Ode to a Pew

Distinguished law professor, Dean Emeritus M. Leigh Harrison (1907-1997), makes a point during Contracts Class only a few years before I wrote this poem in the very same front “pew” shown in this photo that I was astonished to find online. The ancient solid oak pews were covered in the carved graffiti of decades of use and just wide enough for two aspiring lawyers to occupy with a slant board attached to the back of the pew in front for taking notes. Photo was taken about 1970 by Pat Graves, now a retired Huntsville lawyer, who posted it on the University of Alabama Law School website on the occasion of Dean Harrison’s induction into the Alabama Lawyer’s Hall of Fame in 2016.

With apologies to all my lawyer friends…

I’ve decided to leaven all the long-form posts I’ve either posted or have in the pipeline with occasional poems from my 1998 compilation, “Ups and Downs”. I called it that because they chronicle so well the highs and lows of the middle years – from 1974 to the late 90s – which included law school and the first two decades of my New York adventure. And, as they are arranged in chronological order in the book, I’m starting at the top and will work my way through.

This one, the first, was the result of several factors: it was the second semester of my first year of law school and 1) I had just pulled an all-nighter and 2) was sitting front and center in 3) a 9:00 a.m. “Contracts 102” class on “third-party beneficiaries” being taught by 4) a distinguished former Dean of the law school, so that I, 5) had to look at least like I was paying attention and taking notes. By the end of the class, this had landed on my legal pad:

Reading the Law 

The chair whereon I sit is but a pew
That on one look tells tales of quite a few
Whose derrières have spread themselves abroad
While minds above contracted to defraud
Debase, defame, delight in monies made
In consequence pursuant to the trade
For pedagogue of which was first designed
This seat that, for the moment, takes my mind
From strict attention to Socratic babble
Twixt learnéd Dean and an assorted rabble
Who, in idyllic notion of the Bar,
I had assumed would never get this far!
Yet here we sit, ensconced in Gothic couches
That someday we might fill our money pouches!

— Written in the spring of 1975

© 2018 George Thomas Wilson, all rights reserved.

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The Family of God: Uncle Jesus

A 1975 gathering of Baker cousins (I’m on the far left) after the dedication concert of the Edgar H. Baker Pipe Organ, given by my favorite great uncle to the McElwain Baptist Church in Birmingham.

[Note to my readers: If I am presumptuous enough to write a blog honoring angels, then it behooves me to periodically lay out for you exactly what I believe; to define, as best I can, just what my religious inclinations are. This is why I annually repost the first three essays ever to appear here (the second and third will appear in the coming days). Taken together, they draw a fairly complete picture of those grains of spiritual Truth I have allowed into my thimble through confirming personal experience. That said, I also know that if Truth is Truth, then the Truth of Science and the Truth of its Creator must, when finally fully understood, line up exactly, without deviation, and this blog, writ large, represents my best efforts to illuminate those places where these divine conjunctions can most readily be seen.

Thus, you will find that basic arithmetic, genealogy, and my personal journey of faith join hands to underwrite this first essay, even as the recent discoveries of quantum physics support the second (“The Flow of God: Living Water”), and geology and biology undergird the third (“The Love of God: Uncut Diamonds”). It is my sincere hope you find these observations useful to you in your own personal journey, but I simply offer them for what they are worth. [Of course, if you did read this when previously posted, there is no need for you to do so again. I have re-edited it, as I do every year, but the main points remain the same.]

[Originally published February 9, 2014:]

Uncle Jesus

Several threads of thought spinning in my mind – some for a lifetime – have recently come together in an unexpected way, presenting an idea so remarkable to me that it must be shared. Much as the bee buzzing from flower to flower is content to gather nectar with no notion whatever it is also pollinating the field it farms, these ideas all began as small things, snippets of experience, without a clue as to where my thoughts were taking me until we arrived: an insight I find so profoundly joy-filled that it still takes my breath away.

So, whether out of sheer, naïve enthusiasm, or perhaps an overly-inflated sense of my own perspicacity (as some will surely say), or – and this would be my choice – as the flowering of some unseen but manifest spiritual inspiration, I am letting you in on my epiphany. That said, it is one thing to hope that I can share the full emotional force of what, to me, is a cosmic-level realization, and quite another to weave the word-tapestry to do so. Ultimately, after several false starts, I concluded there is no shortcut and the only way to get to the end is to begin at the beginning – to follow each thread as it was spun, some for a lifetime and others only recently – that they may come together for you even as they have for me.

The First Thread: “Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep”

Christmas Card photo from those early years with my sister, Mimi, and me.

My parents were putting me to bed with nightly prayers long before I could remember it. I’m sure they started as soon as I could form the words. It was a tired world we lived in, where Norman Rockwell drove the Saturday Evening Post and the number one song on my third birthday was “How Much Is that Doggie in the Window.” After being held down as teens by the Great Depression only to be flung by the frightening excesses of WWII to the most exotic corners of the earth, all my parents Hank and Jane Wilson – and millions of their peers across the country – finally, really yearned for was the simple, the ordinary and the expected. So, it should be no surprise that the prayer we always, always said as they tucked me in – until I was at least of school age – was equally predictable: “Now I lay me down to sleep//I pray the Lord my soul to keep//If I should die before I wake//I pray the lord my soul to take.” And, then I would add my own personal coda: “God bless Mama and Daddy, in Jesus’ name, Amen.” Of course, as my perceptions enlarged, blessings for the grandparents were soon added, and when my sister came along, she also joined the list, which, as the nights turned into years, continued to grow until it embraced a whole “village:” neighbors, friends, aunts, uncles and dozens of cousins. Early on, it reached the point that my parents, well-versed in what was coming, would just leave me to finish when we got to that part, and many were the nights I fell asleep still thinking of people to add, never even making it to the “in Jesus’ name” part.

And – perhaps not as consistently as I’d like, or as humbly – as best I’ve been able in the decades since, I’ve tried to continue widening my prayer’s embrace, adding others to my list until, finally, I grew to realize that, if every human being is equally a child of the same Heavenly Father, then what I really should do is embrace everyone – include all the people of the earth in my prayer – for who would I, could I, omit without kicking sand into the eyes of God if we are all – every human being on the planet – loved with the love of a Father by Him who made us; if we are each and every one of us truly a son or daughter of God, without fear or favor, or respect of persons, places or proclivities?

Of course, logistically, even as a mental exercise, it is not easy to visualize seven billion people as individuals. On the other hand, everything, even praying, improves with practice, and when you start, as I did in those early days, with only your parents, then, over a lifetime, expand your conscious embrace as best you can, bit by bit, to include family, friends and, ultimately, a planetful of people, the step-by-step growth in “inclusion acuity” does help.

Here’s how it works: I still begin, as I have since those earliest days, with relatives and loved ones, then move on to our neighbors, actual neighbors. Living, as we do, in the midst of residential Manhattan, there are a great many neighbors, so I start with the ones we know who live next door and the families on the floors above and below, then stretch out my mind to include the unknown neighbors of the buildings beyond, and on out a little more until our ten thousand nearest neighbors – about the limit of my visualization capacity – are included. I pray for the shopkeepers and shoppers, the students and teachers, the parishioners and preachers, the elderly who live in the Jewish Home for the Aged just up the street and their caregivers, the sidewalkers and trash-talkers and derelict homeless sitting in the park. Whomever they may be and whatever they may be doing, I pray for our ten thousand nearest neighbors in that moment and their angels. This last part is important because, as my understanding of our astonishing spiritual helpers has grown over the decades, I have also come to appreciate how helpful they are for igniting the “Joy Profound” – that “peace that passeth understanding” – within each of our human hearts. They do it in all sorts of ways – synchronicities, ‘coincidences,’ perfect timings, close calls, personal touchstones, delightful surprises, ‘chance’ meetings – and praying for angelically-enhanced connections between our Maker and His children is about the best way I can think of to bless anyone.

Once I feel I have included the whole neighborhood, I then try to expand my embrace from ten thousand to the nearest ten million souls – more or less the entire city – from native New Yorkers to the most recently arrived tourists (and ten million are, after all, only 999 additional souls for each of the ten thousand neighbors I’ve already embraced). Then, after sufficiently envisioning this larger group as best I can, I ask for God’s grace to expand my prayer one more time, from the whole of the City to the whole of the earth, from ten million hearts to seven billion (which is actually less of a stretch, if you think about it, since it only requires adding 699 souls for each of those ten million already embraced). Seven continents, seven seas, and seven billion sisters and brothers, each and every one fully known and beloved by the same Heavenly Father Who, in loving each of us infinitely, loves each of us equally.

In other words, this first thread – that began on those early nights as a blessing for “Mama and Daddy” and grew to encompass the whole wide world – has wound itself into the essence of my being even as it has stitched together everyone on earth as family. And that ‘attitude adjustment,’ I find, is a source of imperturbable solace and strength. Richard asked me one day, after a passing stranger on the sidewalk had been particularly rude to us, why I wasn’t angry. “It’s hard to be mad at somebody you just prayed for,” I said, realizing, even as I said it, just how true it was.

The Second Thread: Not All Unseen Friends Are Imaginary

Okay, now please bear with me, dear reader, since this next question may seem ponderous, but I promise to lighten up quickly. The question is this: Who was Jesus, really?

There are many available answers, but none can be proved. He called Himself “Son of Man,” whatever that means, and even among learned theologians, opinions are so scattered as to be of little use. There are those who believe He never lived at all, or at best, was a clever charlatan with big ideas. Many others believe He was merely a man, but a man who could justifiably sit alongside Siddhartha, Lao Tzu, Abraham, Moses, Zoroaster, Mohammed and, one supposes, many other sages of old who might be named if they could but be remembered. I’d even go so far as to say that many “Christians” who go to church regularly really only believe Him to have been a man, a great man, perhaps, but, still, only a human who died on a cross and then went to Heaven like the rest of us hope to do, and, after all, aren’t all people who go to Heaven really “still alive?” So, perhaps, to say that Jesus lives is no great stretch….

And, then there are others, like me, who actually believe Jesus was something beyond extraordinary: the Creator Son of the Universe we inhabit; The One who made us and then became one of us the better to know and love us; an All-Powerful Personality who was, by choice, both completely Divine and completely human. But don’t think for a minute that I just accepted what someone else told me. My journey of faith has been fulsome and vetted by living.

The thread of my belief began to spin early on, for, if those nightly prayers were started before my memory tapes, our days at the Church of the Forest began even earlier. Mama had named it that, and it is, to this day, the only church ever built in Grayson, Alabama, a tiny sawmill town that used to be located smack in the middle of the lush and verdant Bankhead National Forest.

Two years ago, Richard and I made a pilgrimage of sorts to see the church my parents built in the Bankhead National Forest. The town may be gone, but the church remains.

Think “Hansel and Gretel” and you’ll have the setting exactly, and, just as in the story, my forester father was the woodsman! His boss, a kindly lumberman named Clancy, was enlisted by my newly arrived parents to donate the materials to build the church in 1948, and then they rallied the townspeople to erect it. That was two years before I was born and, by the time I came along, it was a thriving little Baptist church. (They held an election – Baptist vs. Methodist – after it was erected. The Baptists won in a landslide.) Truly a “poor church serving the poor,” to quote Pope Francis, it had nothing like the resources needed to support a full-time preacher, so a succession of itinerant clergymen – from “fire and brimstone” to “down and dour” – made their way through, and, when there was no one else, Daddy filled in handsomely as a lay preacher.

It was there among friends – and everyone in Grayson was my friend – that I began to discover my singing voice, and “Jesus” was the first word of the first song I ever learned, and the second song, too, come to think of it. His name was said before every meal we ever ate, regardless of where or with whom we may have been. His story was always front and center, whether at Wednesday night fellowship, or at Church School and preaching twice on Sunday, not to mention that He was right there in the pew racks, staring back at us even as we prayed to Him, with His flowing brown hair and deep blue eyes printed on cloud-shaped cardboard fans from the Double Springs funeral home.

Jesus fan on a stick. When I was a child, every country church in the south had a supply of these scattered among the pews, a necessity when summer Sunday sermons ran long.

In short, Jesus was as much a part of my childhood as the pine trees and sawdust. Of course, that doesn’t mean I really understood who or what He was. After all, life was immersed in Him in those parts, and as is often said, “If you want to know what water is, don’t ask a fish.”[1]

One of my favorite things about Sunday School in those early years was its exclusivity. Because I was the only child in town anywhere near my age, I was often the only pupil in the class, but like the good troopers they were, my teachers never seemed to mind, and would forge ahead using the Southern Baptist study guides, week after week, even if we were alone. And, it was in just such a class, when I was nearly five, that a frustrated Mrs. Lethcoe said to me with some insistence in her flat, North-Alabama drawl: “Tommy, Jesus just wonts to be your friend!” Well, now, that was something I could understand.[2]

Imaginary friends come naturally when you’re an only child living in the woods with nary a playmate for miles, and one of the reasons I took to Nell Lethcoe’s suggestion so instantly was because I already had relationships going with two friends who were, apparently, invisible to others (as neither Mama nor my babysitters could see them). They were little old British ladies who wore printed cotton tea dresses and flowery hats. Their names were Mrs. Seafey and Mrs. Coctiff, and I honestly have not the vaguest notion how I happened to cast them in those particular personalities. Nevertheless, they were my steadfast friends and we truly loved each other.

