To get your week started off on the right foot, every Monday I’m going have a new tidbit of inspiration for you.
When my friend Fred was a little boy in 1969 in Cincinnati, Ohio, his family got a brand new typewriter. After everybody tried it out, it was finally Fred’s turn, because he was the youngest. So he sat down to plunk out some words and typed a letter to his best friend, Billy.
“Dear Billy, I love you.”
His father, looking over his shoulder, pulled the paper out of the carriage and ripped it up, saying, “You can’t love another boy.”
At the exact same time in NYC, another police raid was occurring on a gay bar in Greenwich Village. In 1969, it was both illegal to serve alcohol to gay people and for gay people to dance with one another in public. At 1:20 in the morning on June 28, the Stonewall Inn was raided by police; but this time the gay patrons fought back. This became the lynchpin moment of the modern Gay Rights movement.
A year after Stonewall, the first Gay Pride March was held by the Christopher Street Liberation Day Committee to commemorate the riots. I was seven years old and had my first crush on another boy.
For the 10-year anniversary of Stonewall, thousands of people attended the first National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights. I was a gay teen trapped in my closet. I was different. I was alone, no longer invulnerable to the laughter and teasing of the bullies in my high school hallways.
In 1993, after a decade of AIDS awareness, the government had just passed ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.’ At that time, I was a young man living with HIV, watching my boyfriend, Michael, die of AIDS. My family didn’t know about him. They didn’t ask. I didn’t tell.
In 2004, for the first time, same sex marriage laws were officially passed in the state of Massachusetts. I was 35 years old and already a public speaker, collecting the stories of other gay teens trapped inside their closets. In one particular email from a teenager named Eric, he described his fear of coming out: “My fingers are shaking as i type these words on my keyboard.” He used a small “i” to describe himself.
In 2008, in California, voters pass ballot initiative Proposition 8 making gay marriage illegal.
“Glee” became the biggest show on TV and Gay/Straight Alliances in high schools were becoming safe havens for teens to freely express themselves. Yet, in every GSA meeting in which I presented, there was always a gay teen in the high school still afraid to walk in the door.
In 2010, 4 more states recognized same sex marriage. At the same time, Tyler Clementi, a Rutgers University student, committed suicide after his sexual encounter with another man was videotaped and displayed.
Last year, Edie Windsor brought her fight against DOMA all the way to the US Supreme Court and won. The Federal Government now recognizes same-sex marriages in states where they are legal. I had the privilege of driving Edie home a few days later where she told me, “If I can’t have Thea (her partner) with me, I get to have the love of the entire community.” Yet many of my transgender friends tell me they still have fear every time they look for a public bathroom.
Today, 19 states plus DC (44% of Americans) have adopted full marriage equality. There has been a significant increase in corporate sponsorship and support from major companies at pride parades. And soon we hope to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) which will provide basic protections against workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.
It’s been a time of unprecedented progress. Through the last 45 years, the LGBTQ community has remained visible and vigilant. But with every step forward, there have been many setbacks.
In order to achieve true equality, we must not only remember how far we’ve come, but also honor the lives of those along the way who stood – and are still standing – in the shadows.
This week, take a moment to type the words, “I love you.”
Share them with someone.
And as you do, pay attention to the struggle and the grace which gave you the freedom to type those very words.
As stories are unscrolled
And handed down to newer generations
Life presents itself to life
Even when life belies its true beauty
See its true beauty
Let no poetry of pride go unnoticed
Your only access to eternity is a single moment. Enjoy this surprising journey. Don’t settle for anything less.
– Tom Todoroff
The night before I sold my parent’s house, the place in which I grew up, I went from room to room to say goodbye. It felt odd at first, but I thanked each doorway for being a passageway to a bigger life. As I moved about the house, so many memories came flooding back: the place I first prayed to God, the backyard grass where I sat with my grandfather on late Sabbath afternoons, the corner of my big sister’s closet where I’d hide away to steal a peak at a picture of a shirtless guy inside one of her ‘Cosmo’ magazines.
Still, the sounds are what I miss the most. The gentle echo of the linen closet door as it shut and clicked into place. The creak of the rusty screen door opening onto the porch outside the kitchen, when my mother would put out the garbage at night. My father’s sock drawer sliding shut.
On a private midnight, look behind you
There are embers still glowing
Buried but breathing
They are the memories of childhood
Like rubble stuck in your shoes
The trappings of time are tapping at your ankles
They have stowed along for the ride
Like the pastel scene when the sun finally gives up the sky
Certain memories capture your attention
Leave behind a captivating color
And guide you into the darkest hours
They are the deep river currents
Directing your dreams
Whatever you have is what you give to the world
You can only offer what you yourself have lived
You can only recover when you respect your past
Look behind you
Your childhood memories are catching up
Let them remind you who you used to be
Let them renew the promises you forgot to keep
What is your favorite childhood memory?
“Be impeccable with your word. Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. What you put out energetically will return to you. Putting out love and gratitude perpetuates the same in the universe. The converse is also true.”
- Don Miguel Ruiz, “The Four Agreements”
What is more important than keeping your word?
Money comes and money goes. Health increases and health declines. Love comes in, but that, too is something that we must ultimately give away. I’ve always believed the one thing we get to keep in this lifetime is our word.
When we keep our agreements the rewards are immediate. We stay in balance with ourselves and we create harmony with others. We have more vitality and self-worth. We know that we can be counted on and this enhances our relationships.
When we break our agreements, we inherit a debt. We are thrown out of balance and pay a price for our inaction. We might develop self-doubt, lessen our self-esteem and deteriorate our relationships with others. We lose another’s trust and shut ourselves off from feeling alive.
