Wednesday, January 18, 2012

An interesting call this past week-end: from Jamie and his incredible grandmother Hazel.

I’ve mentioned Jamie before in the early days of this space. The two of us were brought together more than a couple of years ago now, when, in his late forties Jamie began coming out to his family and friends. His eldest sister had been the first, and when she saw how anguished but determined he was, she somehow thought of me- who she’d met at a conference on organizational transformation several years previously.

This time, when I asked Jamie & Hazel if I might share our conversation in this space he told me ‘Of course- only no more initials.’ And when he’d explained to his grandmother what he was referring to she agreed, ‘I’ve got nothing to be ashamed of,’ she told me. ‘Yeah’, Jamie interjected, ‘Grandma’s out too,’ sending all three of us into self-perpetuating gales of laughter.

But about the call this week-end.

For those who might not remember- Jamie is a very successful lawyer, who abandoned government law when 'the Bushes and their ilk' began spending ‘too much time on Pennsylvania Avenue.’ A self-confessed workaholic hiding the fear of his God-given sexuality behind achievement, he soon recycled himself into working for an international non-government agency which moved him to Europe.

Jamie was back in the U.S. this past week-end however: for the ninety-third birthday of his beloved maternal grandmother: the truly remarkable Hazel. And Jamie wasn’t travelling alone either- more on that later!

It was late enough when they called that Jamie apologized and expressed concern that he might have hauled me out of sleep. But it had been long enough since anything more than affectionate, electronic Christmas wishes that I knew it had to be important, so I’d slid to the floor, resting my back against the bed and listened. Within moments, Willie the unconditional daschund had shifted under the covers and was sympathetically resting his head on my left shoulder.

It turns out that after a long pre-celebration- just the two of them- Jamie had got to sharing details of his current life with his grandmother. Turns out, Hazel has obviously giving a lot of thought to her cherished grandson’s life and had questions- ‘lots of questions,’ Jamie assured me with a chuckle. ‘Why had he waited so long?’ ‘Who in their rather large family had been to chief obstacle to Jamie ever feeling comfortable enough, confident enough to share his deepest truth with the family?’

Turns out there was one question Jamie was asking my help on.

But first a little background. Turns out Hazel’s paternal grandfather was a ‘rather well-known’ Episcopalian bishop. Which of course meant our family essentially forgot about Church once grandpa... had passed on.' Sadly, apparently Hazel’s father never really ‘found himself professionally.’ He was however adamant about his three daughters all receiving a university education. ‘For the longest while, I wasn’t sure I wanted –or even needed to marry,’ Hazel told me, ‘so I ended up getting my PhD. . Taught university for a very short while, got married,’ she admitted with a chuckle, ‘and then went into the world of publishing.’

Hazel’s only child- Jamie’s mother, died only months short of his ninth birthday. In Jamie’s words, it took his father one disastrous re-marriage (‘too soon’) before he found the ‘dream step-mother’ for his two children. Hazel however, largely through her determined efforts never lost touch with her grandchildren, sharing, among other things Jamie’s first taste of Europe and ‘some of the most incredible holidays you can imagine.’ (Jamie’s account).

Oh, and that one question they’d called me with?

Hazel, after obviously a lot of research and thought wanted to know whether Jamie thought ‘same-gender-loving folks would always have to be labelled gay- queer, or that other horrible clinical term? ’

Did she possibly have an easier question we could start with I asked to peals of laughter on the other end of the phone.

‘Hey, my Gran’s no light-weight,’ Jamie interjected on the extension.

The conversation which followed felt so... sacred. One of those times when a lot more is being addressed than just the obvious; one of those spontaneous exercises of discernment where Spirit sometimes works unimagined healing, bonds are deepened and life offers itself even more unconditionally because of ‘understanding.’

Without going into my personal particulars Hazel and I identified several of the more obvious features of the landscape of growing up gay in my generation; the costs and mechanics of ‘otherness’ and the degrees & varieties of fear behind most homophobic violence.

I also reminded her of the remarkable transformation of our LGBT tribe with the lived horror of AIDS: the personal transformations, the unexpected healings, the discovery of gay voice(s) - the slightly ironic freedom found in taking a stand- even in the face of so much terrible loss.

‘But what about Jamie and Michael, are their kids always going to have to live with folks calling their dads gay... queer or worse?’

I told you Jamie hadn’t travelled solo, and warned you his grandmother had a talent for questions that would stop you in your tracks.

After a deep breath,(on my end of the line), we eased ourselves into an exploration of the gifts, strength and blessings of ‘owned otherness.’ How when our people own their deepest truth they bring an incredible load of unexpected experience, lived truth and talents to every situation and conversation- gifts, whose absence has previously impoverished everyone’s experience; the solutions or discoveries a group might be working towards; or the event they may be celebrating.