At some point in the last 40 years, the US Forest Service decided to leave the sawmill, but erase the mill town of Grayson, AL that surrounded it, the place where we lived from my birth to age seven. Now, all that is left of the simple but stately white house we lived in (and where this story took place), is this ivy-draped hole in the ground where our basement used to be. I had to clamber deep into the prickly underbrush just to find this. No doubt, the removal of Grayson from the center of a National Forest was an environmentally sound decision, but it is nevertheless, very sad to me.

Now, you may scoff, if you like, at the idea of “real” imaginary friends, but, dear reader, ineffable are the realities of faith, as they were meant to be. Author J. K. Rowling got it right, I think, in that last pivotal dream conversation between Harry Potter and Dumbledore, when Harry asks his mentor, “Is this real, or is this all just happening inside my head?” and the Professor looks at him with love and replies, “Of course it’s happening inside your head, Harry, but why should that mean it’s not real?” Were Mrs. Seafey and Mrs. Cocktiff actually angels that only I, the innocent child, was permitted to see? I cannot say, but they were as real as real could be to me.

Every afternoon I would set the child-sized card table in my bedroom with my sister’s toy Blue Willow dishes and, at precisely four o’clock, the three of us would settle in for tea. We talked about all manner of things over the months of our association, from the death of an elderly friend to the love of my baby sister, and, so, once Mrs. Lethcoe had introduced the notion of a friendship with Jesus, I wasted no time asking the ladies that very afternoon if they agreed that we should invite Him to join us.

Well.

Within a nanosecond of my posing the question, there He was, sitting right across the table from me looking a lot like His picture on those funeral-home fans, only vital, robust, alive. His familiar appearance put me at ease, and His voice was low and gentle like a mountain brook burbling over rocks worn smooth. We loved each other instantly, or, at least, I loved Him instantly, as I gathered He had already been loving me for some time. The ladies, not a little astonished at what had just happened, were tickled to a rosy hue, and we had a wonderful visit together for the rest of the afternoon as He and I locked in a friendship that has only grown stronger with each passing year for, now, six decades. It is often said that to truly believe, you must believe as a child. I know what that means.

We continued our afternoon teas for some weeks until, the final time, He told me it would be our last tea, but that He would always be as near as my desire; that I need but knock and He would never fail to answer any question or rise to any occasion. And, dear reader, after all this time enjoying His close association, nay, friendship, I can attest that He has been as good as His word to that little me all those years ago. To illustrate, I could relate many specific and moving examples, but this essay would be a book if I tried to tell them all in the fullness they deserve, so I only mention a few here without details [but with end notes]: when I was seven, I found myself unwittingly, though not inappropriately, maneuvered into signing an official Baptist commitment card to be His missionary for life[3]; at nine, I received a special dispensation from the Bishop for early baptism and confirmation as a Methodist[4]; at thirteen, in a profound prayer on the night of JFK’s assassination, I was led onto a professional path that held me fast for seventeen years, all the way through law school and ultimately to NYC; when I was seventeen, He helped me maintain my sanity through a very difficult relocation just before the end of my junior year in high school [5]; when I was nineteen, He confirmed to my satisfaction in another intense prayer that who I am was not a mistake and that my having been born gay was as natural and as much a part of His plan as the sun rising in the morning; and, when I was 23, during and after my mother’s losing battle with pancreatic cancer, two profoundly personal, inexplicable mystical interactions between my Friend and me occurred to absolutely seal the deal of our relationship for eternity [6].

In the crazy days of my youth, I used to ask Him for signs that I was on the right path, but I long ago stopped needing them when I began seeing them all the time, and the long and short of it is that for me to say, “I believe in Jesus,” is to understate the case. I know Jesus. We are BFFs in the most literal possible sense. I have seen Him with my own eyes sitting right across the table from me, and heard Him with my own ears in the most unexpected of times and places. I know that He lives because He is my ever-present Companion, my long-time, oft-disappointed, ever-forgiving, proactive Loved One, and the thread of our association has only grown stronger and more resilient through the mercerizing years I have spent dog-paddling, as best I could, through life.

Oh, there have been times, even years, when my attention to our relationship has waned, but even then, when I finally came around, it has always been as it should be when old friends meet: as if there were no time between. That said, we are now far beyond those days, and the bonds of our companionship – of our real, true, living relationship – are, for me, unmistakable, undeniable and unbreakable.

The Third Thread: An Unexpected Obsession

Mama, age 8, 1933

Several years ago I received a letter addressed in an elegant hand on engraved blue note paper from someone I did not know, and, when I opened it, a confetti of small black and white photos fluttered to the floor. These, it turned out, were first- and second-grade school portraits of my mother and her siblings from the early 1930s, and had been sent by a distant cousin who had found them in one of her grandmother’s old trunks. I was thrilled, and was soon writing back to thank her and, while I was at it, to ask some questions about her branch of our family tree.

She did get back to me in great detail, but once the questions had

Uncle Ned, Age 7, 1933

surfaced, I decided to look for some answers on my own by logging onto Ancestry.com. The site was new and offering a two-week free trial membership, and, well, oh my word but did I fall down a rabbit hole! It was some months, as Richard will attest, before I finally resurfaced.

And, what a Wonderland I found! The more I uncovered about the people from whom my parents and I sprang, the more I wanted to know. It was like the best novel ever, full of surprises and sudden turns to drive me forward, or rather, backward in time, as I met thousands of

fascinating forebears and – as a quite unexpected delight – reconnected with history in a fresh and much more personal way through the stories of these real members of my family who fought wars, built log cabins, or traveled aboard clipper ships. It was an extraordinary journey, and as I continued, generation before generation, it became ever more clear just how rich the marvelous tapestry of family can be.

Aunt Peggy, age 6, 1933

Predictably, of course, there were some dead ends – family lines for which the information just petered out after a few generations – but a lot fewer than you might imagine, and I was surprised by just how many lines continued back for hundreds of years. Indeed, there were so many leads to follow and historical eddies to explore, that after following one line all the way back to the first century BC just because I was astonished that I could, I ultimately limited myself to researching only as far back as the “original immigrant” in each line. (But not, fortunately, before I clicked on yet another little green leaf “hint” to discover Lady Godiva, of all people, was one of my 30th great-

Uncle Joe, Age 9, 1933

grandmothers! Now, that was a rush.)

And, though I did ultimately put down the genealogy for other pursuits, there were at least two great lessons that I came away with about the true nature of family and our intense interrelatedness across time and place.

The First Great Lesson: Families Don’t Grow on Trees

A family is not at all the vertical construct we generally imagine. In fact, families are shaped nothing like trees at all. Rather, picture a field of daylilies where expansion comes both from family groups of tubers multiplying underground, as well as from their seeds – pollinated by butterflies and planted by birds – spreading the beauty into every corner.

Now, this is counter-intuitive because the shape of the family we know is actually treelike, with a trunk and branches that leaf out into our loved ones. However, even with 20/20 hindsight, we don’t perceive the reality. Instead of envisioning the great flowering field of more than a million 18-greats-grandparents – let me say that again: more than a million, 1,048,576 to be exact, 18-greats-grandparents  – that each of us, by definition, must have had only 450 years ago, we hardly think beyond those we can actually remember.

I have struggled to find a way to illustrate just how VAST every family tree is but here’s another go. If every blue square in this chart represents a direct forebear (i.e., actual grandparent) the chart runs off the page after only six generations, and by the 20th would use up 9620 sheets of paper laid end-to-end at the same scale! If you could actually make a chart going all the way back to the time of Christ, you would need over 82 TRILLION sheets of graph paper, probably more than exist in the world, I’m thinking. Our interrelatedness is irrefutable.

But the math doesn’t lie: 2×2=4 x2=8 x2=16 x2=32 x2=64 x2=128 x2=256 x2=512 x2=1024 x2=2048 x2=4096 x2=8192 x2=16,384 x2=32,768 x2=65,536 x2=131,072 x2=262,144 x2=524,288 x2=1,048,576. And, as hard as it is to believe, if you keep doubling it all the way back a thousand years, Lady Godiva, as it turns out, was only the most notorious of my 4.2 billion 3o-greats-grandparents!

The Second Great Lesson: We Are All Cousins

But that, you might well posit, is impossible. After all, there weren’t even 4.2 billion people on the planet in the 10th Century, and, of course, you would be right. But in the end, it’s not about the size of the population but the number of fruitful copulations, and it only took 2.1 billion of those. Plus, as it turns out, some of our ancestors were extremely good at conceiving. Consider two examples: Genghis Khan and the passengers of the Mayflower.

It has long been known that Genghis Khan was fond of procreation. It was even reported by Chinese observers as early as the year 1272 – only forty-five years after he died – that there were already twenty thousand of his progeny in positions of power across several neighboring regions.[7] And, in 2003, the American Journal of Human Genetics reported that over sixteen million men – and, by extrapolation, their sixteen million sisters – were all Genghis Khan’s descendants: thirty-two million literal cousins sired by one man only eight-hundred years ago![8]

The case of the Mayflower is similar. She landed at Plymouth Rock in 1620 with just over a hundred survivors, but forty-five of them died the first winter, leaving a colony of only fifty-seven Pilgrims. Consequently, if you are related to one of them, it is almost a slam-dunk certainty you are related to several, since they and their children had only each other for “acceptable” mates, and even after additional ships arrived, their numbers were exceedingly small for scores of years.

Additionally, mindful of this shortfall and being made of hardy stuff (especially the women), the early settlers tended to have a great many children – very often in excess of twenty – who, in turn, had a great many more. The result, in hardly any time at all, was similar to that of the Mongol Emperor, only this concentration of genetic inheritance included twenty-four procreating men rather than just the one. An article in the September 20th, 2004 edition of the Kingston Mariner relates: “a staggering thirty-five million people claim an ancestral lineage that runs all the way back – sometimes through fifteen generations – to the original 24 [Mayflower] males. That number represents 12 percent of the American population” [9] [emphasis added]. Twelve percent!

In other words, we are all – and I do mean all – far more related than we think. Everyone reading this – however far away in time or space you may be from the here and now of this writing – is almost certainly my blood-kin cousin. And, even without the concentrated hubs arising from isolated populations or overreaching despots, this would still be unavoidable. Look at the math the other way ’round. Lady Godiva had eleven known children, but, again, for the sake of being ultra-conservative, let’s say she only had two who bore children, giving her four grandchildren who then only gave her eight great-grandchildren, etc., so that you generate the same multiples over generations as with the grandparents. Well, then, given a perfect progression, over 4.2 billion people living today share my 30th great-grandmother. And, the same calculus would also have to be true for every other one of my 4.2 billion 30th great-grandparents! How could we not be related? Seen through such a distant lens, the fabric of family is tighter than canvas and covers the whole of the earth.

Now, it is no doubt the case – at least common sense would allow – that Europeans are more related to each other than to Africans, who are more related to each other than to Asians, etc., but that said, we humans have been prone to cross-fertilization as far back as the Neanderthals,[10] and, it only took one 12th Century marriage between a Crusader and a Mesopotamian, for example, to join millions of previously distinct forebears into one family that, by today, has extended the bloodlines of both to a great proportion of the planetary population.

[Also, lo and behold, in the week this essay was originally published, The New York Times published an op-ed by A. J. Jacobs entitled “Are You My Cousin?” which made exactly my point using new insights arising from the growing list of genealogy-related websites.[11] Did I say “synchronicities”?]

A Joining of Threads

All these were fascinating, fun discoveries, but I still could not quite fathom my compulsion to keep looking deeper and deeper into family history. Why the obsession? What was my inner Father trying to tell me; teach me? I often took the question to Him in prayer, but the answer remained elusive. I did, however, after many hundreds of hours, finish the job of naming my forebears back to the original immigrants as best I could.

Of course, I should have known, having prayed the question with a sincere heart, that an answer to my quandary would eventually appear, and, though it took its time falling into place, it was more than satisfactory.

As I did my research, my growing understanding of family ties did have an impact upon my prayers for others – from the neighborhood, to the city, to the planet as described above – since I began thinking of all our neighbors as something significantly more, as actual cousins however distant, and it really does feel differently when you visualize them that way.[12] There is an undeniable intensification of the emotional investment when you truly see those you are praying for, however unknown, as literal family. Blood, as they say, is thicker than water, and what had become increasingly clear to me was the utter impossibility of drawing any dividing lines between our one family of seven billion cousins. Family, as we learn from our very cradles, is always to be accepted with love and – in spite of foibles or follies, if necessary – not to be judged unkindly. How wondrous it would be, then, were all embraced as kin, to dismiss unkindness altogether!

