Monday, October 31, 2011

Anniversary Notes: Steve and I Celebrate 40 Years Together

Today's the final day of October.  And I can't let the month end without mentioning that it was in this month 40 years ago that Steve and I met.  

We don't remember the precise date of our meeting.  We do remember that we met in the context of the charismatic prayer meetings the chaplaincy office of Loyola University in New Orleans had begun sponsoring in those seminal days of the charismatic movement--which at that point attracted both of us, as a way of bringing many of the changes recommended by the Second Vatican Council home to the parish level.  We were quickly to revise our opinion of this movement, however, as it began to be institutionalized within the church as a movement of reaction and regression.

We met at a charismatic prayer meeting Steve was attending in New Orleans as he hitchhiked from his family's farm in northern Minnesota to Mexico to work in a mission about which he'd learned as a student at St. John's University.  Steve had become disenchanted with higher education, had burned his draft card and dropped out of school, and was on a spiritual-existential journey that seemed to be pointing to that small mission in Mexico, near which a cousin of his whom he wanted to meet lived.

The hitchhiking led him to New Orleans, we met, and I convinced him to consider continuing his education--since he was obviously a gifted, highly intelligent person who stood to benefit from a college education, and whose possibilities in life would, it seemed to me, be stunted if he didn't complete college. He agreed, and, to make a long story short, we've been together ever since.

With many twists, turns, bumps, high points and low points in the long road of 40 years . . . . We both remember not very long after this initial meeting that the chaplaincy office sponsored a retreat at the Benedictine monastery across the lake (Pontchartrain) from New Orleans, and we both attended that retreat and had the chance there, for the first time, to talk at a level that went beyond mere chit-chat.

In fact, we remember a starry late October night, cool for south Louisiana, when we went and lay in a field near the monastery, watching the stars and talking for hours.  About God.  About prayer.  About the Vietnam War and protest against it, and the Civil Rights movement and the protests it had sparked.

Sex--of any sort--did not figure into any of these discussions, though I have no doubt that at some subliminal level, erotic attraction ran beneath the mutual attraction we felt to chatting about God and prayer and service to the poor.  Soon after this, a group of us who were finishing college or had just done so, all connected to the charismatic prayer meetings at Loyola, decided to share a house, and since Steve had decided to heed my advice to re-enroll in college and complete his studies at Loyola, we invited him to join us.  And when that venture in community living broke up as various members of the household went their separate ways, Steve and I remained together.

And, to repeat myself, we've been together ever since.  With many twists, turns, bumps, high points and low points in the long road of 40 years.  As a couple who took a long time to discover who we were and why we were together (not that I'm certain we've even now entirely unraveled those mysteries).  That's to say, as a gay couple who took a long time to discover that we were gay and in a gay relationship--even after that relationship was underway.

As a gay couple thinking of ourselves as accidentally and occasionally gay, since the church encouraged us to think of ourselves in that way, and to refute and deny the bonds of love that bound us together (for which it did not even have a language) while we ran repeatedly to confession to confess our "lapses" and our "sins."  And to promise never, ever to repeat these, since, as one priest during these years told me, these are the sins for which God pours down His (this priest's God was decisively male) wrath on the world.  And as another asked me, what if you repent of this dreadful sin now in confession, receive absolution, then go home and repeat the sin and walk out the door and have a bus hit you?  What then?  Hell, obviously.

Being gay in a Catholic context--coming to terms with being gay in the Catholic context the two of us inhabited for many years, as budding theologians in the making--was decidedly not easy.  Or self-evident.  That context was not infrequently kooky to downright crazy, when it wasn't laugh-out-loud silly, with its talk of buses running you over and the fires of hell you'd endure after the bus had hit you.  I'm not unhappy to have lived beyond that Catholic silliness and craziness, due to some obdurate and obviously healthy part of my conscience that has long since convinced me that crazy is not the way God particularly chooses to manifest Herself most choicely and patently in the world.

There's been pain in our relationship.  And years of hard struggle.  And abundant love.  And extraordinary grace.  And wonderful friends who have sustained us along the way, and continue to do so.  And surprises, like the surprise of Steve's getting a job in New Orleans the year after I began teaching there, when we both assumed we'd never live together again, and needed to go our separate ways and live our separate lives as professional theologians who were, of course, expected to be, or, at the very least, present ourselves as, heterosexual--something easier to do when one lives apart from one's partner.

Steve reminded me this past weekend that we need to celebrate our anniversary in some way, and he asked me how I thought we might celebrate.  I don't know, to be honest.  I haven't yet read the definitive guide for gay couples who are theologians celebrating 40 years together, many of which comprised self-deception and deception of others as a result.  Diamonds and platinum, or as Steve suggested, following his family's pattern with anniversaries, tents with dance floors and bands and kegs of beer, somehow don't seem to fit.

Maybe I'm celebrating the anniversary just by blogging about it.  Or maybe there will be other, non-October celebrations to come.  In any case, I didn't want this month to end without my noting this anniversary, which I've also noted by changing my profile page on this blog to note that we're in our 40th year together.  

(The photo of Steve and me is one I believe I've shared before.  Our theologian friend Wolfram from Hamburg took it in the latter half of the 1980s at Cafe du Monde in New Orleans.)

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