Hazel had heard about blessed Ed Bacon on national television telling Ms. Winfrey that being born gay is a God from God.

Which led us to a whole discussion/celebration of the prophetic role LGBT folks are playing within our own denomination.

Turns out Hazel had even met our +Gene. During one of his first visits as bishop to her city. ‘This was before I really knew about Jamie,’ she told me. ‘But when I’d read about his election and consecration, it was so clear to me that God was truly at work here. When I heard he was coming, I knew I had to go see for myself.’

‘One of the most wonderful services I’ve ever attended,’ she told me. ‘The cathedral was packed with the most incredible people- many of them probably gay couples, but I wasn’t trying to decode the congregation. The energy in the cathedral was.... incredible. I didn’t know whether I expected the sound of a rushing of wings or for the roof of the cathedral to peel back for a glimpse of the stars, but something was definately happening.’

‘The incredible thing is when it came time to go up to receive communion, the line on the side where Bishop Gene was administering was so much longer, and as they got closer to the altar other folks kept switching over... I must have been a real mess; there’d been tears during his sermon, when he spoke of his understanding of what God wants for the Church. And afterwards, the line of people wanting to shake his hand at the door was so long and slow I had to sit down- at least a couple of times, but when it was my turn, I couldn’t stop tearing up. I kissed his hand and simply said thank-you, though I’m not sure he could hear me, I was that full up.’

Having been there myself- July 27, 2006- Hazel couldn’t know I too have known those tears of incredulous joy. Friday night, it was a moment or two before she continued.

‘There was actually a reception, after the service- for people to meet the Bishop. But I went to my car and just sat there for the longest time. It may sound strange, but afterward I realized I guess I was feeling the reception... didn’t quite belong to me- that it was for the folks who had paid a price for who they are, and who had kept insisting – on the value, the validity of their own lives.'

It was about then that Jamie, on the extension, with real feeling in his voice had interjected, ‘Oh Grandma.’

Which is where I guess I get to tell you about Michael.

In the first months- still essentially in orientation for his posting to Europe- Jamie had met Michael while boarding for a flight between Zurich and London. Michael is a British-born PhD., teaching in Britain and working with the U.N. agency to end famine relief.

Michael is also an ‘out gay Anglican, who has been much heartened by the developments in the American church,’ as he told me when we first spoke more than two years ago.

Jamie and Michael are now legally married, in the process of disentangling Michael from his academic commitments to work full time in famine relief, and have already set up a shared home which has been approved for adoption of their first child- a mixed race daughter who should be with them fulltime by this summer.

Almost ten years younger than Jamie, Michael and he are talking of a family of four. ‘Two kiddies and their dads,’ Michael explained when we'd first spoken.

‘You won’t be able to call them ‘kiddies’ for long,’ I'd teased.

I have no idea how long the three of us talked Friday night. Intentionally, I didn’t check the LED digits on my bedside clock before folding myself back under the covers with the ever-patient Willie.

Shortly before we hung up Hazel asked ‘why do I feel like this conversation has been one long, very real prayer?’

Neither Jamie nor I answered.

However, I did suggest to Hazel that perhaps it was time she told Jamie about ‘the Love beyond our wildest imagining.’

‘I remember-‘ Hazel told me, her voice equal parts amazement and joy. ‘That’s when Bishop Gene... broke my heart for the first time in his sermon. I was a blubbering mess,’ she reminded me.

‘Love you both,’ I reminded them before hanging up.

‘I love you too,’ Hazel confessed, at least slightly amazed by her own admission.

As promised, Jamie and Michael called again, on Sunday afternoon. Hazel was napping.

‘You wouldn’t believe Grandma,’ Jamie told me. ‘After church this morning, we went out for brunch, and she was asking Michael and I if there wasn’t some sort of organization for people like her- with rainbow blessed children she called us,' he added with a chuckle. 'Ninety–three years old and she’s talking about getting in touch with P-Flag, to see if there’s anything she can do to help.’

Apparently Hazel’s birthday celebrations were quite the occasion. Hosted by Jamie and Michael; Jamie’s sisters, their partners and families all made it- along with more than seventy guests.

‘But you want to know something,’ Jamie asked, with real feeling in his voice. ‘The biggest gift this week-end, for me at least, was our call to you Friday night... Michael had gone to bed, and the two of us were sitting up with the last of our first bottle of celebratory champagne-‘

‘Only the first of many,’ Michael interjected with a chuckle. ’And never mind Grandma, you should see my husband, I’ve never known him so....’

“Alive?’ I suggested when Michael was reaching for an apt descriptor. ‘Love beyond our wildest imagining,’ I reminded them.

‘Indeed,’ Michael responded after a moment, perhaps not quite sure what he was agreeing to.

Their e-mail, late Tuesday morning?
‘Home. LOVE YOU. Just spoke to Grandma on the phone and she sends her love too. Jamie & Michael’

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