And then, at long last, one marvelous morning as I prayed, all these threads of understanding, some having taken a lifetime to work their way up through my consciousness, came together in a blink, as most revelations do. Prostrate in the dark of my bedroom, I came to that part of the prayer where our nearest ten-thousand neighbors are my focus, and, almost without realizing it, prayed “for our ten-thousand nearest cousins… YOUR ten thousand nearest cousins…” And then I stopped as the full force of what had just happened washed through me. Of course! That was the point! I finally understood what my oldest Friend, my dear Friend Jesus, who had been holding my hand since those days around the tea table, had been trying to tell me. He had inspired my inquiries, step-by-step, until I could finally, fully see the reality that we – He and I and, yes, you – are not only friends, but literal, blood family!

And with the next breath came the next realization – flowing from my long-established understanding that Jesus was the eldest of a large family of children – that if they, too, had been my long-ag0 cousins, then He was also, by definition, my long-ago uncle! Uncle Jesus!

The “brotherhood of man under the Fatherhood of God” is an old but valid trope that relies upon a wondrous spiritual nexus: God as Heavenly Father of all His material children. But how much more tangible is this newly seen connection: to be a member of the actual family of God? And, better yet, to understand the Son of God to actually be one of your own? It’s one thing to ask a loving spiritual, but Heavenly, Father for forgiveness, and quite another to ask your favorite earthly Uncle for a favor.

The Family of Jesus

With all the emphasis upon the twelve Apostles, Jesus’s actual family gets short shrift. With the exception of Mary, we don’t really think much about them at all, though most experts agree He had several siblings.[13] Matthew, Chapter 13, tells us of four brothers named James, Joseph, Simon and Jude, and “sisters,” so one may conclude that, at the very least, He had six.

There also can be found records of later generations, including Judas Kyriakos (the last Jewish-Christian “Bishop of Jerusalem”), great-grandson of Jesus’s brother Jude,[14] but, of course, we have no way of knowing exactly how many nieces and nephews Jesus may have had. Nevertheless, for the sake of discussion, let us continue taking an extremely conservative approach and assume that only two of His siblings had children. If we then assume the same progression and double the number in each generation, by the 30th, around the year 1000 AD, Jesus would already have had 4.2 billion great-nieces and nephews, and given that it would take another thousand years to bring us up to date, each and every one of those 4.2 billion would likely, by now, have their own 4.2 billion descendants!

And, if that isn’t assurance enough for you that we are all, almost inevitably, the nieces and nephews of Christ, add into the equation the undeniable consequences of the Diaspora – the spreading out of the Hebrews to the furthest ends of the earth – which began with the Babylonian conquest of Jerusalem six centuries before Christ and would seem to be entirely unrelated to His arrival. Nevertheless, for the sake of making the point, if the Universe wanted to ensure that Jesus might ultimately – in the fullness of time – be the literal blood Uncle of His entire human family – of every human on earth – it could not have gone about it in a more systematic or effective way. That said, I don’t believe any loving Father (or Uncle, for that matter) would purposefully so displace His family as has been done to the Jewish nation throughout history, but it is an inarguable fact that the result is a far more interrelated world today than would otherwise be the case.

Of course, if you believe, as many do, that Jesus was conceived immaculately, then any DNA endowment would theoretically be purely that of His mother. However, (and I’m bound to get into trouble for this) if, as I, you believe that His Divinity is actually enhanced and His sacrifice ennobled by His having been the Creator Son of our Universe who chose to be conceived in the normal way – as the utterly vulnerable firstborn Son of Mary and Joseph – His endowment would, of course, include the inheritance factors from both families. Either way, the point remains the same. Whether His DNA was only hers, or some combination of hers and God’s, or a combination of hers and Joseph’s, her son was still the blood brother of James, Joseph, Simon, Jude and His sisters, and He was still the uncle of every child born to them and great-uncle of every grandchild.

Uncles are Cool

As it happens, benevolent uncles were a big part of my childhood. My grandfather had several brothers, and my favorite relatives in the early years were my Great-Uncles Edgar and Powell, both of whom were long-widowed and doted on me at every opportunity. Beyond that, my mother’s brothers, Ned and Bubba – yes, Bubba – were fundamental to the health of my self-esteem as I grew up a stranger in a strange land. They were always there with a word of encouragement or even to help with more mundane things like buying a used car, or refilling the honey jar from the 55-gallon drum of Tupelo kept on Great-Grandmama’s back porch.

So, the realization that Jesus was not only my BFF, but my Uncle, as well, was a wonderful discovery, and one I took instantly to heart. Of course, it may not mean very much to you, if you don’t believe, as I do, that He is the Master Creator Son of the Universe who made not only our world, but the millions of similar worlds that populate our heavens; or if you don’t believe, as I do, that out of all the worlds He made, He chose this one as the site of his materialization experience – from defenseless infant to Divine Teacher – the better to know us and love us as one of us, as well as to show not only us, but all His vast, starlit creation, the Way of Love through His perfected example. But, I do believe all of those things, so for such a God to be, also, my literal Uncle is more than unimaginable, it is a gift far greater than anything I could possibly deserve or even ever have dreamed. God is my Uncle? Not only is He mine, but yours, as well.

And, that, my dear cousin, is news worth sharing.

– February 9, 2014 [Fifth revision, January 31, 2018]

© 2018 George Thomas Wilson, All rights reserved.


[1] I have been utterly unable to track down the source of this quote, though there are thousands of uses of it cited by Google, most of which attribute it as “an old Chinese proverb.” Nevertheless, the sentiment is sound.

[2]  For years I have called Nell Lethcoe’s simple, emphatic statement to me the “most profound theological point I’ve ever heard.” And, as an aside, in all the years following that day, in spite of spending countless hours in countless churches, I had not heard one other person put it quite so well until until Pope Francis appeared and said the same exact thing. It turns out that “friendship with Jesus” is also one of his favorite themes. As recently as 1/4/14, for example, he actually tweeted (tweeted!) “Dear Young People, Jesus wants to be your friend, and wants you to spread the joy of this friendship everywhere.” You have to love it when the Pope quotes your childhood Sunday School teacher!

[3] It’s a long story, but had my Great-grandmother Baker died either one day before or one day after the day she actually passed away, I would not have been shipped off for a week in mid-July of 1957 to Cook Springs Baptist Women’s Missionary Union Camp, and would not – as a seven-year-old! – have found myself, at the end of that week, compelled to sign a 3”x5” commitment card that, of all things, I would continue to be a “missionary for Jesus” for the rest of my life. I may have been too young and too innocent, but in full consultation with my teatime Friend, I made a knowing commitment and I am still striving to live up to it.

[4] Two years later, when I was nine – and still very much in the glow of my innocence – I discovered our preacher was to be transferred (we had become Methodists in a new town by then) and since I found Brother Langford to be the most Christ-like of all the preachers we had ever had, I asked him to confirm and baptize me before he left. It took a special dispensation from the bishop because I was three years too young, but I succeeded in confirming my commitment to my good Friend in the best way I knew how.

[5] When I was only six weeks away from the end of my Junior year, I was suddenly transferred from the tiny (300 students in six grades) rural Florida high school where my mother had been a revered teacher, to an Alabama city school of 2000 people in 3 grades where no one knew me and I had no time at all to learn an entirely new curriculum for finals before spending my final high school summer working in a bread factory as a union trainee. I was utterly miserable and had it not been for the embracing group from the Campus Crusade for Christ led by a wonderful woman named Cook, I’m not sure I would have made it through my senior year intact. But, thanks to my Friend, Jesus, and my angels’ particularly strong and consistent overcare during these days, often demonstrated to me in real, perceptible, ways, I managed to suffer through with only minor scrapes and bruises. I truly do not know how I could have made it through those torturous months without my faith.

[6] The first of these occasions may sound insignificant in the retelling, but it involved several entirely unlikely, nearly impossible, sightings of an out-of-place dragonfly that appeared in response to my prayers for guidance and strength during those painful months, and the message received was, essentially, “Your prayers are heard. Do not worry. Worrying only depletes your energies and accomplishes nothing.” From that moment on, though I did the best I could for her in the weeks that followed, and mourned her passing when she died, my worry ceased and those energies were put to better use. [since the original version of this post in 2014, I have written about the dragonfly experience in detail. The link is here and I encourage you to read it.: https://inpraiseofangels.wordpress.com/2014/11/02/the-dragonfly/ ]

The second event was an actual, as-God-is-my-witness, cloud-based vision that included a clear-as-a-bell image of my Friend Jesus standing tall with the sun streaming through His flowing hair and beard, His right arm raised in a blessing. Of course, as is the case with all such personal “for your eyes only” touchstones of faith, I cannot prove either of these contacts really happened, but I know, and He knows, that they did.

[7] http://www.nytimes.com/2003/02/11/science/a-prolific-genghis-khan-it-seems-helped-people-the-world.html “As for Genghis himself, Dr. Morgan cited a passage from ‘Ata-Malik Juvaini, a Persian historian who wrote a long treatise on the Mongols in 1260. Juvaini said: ”Of the issue of the race and lineage of Chingiz Khan, there are now living in the comfort of wealth and affluence more than 20,000. More than this I will not say . . . lest the readers of this history should accuse the writer of exaggeration and hyperbole and ask how from the loins of one man there could spring in so short a time so great a progeny.”

[9] Article by John Galluzzo printed in the September 20th 2004 edition of the Kingston Mariner and reposted on the History News Network website of George Mason University on October 23rd of the same year. Link: http://hnn.us/blog/7360#sthash.DzfuEwh8.dpuf

[12] Or, as A. J. Jacobs put it in his article “Are You My Cousin” in The New York Times on 2/2/2014: “…a mega[family]tree might just make the world a kinder place. I notice that I feel more warmly about people I know are distant cousins. I recently figured out that I’m an 11th cousin four times removed of the TV personality Judge Judy Sheindlin. I’d always found her grating. But when I discovered our connection, I softened. She’s probably a sweetheart underneath the bluster.”

[13] It is incumbent upon me at this point to allow that there are many who dispute whether the brothers and sisters of Jesus were His full brother and sisters, half brothers and sisters, or somehow the children of some other couple. For me, I go with the writer of Matthew, who said “His Brothers” and “His sisters,” without qualification of any sort.

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See It. Know It. Do It.

Given the year we had, it seemed important to turn the page in a memorable way, and I took this photo from the Boom Boom Room at the Standard Hotel just before midnight on New Year’s Eve. Cozy and spectacular on a frosty night with Gloria Gaynor waiting in the wings!

Okay, so I realized a few days ago that, as of December 20th, I’m exactly two-thirds of the way to being a hundred years old. Wow. Not that I’m concerned about it. I’ve always said – you can ask any of my longtime friends – that I plan to peak at eighty, coming, as I do, from a line of long-livers (no puns, please), so it never made sense to me to set my trajectory, as so many others apparently do, to begin arcing downward at fifty or sixty. After all, who wants to diminish for decades? And, I’ve always been an advocate of shooting for the moon, which might, at least, get you into orbit.

Of course, I never imagined, in anticipating my future, that Richard and I would be subjected to such a comeuppance as occurred last June, when our beach house burned and took with it so much of my life’s focus and activity.

Here are links to the garden photo tours over the last few years: https://inpraiseofangels.wordpress.com/2016/06/03/first-flowering-2016/ OR https://inpraiseofangels.wordpress.com/2016/11/03/summers-bounty-june-to-september-2016/ OR FOR RECIPES just type “recipe” into the search window upper right on this page.

“Seek beauty, goodness and truth” is the Second Commandment of George, and as most of you already know, if this blog is my stab at sharing whatever grains of truth I’ve been able to fit into my tiny thimble, Cedar House and its grounds had become both my canvas for spreading beauty, as I tended the colorful gardens that have given back so much of the content here, and my laboratory for discovering goodness, as I sought to perfect all the recipes that made up another big fraction of the posts you have read here. Whoosh. Poof. Up in smoke. Gone. And the walls came a tumb-a-ling down.

“Whoa, Nellie!” as Keith Jackson used to say.

It was roar upon roar upon roar as I stood there in a gale force wind with the roiling, storm-tossed surf behind me and the raging fire in front, lapping and snapping and thrusting up pyrotechnics to rival any along Dante’s downward trek, and, fully-consumed in my own way by the otherworldly sight, I knew I was watching a life-changing moment; that there would be grieving to be done; that I could not possibly even begin to get my simply-human mind around such a massive event as the one occurring right before my eyes. “Even if my angels have lived for a million years,” I said to someone nearby, “they have never seen a fire like this.”

As fire consumes our living room it shoots a halo of white hot flame out the chimney in the fierce southeasterly wind.

First it was just the house next door, the middle one of three along Ocean Walk between Cedar and Pine. (Fire Island Pines properties are all arranged along elevated wooden walks; there are neither streets nor cars.) And, while the wind was blowing fiercely off the ocean, it was angled favorably away from our house, so for a few minutes I thought we might have a chance, but a white-hot, fully-consumed, wind-fueled, two-story cedar house just 20 feet away from ours proved impossible to resist, and before much longer, not only our house, but then another and another were taken, until finally four large cedar houses were joined in one great conflagration seen over twenty miles away.

