To Welcome Strangers

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I’m back to my hospital room after my little Propofol “health-nap.” Today, I had an esophagogastroduodenoscopy to find out why I was having so much trouble with my swallower over the past couple months. I’ve been unable to eat until I felt full without getting the most maddening and remedy-resistant (yes, I tried that one too) case of the hiccups often leading to vomiting (sorry) and pain. When blood started streaming out of my nose, I finally sought treatment and that’s when they discovered my heart troubles. I’m going to be just fine. They did four biopsies while they were in there, results from those will come in a week and a half.

So in short, esophagitis. Easily treatable. Downside is I can no longer put a full shot of hot sauce in my Bloody Marys and no more blowing Latinos. (Sorry hermano.)  The doctors have also explicitly forbidden me from allowing excessive levels of stress to impede my health from now on. The Chief Head of Calumniation came by tonight and told me in no uncertain terms that I was never again to sit on my feelings about how Republicans are destroying the country. “Now listen to me, Marine,” he said pointing at me admonishingly with his camouflage otoscope, “this is your health we’re talking about! You see a idiot regurgitating lies, call them out immediately! No MAGA cap is worth your life!”
Okay, maybe I made that part up.

Tomorrow they will do the transesophageal echocardiogram to find the source of my atrial flutter that has been causing me to become tachycardic so frequently. If they do, they can do an ablation. That’s what I’m hoping for. I am chomping at the bit to get back to the gym. My goal is to be back to CrossFit as soon as possible.

Okay, enough of the medical stuff, let’s talk about something more fun.

 

If all goes well, I’ll board a plane for Las Vegas on Friday for a Veterans for Peace organizing meeting. I love my fellow veterans. I love my fellow activists. When those two things intersect I find myself choking back tears when we’re together because, well, because they’re funny as shit! To be able to do the stressful work of birddogging the great Supervillains of our age through the marbled halls of the nation’s Capitol (the great vacuum cleaner of the nation’s capital) or wherever they may lurk, you have to have a healthy and solid sense of humor. Our post-mission debriefs over beer and burgers are important and meaningful and hilarious. Military folk are some of the funniest, big-hearted people you’ll meet and I’m looking forward to getting out of this hospital and being with my brothers and sisters this weekend.

(later)

Wow. Two men from the chaplaincy program just stopped by. The hospital room doors are glass in this very nice hospital and I had noticed them walk by earlier. I assumed they were friends or family visiting another patient. I was surprised when they knocked on my door. When they told me who they were I have to admit it brought on a little anxiety and perhaps some annoyance. During the admission process I was asked the question if I’d like persons from the chaplaincy program to stop by and I declined. I’m solidly content with my spiritual path and we’ve all been proselytized before, not fun. I was afraid I’d be asked if I’d found Jesus and to this day I maintain that Jesus isn’t lost. Additionally, like most queer folk, I’ve been traumatized by religion, not to mention how Trump-supporting Evangelicals are using their political power to persecute us like never before. So I invited them in and asked them to sit down.

 

One is in his thirties, is fit, wears wire-rimmed glasses and an Operation Enduring Freedom ball-cap. The other is in his early twenties, tall and thin with beautiful red curly hair. Both are students at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.
I start by telling them about my friend Mary Stancavage who joined a chaplaincy program in Los Angeles.

“She’s one of the most amazing people I’ve ever met. One of the earliest and most ardent supporters of my work as an artist and veterans’ advocate. She’s a Buddhist teacher. Great tattoos too!”

I can tell that part took them a bit by surprise. A majority of chaplains in the military and VA are Christian of one flavor of another.
The older man, the veteran,  chimes in again, “That’s great. It’s wonderful when people of different walks of faith seek to help people in that way.” It was my turn to be surprised.

