I wanted to write about this at the time it happened a few weeks ago, but I wasn't in a writing mood, and I was distracted by a lot of other things. It's about attending an AIDS benefit in Salt Lake at which a friend of mine was singing.
I'd never been to an AIDS benefit. I didn't know what to expect. I had visions of scantily clad drag queens dancing down the aisles singing "We Are Family" a la Bird Cage, but I figured that was an exaggeration.
It was. But there was a Carol Channing-esque drag queen who sang some twisted variation of Hello Dolly. It was pretty comical. And then there was the small guy who sang a song about a kite from some Charlie Brown musical (You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown??). The song ended in a sort of descending scale and sudden decrescendo as his kite he was singing about fell to the ground and his head dropped in disappointment...it would have been a perfect Viagra ad, but you had to be there.
But what I remember most about the benefit concert is that I had one of the most emotionally releasing moments in a long time, and that I felt so much love and unity and hope in that room. I felt that these were generally hopeful people who wanted love and unity in their lives and in the world around them. I felt we were all there for the benefit of others and that differences of beliefs or opinion or interpretation of scripture were totally secondary to being there to improve ourselves and the world around us and mourn with those that mourn and comfort those who stand in need of comfort...
An especially poignant moment for me was when a man with a very nice voice sang Empty Chairs at Empty Tables, from Les Miserables, and the reality of AIDS and its victims became more real to me. I realized he was singing this for a crowd who, many of them at least, had actually seen several friends die of the disease and probably had many friends who had taken their own lives (which came to my mind because of a recent suicide of a gay LDS youth in the area), and it just brought to my heart the pain and suffering among many in the gay community above and beyond what I experience on a day-to-day basis, as well as the hope and the desire for better. It humanized them, which you might think shouldn't be necessary for a boy who likes boys, but I, just like anyone, have the tendency to color my perceptions with political strokes and supposed differences between "them" and "us", as much as I may try not to. This isn't to say I don't recognize that even the organization we were there to support probably does things with the money I wouldn't agree with, but most of what they do with it is probably what I would deem a "good cause".
As I felt some walls breaking down and a unification of hearts despite existing political, religious, or ideological differences, I wondered why I don't feel this more often at church? Is it me? Is it the wards? Are we so lazy that we just go through the motions and forget our motivations? Are we so caught up in rules and regulations that we forget to simply worship and serve, and to love each other purely?
Then my friend sang a duet with a girl following the Les Mis number. They sang Come Thou Fount, and my heart melted. I don't know, for sure, what it was, but it must have been pent-up emotions releasing at once in a flood of tears. Maybe it was hearing a hymn sung at a fairly gay-dominated function, which was sweet to me. Maybe it was seeing my friend up there, a friend I hadn't spoken to much lately, and missing him and hoping he was doing well but feeling sad that we seemed to be drifting apart. Maybe it was my own conflicted thoughts giving way to simple emotion. I didn't know what was happening to me, exactly, but I started sobbing almost uncontrollably. I was feeling broken down, humbled, and softened. I felt more alive than I had in a long time, more human, more connected in general.
I enjoy that feeling, the rare times it happens. It makes me wonder if I'm really masking a lot of emotion and vulnerability. Am I hardening myself for my own protection? I know some friends would say, "Duh," but I'm not sure we're talking about the same thing. Nevertheless, maybe they're at least partially right. Maybe I "handle" things too much, in a way. Maybe I need to learn to let go more. Maybe I need to be more teachable, more humble, more malleable, more purely loving, more vulnerable, more desirous to just be a good person and help those around me and offer love and encouragement.
What I hadn't felt in my ward meetings for a long time came to me in an Episcopal church in Salt Lake City among a gay-friendly congregation. Go fig. I don't exactly blame the church for the fact that I haven't had such experiences there for a long time. And I don't want to go out and find a gay-affirming congregation of some other church to attend. Neither of those is the point at all. I accept the possibility that it's at least as much me as it is the wards I've attended, but still, I think there's something to be learned.
Note: My recent entries probably make me out to be an emotional wreck and a cry-baby. It's not true. It's just that I write about experiences that stand out. ...OK, maybe it's true sometimes. Shut up.