In this shot with the pools covered for winter, you can see just how close the house next door, lower left, was to our house in the center of the photo. Once it was fully aflame, there was no stopping it from latching on to us.

An indelible experience, I can fast-forward it all in my mind and watch as more than one-hundred firepersons arrive in twos and threes over the next hour; hear the rhythm of the news helicopters circling above; relive the kindness of strangers and neighbors and friends in their volunteer fire helmets, as, lit by the golden glow, they hug and cry and offer help; marvel as our 93-year-0ld neighbor Bill spends all night watering the front of his house with a garden hose. It was a three-hour symphony of explosions, crashes, sirens and splashes until finally, traumatized and spent, housemates Daniel, William, Tom and I took refuge at The Madison guest house next to the harbor, where I climbed into a cloud of crisp white sheets, turned on the early-early edition of The CBS Morning News, and there it was again: our house on fire.

I imagine pretty much every one of you of a certain age has had moments when your life was turned upside-down. Sometimes, it’s the death of a loved-one, for others, it might be a natural disaster, a broken marriage, a shattered dream. Well, for Richard and me, on that night, it was a fire.

With my brand new Google Pixel melted in the fire, this is the first photo on my new iPhone (thank you Guy Smith!) taken the day after as Richard worked his phone to find new housing for all our summer housemates and I covered social media as your comments and concerns came pouring in.

There have been other times when my life turned upside down and “recalculating route” was the order of the day. It happened when Mama died too young of cancer in my twenty-forth year. It happened again, twelve years later, when my business partner of five years hanged herself one sunny Tuesday morning. It happened slowly but no less surely as I lost fifty-two friends to AIDS and the entire social network I had anticipated would travel alongside me for life was eviscerated – a Picket’s Charge in ultra-slow motion, and it even happened to our whole country on the morning of 9/11. So I have learned, over time, how to deal. I have also learned that to do so – to truly masticate and digest fully the whole meaning of an upending event – takes time, sometimes even a lifetime. What does it mean? What are the silver linings? How can I carom off this edge to rise to an even better place than before? All of these questions take time to answer.

So, while you might say that I have been silent for so long in this space because so much of  my creative means went up in smoke, the larger part, I can testify, is because it has taken all this time just to get my head around my new coordinates. Looking back, it is no wonder that an acute bout of vertigo – the only one I’ve ever had – came upon me without warning about 10 days after the fire, and then left just as mysteriously as it had appeared after a few days of bed rest and a few pills from the Pines Care Center. I’ve said ever since that it was my angels slowing me down, but truly, given the upended world that I was newly inhabiting, vertigo was surely the logical consequence.

But that was then, and in a flash, it seems, fully six months have flown by and here we are at the beginning of a new year that can only be a great improvement on the last – in so very many ways – so I am very pleased to see it arrive. And further, to finally get going on all my creative work that has lain frustratingly fallow and truly needs doing. It is not lost on me that in devoting so much space to the gardens and recipes in these last few years that I have neglected other writing projects that deserve my attention, and hopefully yours, if one can say that.

First and foremost, of course, is my series of “Gone Too Soon” profiles to reanimate, as best I can, those 52 friends who died of AIDS in the 80s and 90s [For an overview of this series I posted last spring: https://inpraiseofangels.wordpress.com/2017/03/09/a-word-if-you-will-about-my-gone-too-soon-profiles/]. When the fire struck, I had already done much research on the next few people on the list with the result that there are many family and friends across the country who are looking forward to reading about their loved-ones, and I will be posting them as soon as I am able. That said, having completed the first few, I have learned they take time to do fully, but they are my first priority for this space, and you may anticipate seeing several in the coming weeks that were already well along before the fire intervened.

Photo is of the house reputed to be both the home of John Mark and his parents, as well as the site of the “Upper Room” and last supper between Christ and His apostles.

Secondly, I really need to post the continuation of A Boy’s Tale, my historical-fiction account of the ministry of Christ as witnessed by John Mark, the 14-year-old water-boy of the Apostles. However, since it has been two years since I posted Part I (the first eleven chapters) and many of you may not have seen or read it, I’m going to begin again, and post those first chapters here, a chapter at a time, and then follow on with the remainder of the book as best I can.

In addition to these two priorities, my list is long of creative projects that are either already in process, already completed and never published, or are simply still figments of my imagination.  I also hope to season the larger projects with occasional poems, short essays, and anecdotes, as they appear in the timeline of my life.

But first, as I begin every year, will be my fifth annual posting of the three foundational essays that, taken together, represent my little thimbleful of truths that have congealed, over time, out of my daily prayers: “The Family of God,” “The Flow of God” and “The Love of God”. If you’ve already read them, you are welcome to skip over them since they remain much the same from year to year. If you haven’t, I hope you will. “For Truth is Truth. By God, it is.”

What, alas, you will not be seeing here anytime soon are the Cedar House gardens and recipes. There is appropriate progress in cleaning the lot where the house used to stand, and there are drawings afoot for a new one that will have echoes of the one we lost (but with a few new wrinkles that we hope will make it even more inviting and comfortable than ever) but it will take some time, and while there is still a garden in there somewhere under the ashes, there will be more trauma for the plant life as construction moves forward in the days ahead. I can only pray that the roots of my hostas, hydrangeas, day lilies and roses will hang on till we get to the other side. Whatever happens, their re-emergence once re-ensconced behind a deer fence, will be all the more joyful for their having survived.

This day lily root ball survived the fire as first the deck upon which it stood, and then the pot into which it had been planted were both destroyed around it…

That said, some of you may have seen my Facebook post about the dense day lily root balls that I discovered among the ashes and hoped to resurrect. This proved more than possible, and they, along with the “homeless hydrangeas” spent the summer in ‘temporary housing’ on the deck of the replacement house we rented after the fire so that all our housemates would have a beach home for the rest of the season. Though I added a few things for color, every one of the 25 pots shown in the photos below (from our temporary deck; I couldn’t resist posting just a few 2017 garden photos, even if abridged) has at least

And here, three months later, is that same recovering ball of roots on the deck of our rental house, which mercifully came equipped with a generous stock of enormous terra cotta pots.

one plant rescued from our gardens, and they have all now been transferred again to the yard of a neighbor to safely overwinter behind a deer fence.

The Best of the Summer’s Replacement Deck

As you can see, the homeless hydrangeas (see “A Burning of Stories” previous post) were also, by October, recovering well from their traumatic burning up next to the house.

Though the house we rented came with a great supply of empty, enormous pots to work with, not only all the plants to be rescued, but all the soil, as well, had to come from our yard, about a block away, so I must have made at least 20 wagon trips just for the dirt. (And, of course, once the season was done, it all – plants and dirt – had to be removed.) Nevertheless, the work paid off as the deck was transformed in the doing for the three months we were there.

The deck, as we found it on 6/24/18, and as we left it on 10/9, but it didn’t stay this way for long.

Early summer, a couple of weeks after setting out the plants.

Looking back the other way. I ordered a replacement sun float as soon as we had a new pool to put it in to keep at least a hint of continuity in our lives.

By late June, portulaca and verbena were about the only flowers still available to add a touch of color.

This may just be a lowly coleus, but I marvel at the astonishing artistry contained within its DNA.

Recovering hostas and sedum, with verbena and coleus for color.

Except for the red verbena, these are all recovering plants, including the pink petunia which was an angel gift that grew from seed out of the day lily roots from our garden.

By the end of the summer, it had all grown in pretty well. Just in time for me to remove it all!

And so, for now…

One of the things I love most about Richard is his irrepressible optimism, as these new beach towels he bought the week after the fire, attest.

Earlier, I mentioned my daily prayers, and the three essays that I will be reposting for the fifth year in the coming days, but this is not to suggest that these supplications between my Maker and I have become formulaic. Indeed, as they reflect our living, growing friendship/partnership, they likewise evolve and continually perfect themselves. And, so it is that lately, as I have been confronting, dealing with, and overcoming as best I can the trauma of these last few months, I have found myself, when I ask for God’s help in following the path He has set before me, hearing the words in that still, small voice: “See it. Know it. Do it.”

And, as it has been my experience that those prayerful words/phrases/lines that repeat themselves over and over in my mind are generally the most important ones, I have taken these to heart in the sense that it is time to get on with all these projects; to truly deliver on whatever God-given potential I may have. After all, I only have 13 more years till I get to 80.

Dear friends, I am so very grateful for your time, attention and love, for they are these honors from you that make the doing sweet. “Gifts are love made real,” I say in one of my poems, and, if one can say this without sounding completely pompous, these writings are my gifts to you.

And, what better way to close out 2017 could there be than Gloria Gaynor singing “I will Survive”?

And, so on with it. Please forgive the very long time it has taken me to get this out. For all the five years this blog has run, I have felt it important to err on the side of quality, which is to say that I have resisted posting too many entries out of a concern that I might overtax you, my readers, and also to maintain a level of writing that takes time to do. Well, if I’m to catch up with all I’ve missed in the last few months, I feel like I’m going to have to post considerably more frequently than before, so I hope you don’t get worn out. Again, Thank you all for your patience during these trying months, and for your never-fading support and lovingkindness. With life upturned, your gifts of the spirit have been even more precious than usual.

© 2018 by George Thomas Wilson. All rights reserved.

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A Burning of Stories, Part I

Flames shoot out in a circle from the top of our chimney as over a hundred volunteer firepeople from both Fire Island and Long Island (brought over on a commandeered ferry) worked through the night to limit the fire to only the four houses that were lost.

Good afternoon, everyone. My apologies for being so long away from this blog, but I have the best excuse ever. Our house burned down. Yes, that house. Cedar House. The one from which so much of this blog has sprung. The one where our gardens grew so lush I could post photo tours here. The one with the best cook’s kitchen ever, where all the recipes appearing here were perfected over 22 years of experience. The one just steps from the sea on one of the most beautiful beaches in the world where we were given the honor of welcoming and hosting hundreds (at least 300) time-sharing housemates around our glass-topped table for a minimum of six weeks each – enough time for us discover and delight in the myriad ways each and every one of them revealed the Glory carried within, as well as the spiritual gifts so frequently contributed to our fellowship by their ever-mindful angels (whether their charges knew it or not). Of course, if you’re my Facebook friend, you already know all this, but for those few of you who only follow this blog, you might not have heard.

Even before we took it over in the winter of ’95-’96, Cedar House had seen twenty years of rich history. Built during the architectural heyday of Fire Island Pines, NY when so many modernist cedar statements arose from the sand that there are even coffee-table books about them (if you’re interested, Google “Horace Gifford”), at first, with stark lines and tiny windows, Cedar House followed the

The original Cedar House, c. 1974

prevailing austere esthetic. But it was bought in 1980 and converted to an early B&B, when both the living and dining areas were built out, a sixth bedroom was carved out of existing living room space, and our beloved 6′-wide stainless steel US Range was added (along with a restaurant’s-worth of professional cookwares – from 24-quart stainless stockpots to wok skimmers – that were such high quality that they were

Cedar House the first day we looked it over. Note that both the near and far sides had been built out in the intervening years, though there were still only the five tiny clerestory windows to light the expanded living room.

still just as good as the day they were bought until the fire consumed them).

It was during those years – the early 80s, before the epidemic that would utterly devastate the whole community took hold – that “Cedar House,” with room for a dozen inspired, eager souls around its great white Formica table (8′ in diameter and so large it was built in place, and required a Saws-all to remove when we arrived in ’95) first gained its reputation as a maelstrom of

I actually posted this photo on Facebook the day before the fire. Not quite the same angle, but you can see additions on the second floor and a vastly expanded roof deck.

gay culture out of which sprang much creativity, most of which has been lost to time, but with two grand exceptions that were born and nurtured there: first, the 1984 Rick James disco hit “Oh, What a Night” (originally published on the “Cedar House Records” label, we had an original 78-rpm pressing of the album in a plain white sleeve (that came with the house)  tucked away for safekeeping in the living room armoire) and, second, an early, all-gay Monopoly knock-off – Gay Monopoly – originally created in 1983 by Fire Island Games, Inc. (Although the Gay Monopoly was completely shut down after the creators were sued by Parker Brothers, it is a sought-after collector’s item today, with the going price for a set in good condition ranging from $250-450 on the Internet. Alas, we had four complete mint-condition sets, now ashes, that also came with the house.)

A photo found online since all of ours were burned.

Of course, as AIDS laid waste to these rich creative energies, Cedar House, too, suffered, and by the time Richard and I came along and took a look in the summer of ’95, it had been on a rental carousel for a decade or so as no continuity was possible when so many were falling so fast in every direction, and was in a sad and sorry state. Nevertheless, even through the neglect, we could see that it had three great things going for it: 1) the location was ideal by every measure, 2) the design was unique and inviting, and 3) it was the best stove we’d ever seen in The Pines.

