include fencing up and down castle stairs and using chandeliers as rapid transit. It was a false consciousness. Errol's way into the world could never be mine. When the servants put a chandelier in your hands, you're supposed to know what to do. "Your transportation, sir."
Errol's way could not be mine. I went into training to learn where my hands and feet were, but this knowledge, though it gets you in the movie, does not a Robin Hood make. This costly knowledge, this message of life, left me still unable to dash and feint, thrust and parry, vault onto my horse, somersault and split another's arrow with my own. A physical artist feels not only his hand on the hilt but the tip of his foil as well, and beyond. An athlete knows not only where his hands and feet are, but where other things in the world will be, when they will get there and how he will keep them from harming himself and others. 
My abs have now long since gone absent without discovering their mission, and there is no expedition to recover them. They came and went, alas, in the wrong period and perhaps to the wrong person.
In these later days I rarely try to make an entrance. Entrances are there already and it's my job to find them. If I enter the right scene, I'll emerge as a major player when my moment comes. There's usually no mileage in raising an issue; the real issues will find me.
So my clothes are of common types, acceptable at work and in real life, bought out of reliable catalogues, in combinations of color tried and tested by time, though sometimes a little more aggressive than expected of my profession. I have a winter wardrobe, a spring wardrobe, and a summer wardrobe. I don't want to strategize -- not about that. Turtlenecks, blazers, polo shirts, camp shirts, pleated trousers of various weight. Nothing essentially provocative.
Exception: I subscribe to a Sock Club.* Every month in the mail I get an envelope with a new pair of designed socks. No telling what: a purple field of silver and golden stars perhaps, or a sunrise over the mountain with a flock of birds. I do not bring these artifacts regularly to work, but will wear them at a party, or at a wedding, as my something shocking that might unexpectedly shine on the occasion. If I cross my legs and the cuff of my trouser creeps up, my private jubilation appears. Now God knows, anything goes.
These celebratory artifacts adorn a part of my body that has never been splendid but is still nothing to be ashamed of. In former days, old gentlemen used to pad their stockings to assure those who saw them of their strength and -- well, their prowess. But my shank is not shrunk. My legs get plenty of work. I still walk, climb steps, carry burdens. These hose are not my youthful ones but new, and not "a world too wide." There is still flesh on these bones, and not too much. As an eponymous young blonde woman once said, it's just right.
*Should you be interested in the service, this is the website: www.sockclub.com.


Friday, July 1, 2016

hollis queens

. . .  He that filches from me my good name, 
Robs me of that which not enriches him,
And makes me poor indeed.

-- Othello, III. iii. 159-161

"Hollis!" What have I done? Who found out? 

When I visit our church in Garden City, I take the Long Island Railroad. Subway downtown to Penn Station, where I watch the board until it posts the track assignment, then down the stairs, board the train to Long Beach, take a seat on the north side of the car, so I'll be in the shade from the morning sun. The train pulls out under the East River and surfaces on the other side: stop at Woodside, then Jamaica. Get out of the train, cross the platform, board the train for Hempstead, settle in as it pulls away . . .

"Hollis!" Where you gonna run to?

Very few things are named Hollis. There's me. And there was my dad (deceased). And there is the village of Hollis in Queens, which is the first stop out of Jamaica on the way to Garden City. So if I hear these two syllables I assume I am the target. I jump to attention. Who else could it be? Particularly if the word is spoken with a certain stress.


"The next station is . . . Hollis!"

There's a voice who does the automated announcements on the city subway and the Long Island Railroad. His name is Charlie Pellett. He sounds automated. He's crisp, resonant, a bit peremptory, very Anglo-Saxon in a mixed city. His most famous line is "Stand clear of the closing doors." The consonants click off his teeth and tongue. No "stan' clear," no "closin' doors."

The routine words -- "This is the train to . . .", "This station is . . ." , "The next station is . . .", -- are so familiar that I do not listen. But That Voice pushes the place names. Subject and predicate lose their connection. It's as if The Voice had been interrupted; it now sounds alarm against the intruder.

"This station is . . . HOLLIS!"

It's like a signal to the others, those who are not Hollis; in a moment they will converge and throw me off the train.