My friend David calls it a “Trust Bank.” We either deposit or withdraw from that trust bank account every time we keep or break an agreement. In his words “some people have even speculated that there’s a correlation between our ‘trust bank’ balance and our ‘real bank’ balance.” Think out about that one for a second!
Is your trust bank balance in deficit or is it overflowing?
Remember these points:
- Keeping your word keeps you whole.
- Integrity is an attractive quality; it brings healthy people into your life.
- Make only those agreements you intend to keep.
- Write down the agreements you make.
- Renegotiate the agreement if you determine it will throw you out of balance.
What agreements can you keep this week that can increase your trust bank balance and add to your aliveness?
In my travels, I took a survey and gathered some answers from many of my students:
Being noticed by God
Being comfortable with yourself
Not trying to change yourself for anyone regardless of what others say
To be whatever you want to be
Living up to your expectations
Following your dreams
Thinking twice on who I am
Taking in all parts of life, not just the easy, but also the hard
To know that you exist with all that is inside of you,
the good and the not so good
Being true to yourself
The unchanging parts of yourself
I’m not too fond of the word but I do have lots of respect
for its meaning
Succinctly put, “I, myself, am more Divine than any I see.”
The opposite of sacredness is not disgrace.
It is not failure. It is not confusion. Just because we don’t feel sacred does not mean that we are not sacred. Sacredness is not political correctness. Nor is it being perfect, doing it the right way, living the life our parents would approve of or even believing in God. The part of you that is sacred is not the part that is consummate or pure. It is not about chastity or an ostensible sense of holiness. It has nothing to do with having an awesome basketball game, the straightest hair or the highest grade point average in your class. It is not measured by your driving record, your parent’s income or your body weight.
The part of you that is sacred is the part that is searching.
It is the part caught in the struggle to reclaim a holiness you think you have lost or given away or were never born with. The sacredness in you is the searching for connection to the sacredness in others who are searching for connection to the sacredness in others. It is an alliance of hope, a union with others who seek a common voice. It is part of the ground you walk upon and the air in your lungs.
To be sacred is to include the fear and the unknown into your experience of life. It is found in moments of woundedness as well as in times of achievement. It is becoming acquainted with the notion that you do not have to be put back together at all. Being broken, being confused, being a contradiction is normal. Sacredness is making room for acceptance of such doubt.
It is not up to you to decide whether or not you are sacred; it is up to you to accept, encompass and embrace that you are sacred.
A mother from Massachusetts once emailed me to say, “Casey held up her cell phone this morning and announced that she had deleted all the phone numbers of the guys who do not see her as sacred!”
Sacredness is the source of your true reality. It is the movement of spirit within a heart that is unanchored by loss. Yet it is also the unfolding of delight within and the lift you give to victory.
When it seems that life has been reckless with your dreams and you feel abandoned by God, you are still sacred. When you are confused and when you are victorious, you are still sacred. When you are in a state of negative self-judgment or positive self-approval, you are sacred. In your loneliness or sense of desolation, you are sacred. In your glory and resplendency, you are sacred.
I salute you – all that you stand for, struggle with and believe.
You are always sacred.
It was always interesting sitting next to Phyllis at those meetings. She’d talk out loud and finish people’s sentences under her breath. I suppose for herself and not just for those sitting around her. She grabbed the journal out of my hand and wrote down these words:
“Now that HIV has happened to you, the goal is to learn how to live with a little more gratitude, a little more elegance!”
I wrote down many of my favorite shares from that meeting. Greg, from San Francisco said, “I feel like every cell in my body has a tear to shed.”
Curtis, who had just gotten out of the hospital, shared his experience of lying in bed, preparing to die. “It was just me and God,” he began. “That’s what did it for me. I prayed each night for Him to be with me. Just be with me. And give me peace. And take away all the pain. That’s all.”
Phyllis began to rock back and forth. “That’s all,” she repeated. “That’s all.”
Curtis continued. “It’s just life. We know that. And we all know so many people who have died. So what’s the big deal? I’ll just hang out with them for awhile. ” He paused a moment before he said, “…and, yeah I have fear. I’d lay there with all my fear and think: this is it. So this is it. And then I’d think, what is it? It’s just life.”
Once upon a time, most of my friends died of AIDS. But before they did, they would sit in those support groups and try to find the perfect words to describe their experience.
“I need to make peace with the word ‘AIDS,'” Robert shouted. He was in his angry phase; he had lost his ability to walk. “I want to find a new way to describe my disease. Instead of calling it the Acquired Immuno-deficiency Syndrome, I’m gonna call it ‘Always in Divine Safety.'”
Just then, Ross leaned forward on the white couch. Ross, whose HIV had manifested as a brain tumor, had lost all of his blonde curls from months of chemotherapy and radiation. “I have another one,” he smiled. Ross was always smiling. “I’m gonna call AIDS – ‘Angels in Darth Vader Suits.'”
Curtis and Robert and Ross have died, along with almost everyone in that room that night.
Benji and Phyllis are still alive.
So am I.
It was a time of unexalted destinies. Yet, we still searched for safety and meaning and angels.
This week, if a faithful ache should arrive, think of my friends and try to see the situation as an angel in a Darth Vader suit.
How can you live with a little more gratitude?
How can you live with a little more elegance?
When battle lines are crossed
When the heart breaks
When you’re no longer able to maintain the facade you’ve created
When inside of you, the vulnerable and the authentic
What would you look like?
Who are you when you lay down your weapons?
Who are you when no one is watching?
Who are you in the unguarded moments?
Days are scrolls: write on them what you want to be remembered.
-Bahya ibn Pakuda Hovot HaLevavot
How do we want to be remembered?
By noticing the quality of your days…
By facing your fears…