By Thanksgiving week, the deed was done, and, as it turned out, it was truly a time for Thanksgiving since a new treatment for AIDS was introduced at the same time – the ‘cocktail’ – that fairly instantly converted a positive diagnosis from a death sentence to a difficult-but-manageable condition, so that, by the time we began welcoming our housemates to their new home in May of ’96, much of the scourge that had been dragging us down for so long (we had lost three housemates during the winter of ’93-’94) had lifted.

Much had been accomplished over the winter months to return Cedar House to it’s storied past. The living room had been transformed into a regal, inviting space by removing the bedroom that had been so rudely carved out of its original 24’x 24’x 12′ dimensions, adding seven 5’x2′ picture windows to drench the room in summer’s light, and moving the interior fireplace to an exterior wall. At the other end of the house, we had found enough roof space available where the kitchen had been built out in 1980 to add the two additional second-floor baths required to provide each bedroom with its own W.C. By the time we were done, almost all the cedar paneling on the inside of the house, and the cedar siding on the outside had been replaced and all five bathrooms were made new from the subflooring up with  eight different kinds of marble and granite plus thousands of glass blocks. In addition, a long list of other improvements – all new solid-core interior doors (each one given two coats of stain and three of polyurethane), all new fixtures (lighting and plumbing), all new appliances and all new, stunning furnishings gathered from many disparate sources by both of us throughout the winter months – had been accomplished as we did our best to optimize the house in every way we could. As a couple, we were at our most powerfully creative during those cold months of construction, and when it was done, we had accomplished much of which to be proud.

We have both marveled at how, in the last few weeks before the fire, we were particularly attentive to so many of the little things around the house, and the memories that went with them. Perhaps some metaphysical inkling of the future was at play that inspired us to take it all in with renewed appreciation and gratitude, but whatever it was, they were the stories that went with those little things that made them worth our time.

It has been my unhappy task, for the last few weeks, to compile a list of all the contents of the house, from wash cloths and serving spoons to all our wonderful art and antiques, but even as I was making the list – what it was, where it was bought, how much it cost, etc. – I knew that a greater tragedy would be the loss of the stories that went with the things on that list, the stories that were the heart and soul of Cedar House. But, this is a tragedy I have the power to prevent by telling these tales; by reviving the associations and aromas that each little thing evoked when Richard or I spent a moment or two taking it in, recalling the love that came with it, often the love of those who long ago passed on to higher planes. Yes, the house may have burned, but not the sensibilities, and there are stories to be told, so many stories. Here are the first three..

The Homeless Hydrangeas

Close-up of a few of the blooms on our Homeless Hydrangeas. Note the tiny purple centers!

“Wanna buy these?” asked the bedraggled, clearly homeless man as he came straight for me out of all the dozens of people near us on the sidewalk, and thrust the shoe-box top in my face.

It was a sunny day in early March of ’95 and I was walking down Broadway just short of 106th Street, about a block from our apartment, and once I had recovered from my surprise, I was astonished to find, nestled precariously within the edges of that shoe-box top, four tiny green plastic flowerpots containing four utterly wilted baby hydrangea plants.

“How much do you want?” I asked.

“Twenty dollars,” he “replied.

“What?,” I asked incredulously. “I’m not giving you twenty dollars for those things.” But then, feeling more sorry for the hydrangeas than the man, I continued, “But I’ll give you ten.”

“Sold,” he said, as he handed them over, and my orphan hydrangeas and I went home.

His timing had been excellent, because what he didn’t know was that we were even then doing the rebuild of Cedar House, and that one of the very first things I had done was chart out gardens for one half of the yard and had already anticipated using hydrangeas in several places. And, for the next several months – until I could finally erect a deer fence in June – the little hydrangea plants remained in our sunny Manhattan living room windows, gaining strength for their eventual move to the beach.

Three of the original four plants, en banc along the front of the house, taken last year.

When the time finally came, I placed them against an East-facing wall, where they thrived in the morning sun and the sandy soil, and by the next summer they were ready to bloom and we discovered their wonders: enormous pale pink blossoms (often more than 12″ across) and at the center of each little flowerette, a tiny spot of purple. They are, in short, the most spectacular hydrangeas I have ever seen. More than a few friends and neighbors have asked for offshoots, happily given, and in all the years since, I’ve never seen any others quite like them. For 22 years, they held pride of place along the front of Cedar House, where they welcomed so many astonishing souls to our home with their exuberant beauty,  and I am determined that they shall do so, again, since I have already rescued and replanted them in enormous pots for safekeeping until they can be put back where they belong.

Also, just for the record and to the best of my knowledge, I had never seen that haggard homeless man before that day, nor have I ever seen him since. And you know how I do go on about angel gifts…

The Memorial Mermaid

“George…,” Alex asked in that timid tone that implied he was about to need a favor, “Do you think we could ask my new friend, Tom, to join us for dinner?”

I’m sure I gave him one of my patented looks, but it was rare for him to ask, and he looked so hopeful that I said “yes” as soon as I calculated in my head whether or not there was enough food, and that was how we met Tom.

It must have been about 2003, or so, and I think his last name is now lost to history. I called Alex to ask but he doesn’t remember, either, but we both remember Tom.

For one thing, he was very tall (Alex is very tall, too), but more importantly, he was just a delightful guest to have at our Saturday night table. We were all in our 30s or 40s in those days, and Tom fit seamlessly into the Cedar House dynamic. A farmer from northern Wisconsin (as best we can remember), he was charming and funny and a real breath of fresh air at our table full of jaded New Yorkers.

He told us it was his first trip to Fire Island, a pilgrimage of sorts that he had been hoping to make for a lifetime, and how his week had been everything he wanted it to be, and that topping it off with dinner at Cedar House was icing on the cake.

Now, we have had many wonderful dinner guests at Cedar House, and after 22 years, I’m sure I would be hard pressed to remember a great many of them, but the next day, before he left the island, Tom did something that made him unforgettable. He dropped off a beautiful thank you gift for us that he had just purchased in a local shop: a heavy cast-iron mermaid about 17″ long in a sitting position with a bronze patina. In other words, it was a not-insubstantial gift, and I can say without fear of contradiction that it is still, to this day, the most extravagant thank you we’ve ever received for nothing more than dinner. We were touched and surprised and delighted but by the time we discovered his gift, he had already left the island and was on his way back to the Midwest.

Since Alex was the only one of us with contact information, we asked him to please let Tom know how much we appreciated his generosity, and we assumed that, in the fullness of time, we would hear from him again. But, quite to the contrary,  it was only a few weeks later that Alex told us that Tom had died. He had apparently been afflicted with inoperable stomach cancer that had taken him quickly following his return to Wisconsin. It is Alex’s recollection that Tom was unaware when we met him of just how ill he was, but I have to wonder. Maybe it was just intuition, but it surely seemed to us that Fire Island was on his bucket list, and judging by his gift – our mermaid – that dinner was important to him.

And so, we have thought of Tom many times over the course of the last decade-and-a-half as his gift has been dusted, held, and admired. Her perch was on the corner of the piano from which she could survey all who passed by, until both she and the piano were consumed by the fire.

Nevertheless, the gift shop is still there, and still selling her sisters, so I guess we shall see if another will take her place…

J.W. the Dancing Bear

J.W. Bear in his accustomed chair, facing the ocean.

Our late friend, Father J. W. Canty, who grew up in Chicago, started his college career in the mid-60s at Michigan, then moved to New York as he began to spread his wings, where he completed his first degree at Parsons School of Design, was never really in anybody’s closet, so by the time he graduated and headed off to divinity school for his next academic adventure, his parents were already coming to terms with what might loosely be called his idiosyncracies, which were many. For most gay people in the 60s, coming out wasn’t even an option, although, to be fair, it would have been nearly impossible for J.W. to keep his lifestyle to himself. In many ways, he was “out and proud” long before it was a “thing” and he wore it on his sleeve, so if his family was going to accept him, even in those early days, well, they would just have to accept him the way he was.

And, much to their credit, they did. I will be writing a full profile of J.W. in the coming months as part of my series on those dozens of friends we lost to AIDS, so I won’t go into it all here, but he was ever and always on the cutting edge and it should be no surprise that he discovered Fire Island Pines during it’s very earliest days as an LGBT destination and comfort zone, and soon joined with a friend to rent the house that had originally belonged to Jerry Herman (creator of the Broadway smashes “Hello, Dolly!” and “Mame”, among others) as the first of many Fire Island addresses he enjoyed over the next quarter-century.

And, it was in that house, around 1970, when he was joined for their first Fire Island summer by his parents, who had decided to demonstrate their support of their gifted son by taking their own room in the house, and for the next several years they continued to spend their summers with him and his friends at the beach. “Those were the best times of their lives,” J.W.’s sister Trudie told me. “They truly loved The Pines and spending their summers there.”

It was during those early years that another tradition took hold in The Pines, the Fire Island Tea Dance, which was inspired by the afternoon “tea dances” that took hold during prohibition in the 20s in resorts like Atlantic City and the Poconos. Held on the expansive deck of The Blue Whale, a local restaurant and bar, these afternoon gatherings were truly the birthplace of what, today, we call disco as the innovative DJs who headlined these gatherings kept the beat going and growing year after year until Studio 54 took it up and channeled it into the mainstream. And, Gertrude Canty, J.W.’s mother, just loved spending her Saturday afternoons at tea dance more than anything, and, she told me, more often than not she wore her special tea dance outfit that featured a full-length peasant-style skirt in a patchwork print (it was 1970, after all).

Now, fast forward about twenty years, to the early 90s, which is when we first met J.W. through a friend, and for a couple of years he took space with us in the house we were then renting in The Pines for our still-forming group of summertime companions. Unfortunately, in about 1993 his health began to fail, and it was in the spring of 1994 when he died, but not before Richard had become one of his most attentive caregivers, attending to his needs as best he and a few other close friends could. It was telling of his unique contributions in earlier years that when he died, the fabled Episcopal Bishop Paul Moore of the New York diocese, who had been one of J.W.’s mentors, officiated at his funeral before his ashes were permanently placed in the Columbarium of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine.

And, as it turned out, even after he had been laid to rest, there was much to be done for J.W., for he had been something of a hoarder, and his Manhattan apartment was filled to the ceiling with his acquisitions from years of worldwide travel, and once again, it was Richard (and our friend Richard Plumbon) who rose to the occasion and agreed to tackle the clearing of the apartment’s contents with J.W.’s father, a process that took weeks, not hours. (Among the adventures that had generated so many worldly goods, J.W. had served as the on-board chaplain for the QEII for several years as it sailed the globe, had roped Carol Burnett into traveling with him to the U.S.S.R. to introduce Alcoholics Anonymous to that country for the first time (and set up the first Moscow meetings), and spent significant time in the East, including Bali and Chou En-Lai’s China, so his over-stuffed collection was both wide-ranging and daunting for those who took on the task of disposing of it).

And, largely, I believe, as a result of his tireless work over those weeks, Gertrude took a special liking to Richard, and from those days until her death in her 90s, only a few months ago, she would regularly ring us up just to chat, catch up, and, in some small way, at least, keep her son alive by retelling those Fire Island tales and rekindling those memories.

And so it was that, not very long after we moved into Cedar House in the spring of ’96, a package came in the mail from Gertrude, by then living in Michigan near Trudie, and nestled within the box on a bed of tissue paper lay J.W. Bear with a note from Gertrude that said something like this, “Going to tea and dancing the afternoon away at the Blue Whale was one of my all-time favorite pastimes, and my favorite outfit included the peasant skirt from which I made this bear for your new house. His name is J.W., and please place him where he can see the ocean. Sending with gratitude and love, Gertrude”

Naomi, daughter of our friend Amy Zimmerman, and J.W. Bear in the early days. Naomi just turned 21.

And so we did, and perhaps a thousand times over the years when he was inadvertently moved I would replace him to face the ocean from one chair or another. I had even sat him up in one of the blue Betty chairs (another story) the night he burned, but not before he had been hugged, over the years, by many children of every age, and, as Gertrude undoubtedly hoped, introduced on many occasions through the years the colorful stories of his inimitable namesake.

“I have many bears my mother made,” Trudie told me just a couple of days ago, “and I’ll be happy to send you a new one. It won’t be made from her skirt, unfortunately, but if you want one…”

“That would be just wonderful,” I said. And it will. J.W. II is coming soon.

Finally…

Literally hundreds of you have reached out and touched us with your notes, comments, loves, likes, teary faces, prayers, words of sympathy, understanding and support during these last two months since the fire, and there are really no adequate words for expressing just how uplifted, sustained and gob-smacked we have been during these challenging times by your outpouring of love. There is not a single one of you who is not loved and valued from our deepest places, and I’m sure I can speak for Richard, too, when I say that we both thank you all so very, very much. Every gesture of lovingkindness grows exponentially when received in times like these.

© 2017 by George Thomas Wilson. All rights reserved.

 

Posted in AIDS, Angels, belief, Death, faith, God the Father, Holy Spirit, Love, prayer, Rebirth, religion, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Mama’s Butterscotch Pie

Jane Wilson’s Butterscotch Pie

The main reason I decided to take up cooking for myself  – many years ago – was purely selfish: I wanted to taste again all the wonderful foods that Mama had been so good at producing, and, given that she died in 1973 at 50, it was pretty clear that if I was ever to revisit those flavors, I’d have to figure out how to make them for myself.