There it is -- a fleeting paranoid ideation, prompted by the rarity of my name, by its assignment to place, and by the dubious authority of a Voice that is clear rather than corporeal.

But there is another prompt, an infantile memory. I go back to a two-bedroom house in Durham, North Carolina; a house that I left when I was eighteen months old. My crib was in the front corner room, where they put me for my afternoon nap. Sometimes I had other ideas.

I stand up in the crib, and start to climb over the rail. Suspended between crib and floor, I see a flash of light and hear the voice. "Hollis!" Caught in flagrante, halfway over the rail, I look around the room and see no one who could be speaking. "Go back to sleep!" says the voice. Caught in bad faith, exposed to a presence I cannot name, I sink down onto the mattress. There is no hiding.

My father was a preacher, and his voice to me all-creative. No doubt the reflection of sun on a car's mirror struck my eye through the window. No doubt from the back bedroom where he had set up an office, my father heard the creak of the crib and knew my mischief. With a disembodied word he could prevent it. He did not need to materialize, for his spirit was everywhere.

It was a long time before I could distinguish between the man of God and the thing itself. "This is my Father's world," says the song, and I loved the song, hearing it in two ways mixed. I was comforted to learn that "rocks and trees, the skies and seas" had been wrought by his hand, the hand that I held when I crossed the street -- it seemed plausible to me.

I'm still reading the trace of that encounter today -- though I may not know it, someone is watching, is ready to call my name, not always approving. And I may wonder what I have done, who knows it and how they found out, and when they will throw me off the train.

But if I stumble into goodness, I pray someone will see it. I am rarely asked to account for the The Name; those who use the word either know what they mean or think they do. But if The Name is really at work in the world, I think one of its tasks is to be the best audience. He sees not just a result but the pain that went into it. He won't cut me off after sixteen bars, before I sing my high note.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

one's own

You could put everything I know in a thimble.
What we're taught to be don't resemble
The kings and queens who for thousands of years
Ruled magnificent cities washed away by tears.

-- "African Homeland," The Color Purple*

My friend, in tears "by the fourth second," remembered these words in particular, words of a young woman discovering who she is. Denied self-knowledge in the land of her birth, Nettie locates her self on the terrain of Africa. Seeing her own people as kings and queens, she remembers what she never knew. This is her stage, a room of her own, where limbs can extend and the soul unfold, and where her kingliness has place.

My friend wept at these words. Is she African? No, Asian. She comes here from a different place, and Nettie takes her to a place she has not been. People have come from China to America at different times, in different circumstances and with different hopes, and they inhabit many social locations. Some of their stories are as soaked in American cruelty as the worst stories of the South. I do not know her particular heritage, the things her specific America has concealed; but wherever she goes she will keep learning to be both Chinese and American, and some phrase of this song harmonizes with Nettie's. All of us have to grow up into ourselves, find the place where we can remember what we never knew. It's the roman à clef that we never finish. It's the lark's ascending into her proper, better story.

So I can feel Nettie's coming into her own. Yes. Me too. I can. Who knows? in my present water-logged mode, perhaps I would have been weeping too. How is this possible? For it is possible. If it were not possible we could never talk about justice.

I will never understand The Black Experience as a person of color does. I will never know a woman's life as the woman does. I will never know what it is like to be gay as my gay friends do. What right have I to understand them? How dare I, the whitest and straightest of men, appropriate the experience of these Others to colorize my own novella? The possibility of such empathy is much denied, and much condemned.

But I can, and I must, reach out of my story into yours, if we ever hope to meet. There will be mystery, not only between man and woman but between man and man, woman and woman. There is enigma between and among those of color and the colorless. There is incomprehension between parent and child. There is no perfect knowledge between me and the forty-eight year companion of my life. We do not live together, persons or peoples, by logic. It's poetry that saves us. Across the gaps we fling our similes at each other. We say "This that I have lived through is, I think, in some part like what you have lived through; can you feel the likeness?"

And sometimes we can feel it. It's never perfect. How could it be perfect? what would that mean? But it's what we do.

