Gratitude, Joy, Oneness and Service (Day 904 – Day 907)
My best friend is just like family to me and he has embarked on a seminal adventure in America this week. He is on a hero’s journey that he must take alone. And while I know this, I worry about him when he is driving and camping alone. I worry, and maybe I am over the top on my anxiety, but a boy I cared for died on a camping trip in high school when he fell down a ravine. I don’t know what happened when he disappeared – only his family knows those details – but I do know that he died, alone, in that ravine.
Being over the top on my anxiety has led me into a thought experiment. When you care about someone, you want them to be safe and if they aren’t safe, you want to get them help, as soon as possible. I would be comfortable with being in the position of taking point on alerting National Parks, Highway Patrol and Search and Rescue if my friend, who is just like family – but not family – had failed to check in. But, it turns out that he had made the arrangement with his ‘real family’.
Being like family, but not family, is a wonderful feeling to have with a friend. Sit with it a moment and it becomes clear that it is a pretty terrible position to be in, if the world falls apart. His family probably doesn’t even know that I exist. And if they know that I exist, they certainly wouldn’t think that my attachment to him warranted being kept in the loop.
And my thought experiment causes me to reflect on what is happening in America right now.
In the 1980s, my cousin, DK, died of AIDS. I don’t know if he had a significant other. Knowing his father, I’m pretty sure that if he did have a S.O., that man was not welcomed. The family made all end of life decisions and somewhere in the ethers there was undoubtedly someone who was at least as attached to my cousin as his parents were, and arguably, more so, perhaps. Out in the ethers was possibly a person who my cousin loved deeply, and who probably never got to be near him as he died. He probably wasn’t even kept in the loop.
Being just like family – but not family – is a pretty terrible place to be, when the world falls apart.
When his father made it unbearable for DK, as a young gay man, he left home. My mother took him in – even through he was my father’s nephew, and hers only by marriage. For awhile, I got to grow up with him in my nuclear family, and for that I am grateful. He taught me not to judge someone by their sexuality before I even knew what sexuality was. I am grateful to him for opening my eyes to a world that had fallen apart and a group of people that was so staunchly being pushed into the closet and left to die by politicians like Ronald Reagan and by vocal activists like Anita Bryant. I am grateful to my mother for teaching me about making a family of choice when the world falls apart. DK was more than my cousin – for at least awhile, he was also my brother.
I find joy in knowing that my friend, who is just like family – but not family – is finding himself in the woods, even as I am realizing the pain of being just like family – but not family.
Right now my friend is in Oregon – the seat of some of the most violent protests in the wake of the US election. I think about what the election results and the promised policies may mean for many families in America and I can feel the sense of despair, abandonment and lack of safety that so many in the LGBTQ+ community must be feeling. It is unthinkable that the current painful situation in which I find myself could be legislated by my government: that I would not have the chance to be by his side were he pulled out of a ravine in critical condition.
I’m not an American. There is nothing I can do for my American friends except to be a supporter. Many of them are my extended family of choice and I have a bittersweet sense of Oneness with their sense, when the world falls apart, of not being considered ‘real family’. And I feel the same sense of powerlessness to defend their rights as they might now feel about their own democratic process.
My service this week, and for as long as it takes, is to continue to speak up about marriage equality and climate change, sexism and racism in whatever forum I can, because until you’ve lived a thought experiment like mine and found yourself to be an outsider, you may not realise just how precarious it is to be just like family – but not family – when the world falls apart.