There were some things she made that were quite simply the best I ever ate, even to this day. Some were savory casseroles like “Martha’s Company Casserole” or side dishes, like the baked onion recipe I published here a couple of years ago, but the truth is that the things I missed the most were her baked goods; her marvelous desserts. These included her famous pecan pies, a rich super-moist banana bread that was one of my favorite after-school snacks to come home to, a lemon icebox pie that was Daddy’s favorite, and that 1,2,3,4 cake with caramel icing that has now become such a favorite with our beach house guests that it’s practically a staple.

But there was one recipe down deep in the box, still in her handwriting, that I’ve always wanted to try, but just never got around to: Butterscotch Pie. In the scheme of things, it was a johnny-come-lately to our table since it was a recipe she only discovered a few years before she died, but it was an immediate hit, and since I have never, in all the years since, seen another butterscotch pie on any menu anywhere, I decided to give it a go.

Decatur Daily photo of Mama Serving the Decatur, AL, Newcomer’s Club in 1968.

Like many of Mama’s file-card recipes, it omits basic steps that she didn’t need to write down because they would have been automatic for her, so I had to read her mind to know if it was a pie for which the filling needed to be cooked on top of the stove and cooled before pouring into an already baked shell (as opposed to, say, a key-lime pie, also custard based, which I bake to set the eggs). Nevertheless, after puzzling it out and getting a good idea of the best way to proceed, I decided I was ready to go.

But then, upon reading the recipe more carefully, I discovered that, after mixing together a few dry ingredients, it calls for adding 2 1/4 cups of water to the filling. Water! Now, I thought to myself, surely it would be better if you made the custard with milk rather than water. It just seemed wrong, somehow, so I decided to make two pies. One with milk and the other, as Mama had indicated, with water. I tried the milk version first, and, to be sure, it was a delicious treat and Richard really liked it, but I was mindful as I tasted it that the filling was definitely heavier than the one I remembered, although not so much that it would have made much of a difference.

Then, just yesterday, I made the second one, this time with water. And, much to my astonishment, I actually like the second one better. The filling is quicker to melt in your mouth, and the balance between the filling and the whipped cream topping is just right.

So, it would seem, Mama knew best after all. It may feel strange pouring all that water into a pie filling, but trust me, it really works. And, as a happy result, for the first time in at least 44 years, I have finally had another piece of her tasty Butterscotch Pie.

RECIPE

NOTE: This is for a 9-inch pie. For an 8-inch pie, reduce all ingredients by one-third.

Ingredients:

1 Pie Crust, pre-baked and no longer warm. (Place rolled-out piecrust dough in a well buttered pie dish (I use clear Pyrex because you can see the bottom of the crust as it browns), prick liberally with a fork to let steam escape, then cover with a baking parchment sheet trimmed to size and filled with a pound or so of dried beans to weight it down. Bake at 350º for approximately 20 minutes till just turning golden.)

2 1/4 cups firmly packed brown sugar
3 TBS. corn starch
4 1/2 TBS. all-purpose flour
3/8 tsp. salt
2 1/4 cups hot tap water
3 egg yolks
1 1/2 TBS. butter
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla plus a few drops for whipped cream topping
1 1/2 cups whipping cream
2 TBS. sugar

Directions:

In a large mixing bowl, combine the brown sugar, corn starch, flour and salt and stir well with a wire whisk until uniform in color.

Place dry ingredient mixture in 3 quart heavy saucepan over medium heat. Stir in hot water (NOTE: hot water from the tap is just right. Boiling water would be too hot and the egg yolks would curdle, but if you use just regular hot water from the tap, you should avoid any danger) until the mixture is smooth, then stir in the three egg yolks and continue stirring constantly for several minutes until the mixture is thickened. Remove from stove and immediately stir in butter and vanilla.

Optional: As it cooled, I returned to the mixture several times to whip it vigorously with the wire whisk to blend in air and make the resulting filling just that much lighter, but I’m not sure it made all that much difference. Nevertheless, I will do it that way again next time because it did help a bit, I think.

Once cooled, pour filling into the prepared pie shell and place in refrigerator to cool while making the topping

Place whipping cream in bowl of electric mixer and using wire whisk attachment, whip up the cream to desired consistency (thick enough for peaks to form), adding the sugar and a few drops of vanilla as soon as it begins to foam.

Remove pie from refrigerator and top with whipped cream topping. Return to refrigerator until ready to serve.

Enjoy!

© 2017 George Thomas Wilson. All rights reserved.

Posted in Angels, caramel frosting, cooking, desserts, Love, recipes, Uncategorized | Tagged , | 1 Comment

A Word, if You Will, about My “Gone too Soon” Profiles

“Torch” original giant-sized photograph by Ruffin Cooper, Jr., 1979. Ruffin was a public relations client in 1980-81 whose large-format images of American icons garnered considerable renown. For his well-known Statue of Liberty series of images of which this is only one, he rented a helicopter and pioneered first-of-their-kind oversized art photography prints. This Chromogenic image measures 32 3/4″ by 48 1/16″.

[Dumbledore says, in J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, “Words are, in my not-so-humble opinion, our most inexhaustible source of magic.” Which is why, perhaps, I have found this such a difficult piece to write. No magician wants to let others see behind the curtain, but because there are now so many dozens of you involved in this project, sending along photos and stories of your loved ones to help me bring these profiles to life, it seems only right that you should see the full scope of what I am doing here, both to better understand the process, as well as to give you a clearer sense of when you may anticipate seeing that one particular story to which you may be most looking forward. Thank you.]

For the last 20 years, or so, when the inevitable question has arisen from all sorts of people in all sorts of places, “Did you lose any friends to AIDS?”, my standard answer has always been “Well, when the list reached 30, or so, I stopped counting,” which was true, but I realize now that perhaps I could have found a kinder way to answer, one perhaps not as calculated to stop the subject in its tracks, which may have been my real, if unconscious, intention. After all, these memories are hard; the pain long-lasting.

But that was then, and now I have taken on the task of finally and fully honoring these missing lights; of telling their stories; 0f emptying their memory jars out upon the table, one-by-one in living prose, that others might share in my delight. And, I have decided to accept this challenge because these people that I knew and valued were real and whole and aglow with promise until they were suddenly stopped in mid-flight before the world had a chance to notice their emerging brilliance. So, if there is ever to be balance in the universe, these portraits must be drawn, both that the people they reveal may be rediscovered, as well as to make clear, as best I can, the almost unimaginable magnitude of what is gone and never to be retrieved; to connect the dots that encircle the vast nothing where the cultural richness of their decimated generation should have thrived and, by now, multiplied into a hanging garden of radiant delights to inspire and uplift us all, but instead, never was.

Jerry Sarnat, whose company, I.M.A.G.E. Inc moved Time, Inc. magazine production into the digital age.

And if it is to be done, now seems the time. Only now, with the advent of Ancestry.com and related sites, is there enough online information to help me find relatives, uncover yearbooks photos, and confirm the important dates that fill out these stories. But the larger reason to proceed now is because so many of the friends and relatives I must contact are getting on in years. Just last month, the mother of someone who is on my list, and who had already agreed to help me, died peacefully in her sleep at 95. Her daughter assures me she will be able to help, and I am very grateful, but hers will be a different story. I cannot delay.

Parameters for inclusion in this series are specific: I’m profiling everyone I can remember with whom I was on a first-name basis; only those actual friends or colleagues with whom I had a personal connection. But, even so, when I finally sat down to make the list, I was astonished to discover that my glib answer of 30, or so, was seriously understated. It turns out that, as of this writing on March 3rd, my list is at 52, but even this number is subject to change around the edges, and it can go either way. On the one hand, I just discovered this week that one friend I had included on my list actually died of a heart attack – no less tragic, surely, but a different story than the one I am telling. Conversely, on the very same day I learned of that misperception, a Facebook post from a mutual acquaintance reminded me to add Bill Pflugradt to the list, the musicologist for Rebekkah Harkness with whom I shared an apartment for a few months in 1982 and who died in December of 1991. I already knew he had succumbed to AIDS, but up to that point I simply hadn’t remembered to include him.

I remarked at the top of the first of these profiles, about Randy Robbins, that I was writing this series for three audiences: First, for those we lost, that they may not be forgotten; secondly, for the generations of LGBT brothers and sisters that have come after these events that they might have a truer understanding of the shoulders upon which they stand; and thirdly, for me, that I might finally and fully honor my missing friends through these recollections.

Mark Simpson, prime mover of Gran Fury, the artist cooperative arm of ACT UP, wheat-pasting iconic “Four Questions” posters of his own devising in 1995.

But as I have progressed, it turns out there is another audience that I had not even considered at the start, but is surely the most important of all: the families and loved-ones who have survived and who, like I, continue to mourn their fallen. I hadn’t really factored them into my thinking because so many of my gay friends in the 70s had been disowned and, indeed, had made their way to New York City to find their fortune precisely because they were no longer welcome at home. But much has changed in the last quarter-century, and while there is still resistance, even today, in some quarters, for the most part I am finding families to be cooperative. But every profile is different, with different challenges, and I have come to appreciate that this process of gathering resources from family and friends takes time. So, if you are one of those people I have already contacted about Jimmy Caparelli, or Jimmy Parker, Dean Savard or Mark Simpson, Tim Dlugos or Stephen Jay, Bill Whisenant or Lynn Stanford, please be patient with me. It’s a big job and I’m getting it done as fast as life will allow.

In the meantime, it occurs to me that it might be useful to publish a list here of those I’m planning to profile in the coming months because there may well be others of you out there who knew one or more of these people and who have photos or memories to share that can add color and life to these efforts. If so, please don’t hesitate to be in touch. [Please note that 1) this is not the full list since there are still some sensitivities here and there that I am doing my best to respect before making certain names public, and, 2) while I am listing them here in more or less the order that they will appear, this order is subject to  change since I plan to publish each profile as soon as it is complete.]

Profiles Published to Date:
TBT/GTS#1: Randall Robbins: Actor, Teacher, Leader, Friend: The first friend to get sick, and the first to go. [https://inpraiseofangels.wordpress.com/2016/04/16/tbtgts1-randall-robbins-actor-teacher-leader-friend/]

TBT/GTS#2: George Falkenberry: Born to Act: My fast friend from Alabama who preceded me to New York and whose apartment was my NYC launching pad.
[https://inpraiseofangels.wordpress.com/2016/11/17/tbtgts2-george-bud-falkenberry-born-to-act/

TBT/GTS#3: Peter Frazer: A Life Redeemed: My first New York City neighbor. [https://inpraiseofangels.wordpress.com/2016/12/03/tbtgts3-peter-frazer-md-a-life-redeemed/]

Profiles in the Works:
Bobby Thompson of Virginia: A Birmingham-Southern schoolmate, and also one of my roommates during my first month in NYC, Bobby was working in midtown as a desk clerk at the Dorset, one of the better New York City hotels, and was the significant other of the poet Tim Dlugos, who also lived in the same apartment during the month I was in residence.

The Poet Tim Dlugos

Tim Dlugos of Virginia: A well-recognized poet [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tim_Dlugos], Tim was another of my apartment mates for my first month in New York City in 1978. After Bobby’s death and toward the end of his life, Tim moved to Yale to study for the Episcopal priesthood, but died before gaining a divinity degree.

Jimmy Parker of Texas: My first “significant other” from 1978-1980, Jimmy was performing in the Radio City Music Hall Summer Spectacular when we were introduced by a fellow Texan. Jimmy was also cast in the long-running national tour of My Fair Lady with Rex Harrison which moved to Broadway in 1981 for 181 performances.

Jimmy Parker

Joey Parker of Texas: Younger brother of Jimmy who died two years after he did. I did not know Joey nearly as well, but they both attended North Texas State University and, toward the end, spent their final months in the same care facility in Dallas, so it seems only right to tell both of their stories and honor both of their memories.

Paul Walker of Texas: An emerging playwright with a sharp, ascerbic wit, Paul was Jimmy Parker’s college classmate and best friend. Following our break-up, Jimmy and Paul roomed together in a great little Soho apartment that served as Paul’s home until the end, though Jimmy moved back to Texas once he became ill.

David Haney

David Haney of Texas: David was an astute businessman and hair magician (Dolly Parton’s preferred stylist) who managed his own salon in Greenwich Village until his demise in 1993. His step-mother was another of Jimmy Parker’s good friends from North Texas State, which is how our apartment came to be David’s first digs upon arriving in NYC in 1980.

Joseph Mann of Washington, D.C.: A ballet dancer, Joseph had studied with Mary Day at Washington Ballet and among other gigs, was hired as a soloist with Ohio Ballet. Joseph would come and go at a whim and, showing up suitcase in hand when least expected, eventually stayed in nearly every New York apartment I have ever had, including the current one where he stayed in the late 80s with Richard and me. A great and loyal friend to many who still miss him.