I tell them about my religious background, about growing up in The Church of Christ in Alabama and about my parents. Only some of you will know what I’m talking about but as I’m sharing some of my past with them, a part of me is deciding whether or not I’ll tell these Baptist I’m gay. Then I remember March 31, 2004 when I walked out of the CNN bureau in Los Angeles after having just told five million people that which I, at one time, wouldn’t have told anyone. I remember the transcendent feeling of liberation when I walked out onto Sunset Boulivard after the interview. I remember feeling the twelve-year-old version of me still alive in my heart, how proud he was of me. I remember telling him that I would never deny him again and that I would be the adult protector in his life.
“I came out of the closet in an interview on CNN when I came back from Iraq. I’m gay.”
The young man shifted his feet back and forth and he watched them as if they were doing it on their own. I refer to his earlier statement about my Buddhist Chaplain friend, Mary.
“You’re right that there are many who want to walk a spiritual path but for whom there is no home in mainstream American Christianity, not for their authentic selves anyway.”
I go on to tell them about how my parents came to understand it better and ultimately were in my wedding when I married a man. I realize the laptop is still in my lap from when I’d been writing this blog before they arrived.
“In fact I can let you meet them.”
They seem nervous that I’m about to make them Skype my parents.

“They’ve both passed away.”
They seem nervous I’m about to make them have some kind of computer séance.
“Showtime made a documentary about the play I wrote when I got back from Iraq.”
I navigate to YouTube and put Semper Fi: One Marine’s Journey in the search box.
“My parents are interviewed in it!”
I move the cursor along the red line at the bottom scanning the thumbnails until I see my mom. I press play and let them meet the woman who made me. I love that the movie was made if for no other reason than that my parents get to live on. The men listen to my mother as she recounts coming to watch me graduate boot camp, and what it felt like when I gave her my will and Power of Attorney when I was leaving for Iraq. I move the cursor along the red line and scroll the thumbnails again.
“Here’s my Dad!”
Dad tells them the story of the night I was born, about how proud he was of me. Dad says, “I even called the radio station there in Jasper, WWWB, and told them we had a little preacher born tonight!” (I’ve often considered that, although the kind of preaching I do probably wasn’t what my rural, Southern, teenager of the 50s, was imagining, perhaps he was right. Maybe I minister to misfits.)
“Okay that’s enough of that.” I say but the cursor lands on another familiar face.
“Oh! Here’s Bud! He was the preacher at Hatt Church of Christ from 1977 until after I’d left for college.” And I press play. Bud White talks about how important love of country is to Southern Christians. He talks about how he believes that homosexuality is contrary to God’s will.
“And I pray for Jeff about that,” he continues “because I love Jeff.”
“And I love him too,” I tell the men. “I pray for Bud too because I love him and because I believe he was telling the truth when he said he loves me.”
I tell them how important his family was to me growing up and how their daughter Ginger remains one of my closest friends.
“Well that’s enough of that, you didn’t ask for my whole life story but you damn near got it.” And I close the laptop. I pitch Warrior Writers to the older man, the Afghanistan veteran. He takes my number and promises to attend and to tell other veterans about it. I considered that this alone was worth the discomfort I might have felt by welcoming in these strangers who I first wanted to go away. I think about the younger man with the shuffling feet and all the possible reasons for it, what did it stir in him and about his church? At least it put skin on this idea of a person who his church openly advocates against politically. Showing yourself is a good thing to do. Never deny your own inner twelve-year-old.
Then I surprise myself. “Can I pray with the two of you?”
I take their hands and I pray this prayer. It’s my prayer for you too if you’ll receive it:

Dear God, thank you for my visitors tonight.  May these two die old, old men surrounded by many who love them. Let health and happiness follow them throughout their lives and let their lessons come gently if possible. Bless them with plenty of money and food to eat. Bless them with comfortable and safe places to live. May they never see war or never see war again. Let joy be the driving principle of their lives and let that joy come from helping others. This I pray with all my heart in Your name, Amen.

I never pray to change God’s mind. I only pray to change mine.

 

(pictured above is one of the gifts they left behind)

 

 

 


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