Sometimes a life is a prayer.
Seven weeks ago, at this moment only a few miles from here, my 58 year old friend Frank was typing his suicide note on his computer screen. Then he walked into his attached garage, put a hose in the passenger window behind the driver seat, and turned on the ignition of his Toyota Rav 4. The other end of the hose was planted firmly in his exhaust pipe.
Frank was a gay man.
No one knows how long the car ran that Monday. The city was closed up tight in a snowstorm. Two of his graduate students went to his house because he didn’t show for class. His body was so decomposed the Coroner thought he’d been dead for three days. I said, "No, I sat with him in his despair just the night before." I held him and cradled him while he sobbed.
Frank was a tortured, self-isolating gay man, who used the label bisexual to make his true self a little more palatable to his family. And to himself. Damaged so young and so often by his experience with the Catholic church and with Jesus cults and then other, healthier spiritual cults, but still cults. Years of the hardest addictions – alcohol and cocaine, fed by being born into a family of incredible wealth. He went clean, became a Master’s level psychotherapist and Certified Addictions Counselor, level III, the earlier addictions replaced by other more subtle and powerful ones. He covered his gay shame so deeply, layered it with pot and porn and undiagnosed manic depression.
Over five decades, Frank could find no Loving God to replace the distant, sadistic one of his Catholic youth. A God that had held arbitrary and unachievable standards of merit and perfection. A loveless God played out perfectly in the mirror of Frank’s parents. Even the God of "The Course in Miracles" and other new thought spiritualities could not help Frank heal a divided self and fractured Soul that was rooted in his lifelong love for men, but disallowed in the wealthy "What would the neighbors say" world of his family of origin.
We know as we get older that there comes a time when we can only save ourselves. We can rescue children and teens and young adults from the clutches of beliefs of inherent badness and evil that are perpetuated overtly by people like James Dobson. Frank lived painfully in the shadows of Focus on the Family, it angered him greatly, yet all the while the messages that erode a lost self continued.
At 58 I could not rescue him. No one could, it was too late. I offered him the same gentle yet honest Truth that had defined our relationship over a decade’s friendship. That is consistent with who I am in all my friendships.
That Sunday night, I stood on the deck of a ship holding a rope that hung about a foot above the dark, fluid dangerous ocean in which he was treading water – sometimes swimming closer, sometimes further away. That night I knew he was in a grave place, but I could not jump in after him. He had to grab the rope.
He did not call his brother or his sister. He did not call his straight, self-described "best friend of 30 years." He called me. The only one who would not judge him as he choked on the shame and humiliation of his secretized sexual practices and his gay orientation. He called me.
I live with the burden and occasional grace of being a Truth Teller, who has lived a lifetime on the fringe, inviting people forward from closets labeled "gay" or "mentally ill" or simply "Fear". It is not for the faint of heart. Frank’s journaled writings and suicide note, penned after our last conversation, perfectly parallel what he and I talked about.
Sometimes this haunts me. It haunts me in the same way I heard stories after the Tsunami, of a child or friend being ripped from the grip of someone who loved them more than life itself. And that "someone" anchored to a tree, was left with the image of wearied and frightened eyes as a wave tore through their tenuous grip, sweeping away the child or friend. I know I was not the one who let go this day seven weeks ago. Frank did. That doesn’t make it easy. Respectful, yes; loving and honest, yes at the level of soul and human choice. But not easy.
He could not keep his unsolicited commitment to call me if he thought he would harm himself. I love him no less for it.
I asked to speak and lead a prayer this morning. Many of the suicide stories Mel relayed to us were of gay men much younger than my friend Frank.
I brought with me two ends of a hose; a hose that once watered Frank’s garden; a hose that heretofore conveyed only living waters until it was betrayed by its owner and used for lethal purposes. I keep these two ends because ultimately I believe there is something Redemptive and instructive and Sacred about them.
One end is green, the other charred and melted by the heat of the exhaust pipe. They are a reminder that while some among us find life intolerable without a Loving God as friend – so intolerable they are forced to leave – others among us are still green with youth, and hope, and intrinsic purpose and goodness that convey living waters in the gardens of their lives. These are the people we can still reach; many of them young. We can stand between them and those who would assault them spiritually, emotionally and psychologically.
A lot occurs in the space between the green end of this hose and the charred one. It is into this space that we must intervene with Love and Truth.
In the end, there were no words that came to me for a prayer. Therefore, I ask that we simply sit for a minute in silence, to consider the mystery and the challenge and the sacred space that exists between the two ends of this hose. A moment of silence to honor all who killed themselves because they were not allowed equal access to the God of Love, and Truth, and Light.
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Written and read as the opening for the May 2, 2005
Soulforce Colorado Springs Action – James Dobson & Focus on the Family
By Catherine Beckman
920 Arcturus Drive, Apt 5-L
Colorado Springs, CO 80906