Michael Webster of Virginia: Also a dancer from Mary Day’s Washington Ballet, Michael danced with the Metropolitan Opera Ballet, and ABTII. A housemate, Michael occupied the basement apartment of the brownstone I lived in on West 69th Street from ’78-’82

Joseph Mann

Robert Lawson of Virginia: Was Michael Webster’s roommate in the downstairs apartment. I am still gathering information about Robert’s early life.

Lynn Stanford of Texas: A melody maker extraordinaire and Dallas friend of Jimmy who lived on our same block of 69th Street, Lynn became one of my closest friends for over a decade. A world-class ballet pianist and composer, Lynn toured internationally with Barishnikov and left behind 22 albums for ballet class still in print and in use by ballet teachers around the world today.

Lynn Stanford Album Cover from 1994 record published three years after his death. Painting by Kent Neffendorf

Rodger Brumley of Arkansas: Journeyman carpenter and roommate of Lynn Stanford on 69th Street, Rodger moved to Fort Worth in the late 80s with fellow apartment mate Todd Edson, who later became principal dancer of the Fort Worth Ballet and who is still a great friend of ours.

Ruffin Cooper of California: A visionary art photographer who pioneered large-format industrial and “monumental” landscapes, Ruffin hired Barbara Weinstein and me to do his PR in 1980. He lived in an astonishingly beautiful home atop Russian Hill in San Francisco that he graciously gave to Jimmy and me to use for an unforgettable week’s vacation that same year.

Rodger Brumley at his high school prom

William Pflugradt of California: Resident musicologist for the Harkness Ballet Foundation and my apartment mate for several months in 1982. Later served as conductor of the Stonewall Chorale (the original gay men’s chorus) until his death in 1991.

Another of Ruffin Cooper’s monumental photographs adorns the cover of his coffee table book from 1981

Jim Langrall of Washington, D.C..: Neighbor and friend on the Upper West Side, Jim was a soap opera actor who was also cast for over two years as the singing “Korvettes Man” who, mic in hand, gained fame through a series of TV and radio commercials in the early 80s to promote the, now defunct, department store.

Jeffrey Fons of Wisconsin: Actor, Singer and another Upper West Side neighborhood friend who was auditioning and teaching school when we met. A star performer in the drama department at Eastern Illinois University, Jeffrey was a talented old soul with a huge heart who would have done much to make the world a better place.

Jeffrey Fons from his high school yearbook

Tim Scoggins of North Carolina: Tim, like far too many of these friends, was tossed out of his home in North Carolina once his orientation became clear, even though, as the winner of a state-wide high-school leadership award, he had much to give. A few years younger than me, Tim was determined to become a successful advertising executive, but never really had the chance.

Yves Rault of Saint-Jean-de-Luz, France: Another Upper West Side neighbor and friend, Yves was a prize-winning concert pianist who toured internationally, was delightful company and very kind. He went home to the South of France at the end, but not before giving me some very useful piano lessons on the white Steinway grand in his Upper West Side apartment.

Yves Rault winning 4th Prize at the 1987 Epinal International Piano Competition

Ron Sequoio of Texas: dancer, choreographer, founder of NY Festival Dance Theatre and internationally well-regarded guest artist and choreographer whose works are still performed today. A serious Buddhist who would want it mentioned, I took over Ron’s lease when he and partner Jamie moved home to Texas in 1984 after falling ill.

Jamie deBolt of California: Jamie was a principal dancer with New York Festival Dance Theatre, a choreographer and long time companion of Ron Sequoio. They left behind their considerable collection of ballet music on vinyl which I still have tucked away for safekeeping.

Joe Curcio of New York:  Joe joined forces with me as a business associate in various ventures after the death of my PR-business partner of five years, Barbara Weinstein, in 1985. We served as a business management company for several Lower East Side art galleries and classical dancers. Our office was Suite 713 of what was then 1170 Broadway, but has recently been converted into the toney Nomad Hotel.

Ron Sequoio and Sarah Quinn Jones in Manhattan Festival Ballet [photo from Sarah Quinn Jones School of Ballet website]

Mark Simpson of New York: Joe Curcio’s significant other and a realist painter represented by Civilian Warfare Gallery. They lived in a huge Brooklyn studio/loft/factory building with a 100-foot-tall smokestack in their courtyard. After Joe’s death, Mark became a founding member of ACT-UP and primary force behind it’s artistic collective, Gran Fury.

Dean Savard of Connecticut: Dean was the famous co-founder (with Alan Barrows) of Civilian Warfare Gallery, one of the leading galleries of the fabled early-80s Lower East Side art movement and also a management client of ours. Dean was a shooting star in the NYC art firmament who burned too brightly and went out too fast.

Gallery co-founder Dean Savard (right) and the artist Mark Simpson outside Civilian Warfare Gallery during its construction about 1983

Steven Cuba of Nebras- ka: A talented artist and also a part of the Lower East Side art scene in the mid-80s, Steven was trained in Clothing design at Parsons then took his skills with a needle and created a series of fascinating two dimensional wall art pieces of fabric and lace that were basically life-sized flattened historical costume gowns – from Marie Antoinette to Thoroughly Modern Millie – applied to a backing board cut to the shape of the gown. Gorgeous stuff, but didn’t pay the bills, so he was working as a designer of children’s fashions when he died.

Jimmy Caparelli of New York: Sweet, sweet friend I met in a neighborhood watering hole about 1982 and we instantly became fast friends. Most often seen in a white tee-shirt and motorcycle jacket, his great ambition was to be a star puppet designer and puppeteer, and he was already well on his way with some marvelous creatures of his own design hanging out in his Manhattan Plaza closet.

Charles Foster of Kentucky: Jimmy Caparelli’s best friend who was almost always around in those days, and an eager, energetic entrepreneur . During the last few years of his life, Charlie started and, for a time, ran a successful maid service to employ friends, and friends of friends, many of whom were ill and had no other employment options available to them.

Mark Porter of New York: Mark was the front door receptionist at the The Saint, unarguably the most astonishing gay nightclub ever, from the day it opened its doors in 1980 until it closed in 1988. A great connoisseur of disco music, Mark, who roomed with me for a time on the Lower East Side, and again with Richard and me on the Upper West Side in the late 80s, was the very last of these friends to die, and even lived long enough to have a Facebook page before his body simply, finally, wore out in November of 2013.

Mark Porter

Griffin Gold of New Jersey: Griff was Mark Porter’s best friend in the late 80s, and my apartment mate for several months during dark times on the Lower East Side. Spurred to action when diagnosed with AIDS while we were living together (on the very same day, as it happened, that my business partner Barbara Weinstein hanged herself), he became one of the nine founders, and later president, of the NYC People with AIDS Coalition, one of the earliest AIDS activist groups and the inspiration for many that came after it.

Christopher Meanor of Ohio: Also a roommate for a few months in early 1986. A modern dancer who had studied with Martha Graham, Chris was already ill by the time I met him, and moved to Maine to study computer programming that fall while I was back to Mobile, AL for a few months to renew my spirit and refresh my soul. He never left Maine, and I never saw him again.

David Wilborn of Alabama: A brilliantly talented storyteller – world-class in my opinion – David was a Birmingham-Southern schoolmate and we spent the summer of 1969 together as fellow counselors of the Children’s Fresh Air Farm, a century-old camp for “underprivileged children” in Birmingham sponsored by Independent Presbyterian Church. David was an extraordinarily talented actor, mime and mimic with a face made of rubber and a heart made of love, and boy did the world lose a bright light when he died.

David Wilborn from 1969 yearbook of Birmingham-Southern College

Sylvester Jones of Alabama: A schoolmate when he was an undergrad and I was in law school at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, Sly was the first African-American vice-president of ‘Bama’s Student Council and his memory and aura live on in the UA student union reading room named after him. He was a brilliant politician and warm personality who would have made a huge difference had he survived. Alabama misses him more than it knows.

Sylvester Jones senior portrait from Shades Valley High School in Birmingham 1972

John Gary McNabb of Alabama: A highly talented interior designer and visual merchandiser, John and I were good friends and fellow local actors at Birmingham’s Town and Gown Theatre from ’70 to ’74. Part of the same small “gay family” of friends, we celebrated several Christmases together at rotating, over-the-top dinner parties that have yet to be exceeded in my experience. The man knew how to decorate.

Bill Whisenant of Alabama: Also a Town and Gown colleague in the 70s, Bill was the local g0-t0 countertenor for Carmina Burana and other choral offerings, as well as a visionary entrepreneur who ran a high-end flower and gift shop in the best part of town with his significant other at the time, Richard Tubb. Richard continued in the business after Bill’s death and today is the owner/operator of Alabama’s leading interior design shop, Richard Tubb Interiors.

My law school classmate Joel Odom was another consummate politician.

Joel Odum of Alabama: A law school classmate of mine at Alabama, we spent every weekday in the same classes for years, but I only knew for sure he was gay when we both turned up at a place called Belle’s in Birmingham one Saturday night. Another natural politician, Joel moved to D.C. during the Carter administration and was quickly making his way up the public service ladder until he wasn’t.

Steven Jay of Alabama: A high school chum of a mutual friend from Foley, AL, I met Steven when he was an undergraduate and I was in law school and we became friends. He followed on to law school the year after I had moved to NYC, and I never saw him again.

Mark Chastain of Alabama: Also from Foley, Mark was an old soul, bright light and brilliant interior designer who was endowed with extraordinary taste. He headed for San Francisco after graduation and was well on his way to national acclaim when he took ill. His wife, Susan Lind Chastain, continues the business to this day as one of the country’s most excellent purveyors of interior soft furnishings. Mark played an alien in Close Encounters of the Third Kind (much of which was shot in a Mobile AL blimp hangar) but I’ve never been able to figure out which one he is.

Michael Bishop of Michigan: Born Stanley J. Jakubiak, Jr., in Detroit, Michael had changed his name, moved to New York to study art, and was living in Spanish Harlem in late 1986 when Richard Cohen – who was looking to relocate at the time – saw an ad for a  roommate in the Village Voice and ended up moving in with him for a few months. Meanwhile, I, having just returned from Alabama, was staying in the apartment of a friend on the floor above and it was thus that Richard and I met, and began our, to date as of last month, 30-year partnership. Michael was an aspiring artist with real talent, had received his degree from Pratt Institute and was already working as an associate curator at the Whitney Museum of American Art  when we met him.

Jerry Sarnat in the pool, 1994

Jerome Sarnat of Illinois: Originally a Martha Graham dancer, Jerry was president of I.M.A.G.E. Inc., one of the pioneering IT innovators in the magazine industry, and the company responsible for converting almost all the Time, Inc. titles from “cut-and-paste” to digital production in the late 80s. Jerry was a great friend and sort-of Chicago relative of Richard’s whom we adored. He started doing summer shares with us at the beach in ’89 and continued until his death in January of 2001. As fate would have it, he and his partner Charles Berry were in Tampa visiting my sister, Mary, and her family, for Christmas when he became ill and died there following three weeks in the ICU.

Jim McMahon and his shar pei from a late 80s holiday card.

Jim McMahon of Pennsylvania: Having discovered the unique beauty and pastoral appeal of Fire Island Pines the year before, Richard and I took an every-other-week beach house “share” in the summer of 1988 in a four-bedroom place full of strangers, two of whom were Jim and his significant other, Rob Goldfarb, and so we spent two summers seeing them on almost all of our beach weekends.

The Rev. J.W. Canty of Michigan: After several years renting a room in other people’s houses, we saw the light and rented our own house for several seasons (until buying in 1995), but then, of course, it was our responsibility to fill them with shareholders. That was how we met J. W., who was surely one of our most colorful housemates ever. An Episcopal priest and accomplished photographer, he had served as the chaplain assigned to the H.M.S. Queen Mary II for a time, during which he managed to take thousands of photos from all around the world. He also did celebrity portraits when he could, and we currently have a selection of his images lining our beach stairwell, including Barbara Walters, Bobby Short, Milton Berle and Rose Kennedy, among others.

Barbara Walters by J.W. Canty.

Kenneth Culp of New York: Another housemate at the beach who came to us via Jerry Sarnat in 1992. Ken was recently arrived, having moved to New York from Hawaii to pursue his craft as a pioneering personal nutritionist/trainer. An outstanding single father, he had raised his teenage daughter, Melia, from infancy.

The brilliantly talented Steve Metzinger on his last outing at a Fire Island Pines drag party in 1995.

And, finally…

Stephen Metzinger of Pennsylvania: Three big things happened in our lives during Thanksgiving week of 1995. One piece of good news was the approval for general distribution of the new cocktail of AIDS drugs that fairly instantly turned what had been a universally fatal disease into a “manageable” one, and almost immediately marked a sudden and happy end to these chronicles. The second thing that happened was the real estate closing on our beach house which has now, for 21 years, filled our summers with an astonishing array of wonderful people who have joined us as shareholders. But the third thing, the death of Stephen Metzinger, was made all the more tragic for its timing. Had he lived only a few months more, he’d probably still be with us today. A stunningly beautiful man with naturally blonde hair that was most-often worn in a French braid to his waist, he was another old soul who lit up every room he ever entered, and loved his friends without reservation. When he became ill he was the director of design for little girls at The Gap, and would have added so very much beauty to our world had he only been able to hold on a little bit longer.

