|DJan and Judy at Manresa Castle last summer|
We met in an exercise class at the YMCA the first year I was here, so we've known each other almost five years now. When we first met, her daughter who lives on the East Coast had her only two grandchildren, but now her son and daughter-in-law who live here in Bellingham have had three kids, so she is very busy helping out with the little ones. I feel fortunate there is still time left over for her to get out and enjoy things with me. She's my go-to-the-movies partner.
Judy recently shared with me a book I just finished by Abraham Verghese, a memoir about the time he was an infectious diseases doctor in Tennessee at the beginning of the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s. It reminded me that there was a time, which I remember very well, before the onset of that awful virus, and how much the world has changed since then. Millions of people have died; some of them were good friends of mine in Boulder. It was more than thirty years ago, but much of that time period is still fresh in my mind. In our country, gay men have suffered more than any other demographic from that epidemic.
The movie we saw last night was called Any Day Now, a movie set in 1979 about a gay couple (a drag queen and a lawyer) who face enormous prejudice when they try to adopt a Down syndrome child who has been abandoned by his junkie mother. Although it's very clear that he wants to stay with them and nobody else cares about this child, he is shunted off to an institution. They cannot win against the legal system. It doesn't have a happy ending, and I kept waking up during the night thinking about life and wondering whether the world is any better off today than it was then. A family is certainly not always comprised of a traditional nuclear family. I had the feeling that, given half a chance, this family would have been unrivaled in love and caring for each other. But it was not to be. Is it any better today?
Love is an elusive emotion, but when you feel it, it's not to be denied. There are many related emotions that people sometimes confuse with love. I remember a short poem by Emily Dickinson that has always stayed with me. The first two lines are, "That Love is all there is / Is all we know of Love." When you allow yourself to love someone or something, you take a chance that it will be taken away through the circumstances of life. I have tried unsuccessfully at different times of my life to wall myself off from feelings when I've been hurt. Being heartbroken because of a loss is a part of my life that can cause my eyes to fill with tears before I've even identified the specific cause. Just put me in a movie theater and have an actor depict lost love, and I am weeping. I wept as I read the book last week. I cry easily, and it makes me glad, to tell you the truth, because once I've spent some time crying, I feel better. Am I weird or what?
Partly it's because I realize that life is fragile, and the people and things that I love will not always be with me. I know this because I've experienced it. Life is filled with hard knocks. Some people build a shell around them, but it doesn't really help. It's called denial, or stoicism, or something. No one would ever accuse me of being a stoic.
Life, however, is also filled with Love. In fact, if I listen to Emily, Love is all there is. She implies that love is impossible to define and that it transcends the need for definition. Is she suggesting that we can recognize love either because it fits our souls perfectly, or because we can endure the suffering it brings? I'm asking a lot of questions this morning, aren't I?
Maybe it's because I'm beginning to think about my upcoming travel to visit Norma Jean in Florida, but I'm feeling the time flowing by quickly these days. I've got a day of travel before I can spend two weeks in the sunshine. I am looking forward very much to spending time with Norma Jean, and when I come back home to Bellingham I will spend time with Judy, my sister of the heart.