Though I am straight, I respond emotionally to the pain of gay people. This does not make me a liberator or a hero; just a person who has felt something like another's oppression. The brutality of children marked me with the word "queer," and with the loathing that accrued to that name. A lumbering youth with coke-bottle glasses, who did not know where his hands and feet were, who could not catch a ball or score a basket, who spoke in tones of the literature where he found his true friends, who lacked the ensigns of American boyhood, would be bullied as something other than a boy. In the idiot culture of those days, a "homo" was a failed heterosexual, the boy last picked when choosing sides, someone so hideous that he could only pair off with another reject. It took many years to learn that I am straight, though sometimes unhappy, and still no athlete; but there lingers in me that heartbreak of a boy denied his place. This is not exactly like being gay and having to come out, but it has some connection with it: my gay friend and I both were shamed as defective in our manhoods. I too have wondered where my country is, the place where my soul could unfold. I'm still learning that I am not hideous.


When I was in showbiz I had to make many pictures of myself, and learned that I clean up pretty good. Not hideous.

But there's a part of me that think's it's a trick.

So don't try to take a candid of me. I'll hate it. I promise you.
*Musical based on The Color Purple by Alice Walker, music and lyrics by Brenda Russell, Allee Willis and Stephen Bray, book by Marsha Norman.

Monday, June 13, 2016

subway music

And there could I marvel my birthday
Away but the weather turned around.

-- Dylan Thomas, "Poem in October"


The older I get the softer.

I sat on the bench, sorry for myself, and waited for the train that would take me to the next client. What a good guy I was, working the holiday. Strange how quiet it was, and the platform empty.

A mom came through the turnstile, with two boys: one about nine years old, talking, talking, very excited, something about robbers and how to foil them, the other boy smaller and quiet but squirmy. To the older boy Mom would say, Oh my, or That's interesting, while she managed the little brother with a nudge, a hand on the shoulder, a grab by the belt. Nothing wrong here. Everything under control. They sat at the other end of my bench.

A subway musician was setting up his keyboard, adjusted a stool, plugged in an amp, flipped a switch, played a few chords, ran a scale and strung an arpeggio, found a pulse. There was something familiar about it, easy, persuasive. My legs were moving. Not dancing, I don't dance. But the balls of my feet touched ground left, right, left with a little bounce, not to be stopped.

The notes snapped into a line. Ain't misbehaving.' And nobody was. The loud boy proclaimed his plan for truth, justice and the American way, as my feet lurched from side to side. Somehow we fit together, that loud boy and I, the little brother squirming over the bench between us.

I thought about Fats Waller and his songs, his blackness and his blueness, his innocence and wickedness. I thought how lucky I was to live in a world that Fats Waller had passed through, so that now on a subway platform I could be moved against my will by his song. So much trouble the world had gone to -- for this.

Then the mom did something genius. She took the squirmy boy by the hand and stood him up. She danced a little two-step with him, and he calmed right down. There we were, all of us together, harmonizing. No words. We weren't even looking at each other.

Our train was coming, but it was all fuzzy and there was something wrong with my specs, and I had to clean them off with my shirt as I entered the car, and before I could put them back on I had to wipe my cheekbones with the butts of my hands. Where did this water come from? What had I done to deserve this? When did I earn such beauty?

But I hadn't earned it, and didn't deserve it. It was a gift.

A message saying . . . though I cannot make it happen, it may happen.

I was raised to get things right; mistakes were shameful; they exposed to the world my laziness and poor character. Leave no stone unturned, says the voice, be sure to check and double-checkforget the easy parts and work the hard parts, there's no excuse for mediocrity, no dessert before you eat your spinach. But the light of the world shines through flaws, gaps and tiny abysses.

I breathe better as I unpin the corset of perfection, drawn so tight long time ago.

As I get older I get looser. As I get older, this kind of thing happens more often. I am permeable. I can't be fixed.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

why me

Take my hand quick and tell me . . . 

-- A. E. Housman, "A Shropshire Lad"

Speak tenderly to Jerusalem.

