Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Unexpected Friends

Years and years ago, Gospel Artist Sandi Patty sang a song entitled, "Unexpected Friends." Version one appeared on her album, "Another Time, Another Place." Version two was a duet sung with Amy Grant, on Sandi's concept album, "Le Voyage."

At the time that both versions were released, I was wrapped up in kids and marriage and church and job and responsibilities. I had numerous acquaintances -- but not a lot of good friends. Growing up as an only child in West Virginia, I was constantly surrounded by cousins and other family members that consumed so much of my time. My other contemporaries were school mates, but sadly, I just never really had a lot of time for any of them. I spent the majority of my time buried in my school work. I didn't socialize much. I was very, very, VERY shy.

Perhaps it's the age thing now, but as I have grown older, I now "get it." I truly understand the necessity of having good, true, strong and solid friendships.

In the past few years as I have experienced the pain of separation, divorce, and the fact that the kids have all flown the nest to begin their own lives I can honestly say that I don't think I would have emerged as the whole and happy human being I am, had it not been for all the unexpected friends I have.

The hurts have all healed now. I am happy and content with my life....and thankful for the many blessings I have received.

Of all the blessings I've received in the past few years I have to say that my friends are the most precious. I'm only sorry that I didn't grasp the concept at a much younger age.

To those of you who have connected with me through this blog -- thank you! I am thinking of all of you this evening, for truly you are my "Unexpected Friends." This is for you!

by Greg Nelson/Bob Farrell
Warner/Chapel Music, Inc.

When the dark closes in so hard I can hardly see
And the walls of my fortress of faith crumble in on me
When it seems like the end
Not a measure of strength to spend
I feel the arms of a stranger rescue me.

[A WHOLE SERIES OF LA LA LAs that I won't try to put here)

When it seems like the end
Not a measure of strength to spend
I feel the arms of a stranger rescue me.

With some unexpected friends
Never asking where I've been
Just a hand of mercy and words of love
Call me back again
Oh, it feels like home with unexpected friends.

A soothing balm for the wounds I suffer along the way
A fevent praying giving courage and home for another day
Though the help of my friends
Ones I may never see again
Seem like angels that were sent by Heaven to rescue me.

Repeat Chorus.

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In The Garden of Stone

Last Wednesday was indeed a special day. You see, I attended the funeral of the father of a dear friend of mine at the historic Ft. Myer Old Chapel. He was entombed at Arlington Cemetery which is next door to Ft. Myer.

I know that I have had my share of deaths this summer. So really I haven't started attending funerals for pleasure. It was just something I felt I needed to do: express concern and care for my friend and his family.

I was so struck by the military precision and the care with which they handled the urn that contained the deceased's remains. He had been cremated. Yet, they carried him in solemnly, gently, and with honor. A folded American Flag rested next to the box.

There was a full procession to where he was entombed -- a niche in the columbarium overlooking the Pentagon with the Washington Monument in the distance. I counted at least 16 uniformed military men who were involved in the ceremony: 8 pallbearers, seven marksmen, and a bugle player. There was a representative from the office of the Secretary of Defense and her escort. The funeral director. The Catholic Priest.

There was the salute...three volleys from seven guns. With our heads bowed and eyes closed, the bugle player raised the instrument to his lips and played taps a few yards away. The haunting melody echoed through the garden of stone.

Then, his widow was presented a flag that had been folded at the conclusion of the ceremony. The pallbearers marched away. In precise unison. The marksman and the bugle player marched off in perfect unison.

My friend's dad was then placed gently into his place. The priest sprinkled holy water and blessed the urn and its surrounding niche. Each close survivor was invited to approach his final resting place for a moment of personal reflection. The widow placed a small bouquet of flowers next to the deceased. Some said audible goodbyes, while others paused in silence, carefully caressing the urn. My friend was the last to pay his respects.

The niche was closed.

We all walked to our cars in the bright summer sunshine. The tourmobiles whizzed by. Tourists darted to and fro looking for the Tomb of the Unknowns, or the final resting places of the Kennedy Brothers. In the distance we saw several other funeral processions -- all headed to their respective final resting places.

But there, among them all, was my friend's dad. He was afforded all the pomp and circumstance afforded the military. Oh, he wasn't an officer. He didn't make a career of the military. It has been perhaps 50 or 60 years since he wore a uniform.

Yet he was honored and not forgotten. His contributions were recognized.

Last Wednesday he took his place in the garden of stone.

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Wednesday, July 08, 2009

ANOTHER Death in the Family

Life can be so strange.

I just returned from vacation – if you can call it that.

It was time off. I got to spend some quality time with my parents and one of my children – the daughter from El Salvador, who has returned permanently and appears to finally be over her wanderlust.

But, it was unseasonably cold and rainy. Many mornings were quite foggy. And the real reason for my time off was due to the death of an Aunt in North Carolina who had battling brain cancer for a number of years.

During the week that I was away, another Uncle was in ICU at one of the local hospitals. He was in rather bad shape. My relatives are all his stepchildren. He had been staying with his biological children since the breakup of his marriage with my aunt. As he lay in ICU, my cousins visited and saw what appeared to be evidence of elder abuse on his lower extremities.

So, this began another drama that played itself out near the end of my stay. My uncle passed away. His funeral was on the day I left to return home.

Three deaths in three weeks!

I find that all this death and dying business has left me feeling wrung out and basically out of sorts.

Going to WV for extended periods is stressful to me. I feel like I am the only gay person in the entire city. From the outside looking in, the communities that my family all operate with in seem to be “Straight Central”. The older I get, the harder it is for me to play along.

So, I spend a lot of my time just being me. I try to relax and be myself. But in the back of my mind I am always concerned about the “issue” and wondering if I am giving anything away. I certainly don’t want to cause any undue hardship on my parents or have people making any bad comments. So, I keep a very “low” profile.

People may think I’m being a snob….or that I am being shy. But really, I just keep my head down. Hopefully no one will notice that I am the odd man out. I am GAY!

Yesterday I received a telephone call from my mother. My uncle’s stepdaughter – my first cousin – had gone through a very ugly and unpleasant divorce from her husband of 32 years a few years ago. He remarried, and we hear that his current wife has filed for divorce.

When he moved out of wife #2’s home, he moved in with a wealthy man that lives in a rather upscale area of my hometown. On July 4, he invited his daughter to visit with her boyfriend.

Over the course of the visit, they determined that the ex-husband is gay and living with another gay man!

So, apparently there are some pockets of gayness right there in the midst of “straight central.”

I suppose you just have to know where to look!

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