October 18, 1996
Dear Mom and Dad:
Last Saturday, I shared in the AIDS Quilt weekend with friends, Jill, who asked me to go with her to view her son, Ken's, portion of the Quilt, Mary, Connie, David, Larry and Don, Joe, Tony, and my family, Josh and Jordan. Throughout the day, I witnessed men and women walk with pride and hesitant excitement toward the panel of their loved one. The private anguish and contained sorrow for the one who had fallen to this terrible disease exploded as they saw his or her six by three foot panel sewn together with seven others, attached to three twelve by twelve squares, among thousands of similar squares.
Watching Jill walk from the perimeter of the Quilt's edge toward Ken's panel, showed me the true meaning of strength. As she reached block 127B, she straightened and silently asked for help. Her composure faltered as she separated his panel from the rest. Silent tears fell onto her cheek as she smiled at her son. His panel was his life, the good and the bad. Those who loved him had placed their names on the cloth for all to see. His presence was with her as she lowered her hand to the panel she had painstakingly made in his memory. Every stitch, picture and letter had been carefully placed with a mother's love and a student's praise. Jill says Ken was her greatest teacher.
Her tremendous loss and unconditional love gave me pause for thought. Why did this have to happen? Why do so many have to suffer? I searched inside for the meaning of it all. I can't.
Faded tears and subtle smiles became the expression of the day.
A little after noon, we saw a faint rainbow appear over the Mall, adding divine recognition and affirmation to our presence at the event. We moved slowly around the Quilt, finding colorful memories of people we knew and loved.
Later, we participated in the candlelight vigil from the Capitol to the Lincoln Memorial. Hundreds of thousands of people, couples, parents, children joined forces to show the importance of AIDS awareness and honor the memory of those who have died.
Jordan asked me with a deep, sincere look of concern, "Daddy, if I died of AIDS, would you make a quilt for me?" I nodded, standing in awe at the innocence of the question, pondering the depth, then asking myself if it would take the death of someone close to me before I saw what was going on around me. That night, I asked God to give me a sign. My life needed direction. After a long walk on Sunday, I felt a tug at my heart. I realized life is too short for me to put off until tomorrow what can be handled today.
I am sending this letter because you are important to me. Writing this letter overwhelmed me with fear, panic, relief and freedom. However, not writing this letter was causing more difficult emotions; failure, dishonesty, self-hatred and isolation. As you well know, my life has been difficult. Yet, through it all, I have been blessed with a full range of unique experiences and opportunities, conquering substantial obstacles, achieving personal successes.
I've displayed to the world a happy exterior, when in reality I've been living a lie. From a very young age, I've believed everything I thought and felt was sinful, totally against God, the church and family. First, I prayed for a major change. Then, fearing the betrayal and shame of being different, I turned from God. I fell into deep loneliness. I experienced a self-imposed isolation. My life became unbearable. I searched for answers, but they eluded me.
I spent the eight years of my marriage wondering why. Why did I do it? Why do I stay? But I couldn't leave. In part, I wouldn't leave the kids. I was also afraid to leave. Fear had been a major part of my life. After the divorce, I became deeply depressed. Self-pity took hold. I could find no way out of my depression.
I began to pray.
My depression subsided, but I knew I had to look inside myself. I had to focus on who I am. I saw the uniqueness of being different, but I didn't like what I saw. So I prayed to be different. "Please change me," I prayed. "Make me like everyone else." I waited for the answers I wanted. I got the answers I needed. God explained that He needed me just as I am. My talents, gifts and love are unique and would be used in a wonderful way. I fought with the answer, wrestled with the decision, then finally said, "Thy will be done." I realized I had been unfaithful to myself and others.
I've looked for happiness all my life, often times believing I was happy, when I knew it was impossible. It wasn't until I realized that happiness came from inside that my life began to turn around.
For as long as I can remember, my life has been a testament of denial, and in denying myself, I have cheated you out of fully knowing me. My prayers for change have finally been answered. I am gay. I have always been gay, and will always be. I can't change, nor will I try anymore. Trying to change has shattered my self-image and dignity. My fear of loving has come from my fear of rejection by my family and friends. I fear not loving for fear of being alone. My fight in becoming who I am has been a ferocious internal battle. I have hidden in the shadows. I lied to protect you from being upset. I lied to myself for fear of being unloved.
However, I can't be truly happy until all the shadows are gone. I recently read, "Success is not the key to happiness. Happiness is the key to success. If you love what you are doing, you will be successful." Herman Cain/Parade/October 13, 1996. This statement leads me into the second half of this letter. I have been taunted by 'gifts' which allow me to see into people. I can, with regularity, see into the deepest part of people's lives, feel their emotions, and help them feel better. I fought this aspect of myself. As a youngster, I could pick up on the feelings of others at school, home or the playground. I felt the unhappiness in people. Until I realized the feelings didn't belong to me, I felt depressed and frustrated. I have, over the past few years, learned to deal with the feelings, shifting the focus away from myself.
I was confused for a long time about my religion and my spiritual beliefs. I have discovered that religious beliefs and spirituality are very different. Religion is the practiced doctrine, and spirituality is who you are. My connection to God does not come from church, but in my daily communication with Him. The fellowship I enjoy at church guides God's word to my ear through exterior sources.
The lessons I am learning may be difficult for you to understand, but I have grown so much closer to God since accepting this part of my life. I have actually held groups, showing people how to find the divine spirit within themselves. Once finding their soul, I've seen them grow in their own faith. I am being asked on a daily basis to use my talents to help someone else.
As a method of growing spiritually, I have been trying to pray and meditate several times a day. As my morning devotional on the way to work, I have been singing Break This Heart. The words, which vibrantly resound within me, are as follows:
Laughter comes from heartache,
Growing comes from pain,
And Lord, I know You're slowly teaching me
I have to lose to gain.
I've been all too careful
of vessels and of jars,
So won't you let Your love
break through the walls
Releasing who You are.
Break this heart, let it be open,
I know that it's no good
'til the bitterness is gone.
Make my life a vessel that's broken.
So I can someday help the one who falls.
There's nothing worse than nothing
To live, yet not to feel
I've been numb to all the suffering
a heart as cold as steel
Make me strong and tender
take away my fears
And won't you give me holy insight, Lord
And wash away my tears.
When I sing this song, I feel full of hope and love. I desperately want to give all I can to the world, but I can't unless I feel whole. There is so much suffering and tragedy, and I believe God wants me to help.
God is directing my course, and His will is sending me on a journey. I don't know where I am going, or where I will end up, but I have been given a very unique opportunity that comes only once in a lifetime. My path, at some point, may separate us in ideology and distance. As I make the decisions necessary to grow, I know God will be with me.
I realize what I desire is inner peace and happiness. Telling you who I am, and give you insight into where I am going will help me attain them.
As I learn to thank God for what I have, I look around and see my two wonderful children, an abundance of supportive friends, a family I love very much, and a renewed happiness with my life.
I've tried being like you and it almost killed me. I need to be as happy as I can be. I must try to be happy with the hand with which I've been dealt. If you don't agree with my choices, then you must deal with this on your own terms. If you want to talk with me about any of this, I will be happy to do so.
I have not changed. You just know more about me than you knew before. My love for you has not changed. If anything, I will be able to love you more.
This letter is my way of showing you that I love you enough to give you the truth. I believe you will continue to love me, because I love you.