-- Isaiah 40:2 (NRSV)


- You're a priest? -

- A chaplain. -

Not even a client of mine. This won't appear on my work record. I had gone to a hospital room, met a patient, assessed the needs, performed the introduction, given the blessing. And as I was leaving he came out from behind the curtain that partitioned the room. He was young and robust and ambulatory (meaning in medical lingo that he can walk), so I didn't think he was a patient. I thought he must be the son of a patient. But I looked behind the curtain, and there was no one in the bed. This man before me was himself the other patient. He stood with his left hand on the IV stand that he had rolled from the bedside as he sought me out.

- Can I talk to you? -

- Of course. - 

Of course. I sat down with him. Why me? Not for me to say. I have no authority to refuse. He who has ears, let him hear. He told me his story. He had been HIV positive for thirteen years. He was alcoholic. He had just broken up with his partner. He was in despair. He didn't know how to get through the next twenty-four hours.

- How can I help? -

- Would you pray for me? -

- Of course. -

Of course. He put out his hand and I took it. I looked him square in the eyes, then I closed my own and asked the Spirit to come. It had better come, because my cupboard is bare. The abundance he needs is not in me. Who am I to comfort him?

- Gregg is here with me, - I said, - and he doesn't know what to do. He feels alone and unloved. Send the message, Spirit, send it through me if it's possible. Send it through my body right now, through my voice and my hand and my words if it will serve the purpose but send the good news somehow. Let him know he is loved. Let him know that his illness doesn't matter to you, and that if he's lost you are the shepherd who is on the way to find him. -

I stopped for a bit because I had run out of words.

- That's what we need right now. -

I waited.

- We're waiting. -

We waited.

- Amen. -

I waited. Was I done?

He was tearful. I waited.

- But is it all right that I'm gay? -

The ground fell away, and my breath with it. I hadn't touched it yet. I had talked all around it, but I hadn't gotten to the root.

In the time it would take to hesitate, my hesitation would become the message.

- Of course it's all right. -

But I hadn't hesitated. I had already spoken. I had already jumped off the edge, still reeling.

- Listen to me now. God makes us different, and gives us different gifts. I'm a straight guy and you're a gay guy. I have the gift of loving women, and you have the gift of loving men. We each of us have to find our place in the world, the people who need us. Right now there's someone who needs your love. You don't know where that person is right now, but that's your task, to find them. Somewhere in the world there's an empty spot, and in that place there's work to do that only you can do. -

I was out of words again and out of breath, trying to catch up with the message that was passing.

- Thank you. -

- You're welcome. -

As I waited, a thought of my own broke the murk.

- You're obviously a person of Christian belief. Catholic? -

- No, Lutheran. -

There are Lutherans and Lutherans. So I probed.

- Have you talked about any of this with your pastor? -

His brow furrowed.

- It didn't go well. -

- OK, now look at me. There are pastors who will affirm you. There are congregations that will affirm you. There are whole churches that will affirm you. So if your pastor won't help you, find another one. You hear me? -

- Yes. -

- Promise me that. -

- I promise. -

- Come here. -

And I gave him the biggest bear hug (and I am rather a big bear), and we held each other for a moment.

- You'll remember? -

- Yes I will. You helped me. -

- God bless you. -

And that was it. Abrupt in ending as in beginning. The sky opens, and then closes again. No process. That was the nature of it. That's the dare I say beauty of it. I'll never see him again. This is what we call the boundary.

How could I speak so definitively, all on my own? Because he asked me for it. He asked flat out. And if I had hesitated, my hesitation would have been the answer. He's heard enough hesitation, enough half-hearted blessing, enough advice that he can be one with God if he'll only cut his heart out first.

He needed to hear the blessing. And he needed to hear it from me. Flat out from a straight man. Or through a straight man rather. And he needed to hear it from a man of the cloth, if I may quaintly assume the title; it was a quaintness that he needed. I'm just the channel. I did my best to clear for the message. A messenger maybe I was. I don't know that I didn't save a life.

Isaiah is talking a lot to me these days. His bony prophet's finger probes me, pushing aside dead tissues to reveal the wells of life that I would rather look away from. Being born, the first time or again, is not a peaceful thing. At times the spirit of the Lord, as Isaiah said, descends on one;* and one is chosen, authorized, empowered or -- how did the prophet say it? "anointed" --  to bind up the broken-hearted and comfort the mourners. No telling when, or where. Or why me.

*Is 61:1-2