And so…

As you can see, my task is daunting but my determination is strong, and even writing this little summary of what is to come has brought me many moments of wistful remembering. And, if you happen to have known any of these fellows, or have photos or stories to share, please don’t hesitate to send them along.

Some people have lately encouraged me to turn these Profiles in Grace into a book, and others have envisioned these tales as an episodic theatre piece, but I’m not sure, quite yet, what will come of all this. It is, after all, my job to get it right, and I can only promise to do my best with that.

Thanks for being such loyal readers. Clearly, this is posted with a great deal of love and gratitude from me to you.

© 2017 by George Thomas Wilson, All right reserved.

 

 

Posted in AIDS, Angels, belief, Death, faith, health, Love, poetry, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

The Love of God: Diamonds in the Rough (Fourth Annual Posting)

Life imitates art? I found this photo on a European site promoting the conversion of human ashes into diamonds through a patented pressurization process. Who knew? (royalty-free photo)

Life imitates art? I found this photo on a European site promoting the conversion of human ashes into diamonds through a patented pressurization process. Who knew? (royalty-free photo)

“We have nothing, if not belief.”
– Sir Reepicheep, Chief Mouse of Narnia, Voyage of the Dawn Treader (C.S. Lewis)

“Do the arithmetic or be doomed to talk nonsense.”
– John McCarthy, A.I. trailblazer [1]

We are the uncut diamonds of God.

Thus I begin this third and final installment of my unintended series of observations arising from my daily prayers, which has been as much a journey of discovery for me as for anyone, since it is surely true that however much you may believe something in your heart, until you actually codify it – until you put it into words – it remains a benign knowing untouched by the light of discernment; a happy faith in something suggested or implied or impossible to avoid as other known truths come together, but otherwise unexcised, unexamined and unexplained even to oneself.

And so, as I have lit out on this new adventure – have set my sail upon the Great Digital Sea – these first three essays have turned out to be real exercises in self-clarification as I have drilled, as best I could, to the bottom of my faith to share it with you. And, while doing it has been much more challenging than expected, the marvelous bonus has been the process, itself. Like an old prospector whose faith will never wane, even in my childhood I was panning and sieving and finding nuggets of truth for my thimble that ultimately led me to golden veins of what I perceive to be understanding; veins that, once discovered, I have done my best to follow wherever they led. Truth has to make sense or it isn’t True, and this is the standard to which I have, at least to my own internal satisfaction, held my religious beliefs, as well.

But, like I said, for these ideas to be truly real, they must be written down, so these three essays have been those writings – the three pillars of my belief codified, my Christ-centered outlook put into actual words – a sincere effort to forge a golden chain of plausibility from link to link and first to last that is solid and true and aglow with the love of the God Whom I love and Whom I believe loves me – loves all of us – even to a much greater degree than we can even conceive, and it is, finally, to His love that passeth understanding that I turn in this third essay.

Of course, there is still much, very much, that remains outside my understanding of what really is, but surely it all has to begin with an acceptance that there is nothing incompatible in the two ideas that 1) we are the beloved, known, embraced children of the personal and infallible Source of the Course of the Universe and are therefore just exactly the family of material children He intended us to become when He first conceived of the human race and put into motion the processes that made us, and 2) that the earth and everything it holds has eventuated along a scientifically delineable path of growth and evolution that began with the sun’s release some four billion years ago of the very matter from which you and I and everything we touch was made, continued with the arrival of God’s own “breath of life” (or “Living Water” if you read my previous essay), to mobilize some of that matter into life on earth some one billion years ago, life which then progressed over eons into the astonishingly diverse array of wondrous creatures whose bones populate our museums and that – step by agonizing step – took their place in the great parade from the single-celled, self-replicating amoebae of that “Original Life Moment” to the birth of human beings about one million years ago.[2] Indeed, I truly don’t understand how anyone who believes in the first idea – a living, loving Heavenly Father – has any choice, given all the clear, irrefutable archeological evidence that has been unearthed over centuries, but to completely accept the latter proposition, as well.

Yet, astonishingly, this view – that God initiated what science discovers, and science confirms the wonder of His inventions – is roundly criticized from both sides. To the atheistically-leaning scientist, it is anathema. To the literalist Christian, it is blasphemy. I suppose you might say I’m swimming upstream here to embrace a confluence of ideas so easily rejected by everyone, yet I persist, because, to me, these truths are the ultimate proof of our Loving Father, and the necessary foundation of any plausible explanation for our lives on earth.

Of course, To believe in both science and God begs all sorts of questions that, in the end, must be dealt with, not the least of which is the one I just alluded to: is evolution a real, living process? Well, forgive me, but really? Of course it’s real, and I seem silly even writing such an obvious point, but if love is blind, denial is blinder, since it owes its very existence to sightlessness, and it is a tragic loss to both houses as they sail right past each other – and truth in the doing – with science insisting upon material provability of spiritual realities – a non-sequitur if ever there was one – and a great swath of believing Christians refusing to even consider facts uncovered time and again by scientists because they run counter to a poetic telling of our creation story as put to parchment by exiled Hebrew scribes nearly three millennia ago.

Yes, I suppose it is possible that God waved a magic wand and fabricated everything in six days – from the big dipper to duck-billed platypi to Adam and Eve – and then filled His beautiful work with practical jokes in the form of dinosaur bones and ancient ruins for some whimsy of His own, but I don’t believe that makes any sense at all. As I have said before, the God I know and love is not wasteful,[3] and neither is He a jester who would steer His beloved children down some false maze of paleontological ephemera. And, anyway, how much more elegant, astonishing and worthy of His magnificent creative abilities is the other option: that He graced our planet with the beginnings of Life – the first single-celled organisms capable of dancing to His energies[4] – a billion years ago, or so, with everything required even in those microscopic creations – the full recipe – for realizing a succession of living beings, bit by bit, that we might ultimately, at long, long last, evolve organically, stably, fully, into persons: distinctly individualistic personalities capable of independent thought, creative insight, social engagement, analytical perspective, and, most importantly, active faith – a proclivity to worship; physical beings crafted from nothing but the elements all around us, yet miraculously endowed with the capacity to love and be loved, to know and be known, even by Him who so long ago planted those little seeds expressly, I believe, for the purpose of coaxing into being US: a family of earthly children to love and to be loved by in return, and to do so in such a way that we would inevitably turn out to be as marvelously diverse as possible, but every one of us exactly as He has projected us, in His image; in His imagination. “Red and yellow, black and white, [we] are precious in His sight….”

Life’s Miraculous Little Dynamo

Now here’s something to think on: the largest self-contained unit of life ever born is much too small to see. Every living thing we do see, from a blade of grass to a blue whale, is but a gathering together of millions, billions, even trillions-upon-trillions, of teensy cells like so many microscopic Lego blocks, but unlike those static, plastic pieces, these little dynamos are anything but empty, and everything but still. In 1665, when a Fellow named Robert Hooke (of the Royal Society of Fellows), first looked at a leaf through the newly invented microscope – each part surrounded by a stiff cuticle – it reminded him of a monastery laid out with rows of spare, tiny rooms, so he called those little segments “cells.”[5] But surely in all the annals of science nothing has ever been so inaptly named, for, while it may have been beyond the power of his lens to see, within each one of those “walls” was everything required – the complete book of instructions and a full set of potentialities – to assemble the entire tree from which his leaf had sprung.

And, that’s just a tree! What about people? The wonder of our making is almost beyond words. Two little cells do a waltz in the womb and that is all it takes. Only two tiny cells, yet everything required to make an entire person is included and, in a very short time, their offspring diversify to become bone cells gathering calcium, or liver cells cleaning toxins, or blood cells delivering oxygen harvested only seconds before by lung cells. We are so used to these things that the wonder of it all is taken for granted, but it happens 24/7: trillions of cells working together in perfect harmony, without hitch or hiccup, generating heartbeat after heartbeat, breath upon breath, and even thoughts that grow into more thoughts that sometimes even grow into actions: the creature’s creative response to being alive.

It was actually when I was struggling to quit smoking after decades of addiction that I came to truly appreciate the importance of our little living building blocks. I’m sure I’m not the only one who has ever prayed for help in quitting, and, over time, that simple prayer expanded as I tried to imagine the damage I was surely doing to my body. I found myself asking God to heal, if He would, those parts of my physical self that were most afflicted by my bad habit, and as my focus sharpened over time and I realized that the real seat of the harm I was doing was on the cellular level, I began praying for forgiveness not only from the Father I was surely offending, but as well from the lung cells I was physically assaulting on an hourly basis. Of course, I doubt they are the least bit sentient, much less self-aware, but I tried, nevertheless, to truly understand their suffering, the harm I was doing to each of them, and this proved to be a useful tactic as the more I inclined my heart to such admirable workers and gained in my appreciation of their dedication and indefatigable efforts to keep me alive, the more absurd my abuse of them became, and I was finally able to stamp out my last cigarette nearly [five] years ago.

Of course, by that time, I had gained an affinity for my dedicated little cells. In spite of how little credit we may give them for the hard work they do, or how poorly we may provide for them with our deficient diets and sedentary habits, they work like microscopic Oompa-Loompas, never stopping, even for a second, from birth until the moment of their last secretions, and some of them live as long as we do![6] Physically speaking, we are nothing more than the sum total of the absolute commitment of these indomitable self-replicating, self-diverging, self-organizing, self-monitoring and self-regulating beings. Their “constancy to purpose” is staggering and their rate of success is nearly perfect – far more perfect than any of us could ever hope for – as almost all of the one-hundred-trillion of them in each of our bodies are born, live and die without error, just as I believe they were designed to do.

And, so, when I pray these days, after first asking for God’s help in aligning my mind and heart with His,[7] but before moving on to my prayers for you and all of our Earthly cousins,[8] I ask Him to align each and every one of my one-hundred-trillion cells[9] that they might absorb as much as possible of His incoming energies of Light, Life and Love.[10] And, it never fails when I reach this point in my praying – and you may believe this or not, as you like – but that I can actually feel the rush of realignments passing through me. Then, since it is far beyond my ability to communicate on their level, I ask our Father (for whom all things are possible, after all) to please give each individual cell my thanks for the astonishing work it does solely for my benefit, whether that be giving me eyes to see or ears to hear, feet to walk, or hands capable of typing this sentence.

Over a Billion Years in the Making, and So Expensive!

Of course, thanks to science, we now know that what those two little cells do when they grow over nine short months into a fully-developed infant is but a rapid reflection of the process that began over a billion years ago with those initial single-celled living beings that inaugurated the great parade of Earthly life. The simplest known living cell – and presumed first living thing on earth – is called a prokaryote, and many scientists would have us believe that it simply sprang into life all by itself thanks to a fortuitous bolt of lightning, or some such, hitting exactly the right chemical compounds in exactly the right way at exactly the right time.

cross section of prokaryote cell

cross section of prokaryote cell

But truth be known, there is nothing even the least bit simple about a prokaryote, and for any such “spark” to truly work, a whole host of very specific and diverse elements would have had to assemble themselves, unaided, into outrageously complex structures – including DNA and three different kinds of RNA.[11] And, even if, by some stroke of outrageous fortune, all those little atoms did somehow line up in all the right sequences of sequences, what naturally occurring electrochemical phenomenon could possibly have happened to transform static chemicals into living, moving, eating, reproducing life capable of evolving into us? Does it not torture logic beyond reason to believe that such a spontaneous chain of events could ever have happened? I submit that, absent the hand of God, it could not have, and of all the arguments for believing in a living, loving Creator, this one, it seems to me, is the most compelling.

Rather, I see no other choice but to believe those little prokaryotes, or something very much like them, were purposely placed by some Heavenly agency into primordial wetlands over a billion years ago, were lovingly nurtured as they grew from single cells to chains of cells to multi-celled creations that, in turn, became larger and larger life forms, each new strain more complex, more startling, more capable than the last, until, in the end, one-hundred trillion cells strong, the first true humans walked upon the earth. In other words, for a billion years and more, I believe, our Father and His angels have nudged and cajoled us forward, ever looking toward the day when we might, ultimately, become that beautiful, worshipful family of man that was His original intention and of which we are all members.

Of course, the minute you actually accept all this as fact – once you grasp that God really did ordain and create the universe, including us – you begin to realize just how dearly we cost him; how enormously expensive in energy, time, space and love we are. Our Father must truly love us deeply to have expended so much creative wherewithal on our making. The old hymn prays, “Thou art the potter, I am the clay,” but what an ambitious and strikingly daunting task our potting would seem to be. How deeply He must care to have taken so much trouble that you and I might live and breathe. Life yearns for Love, Love requires Life, and God, as they say, is Love.

Every gardener knows how precious the life of each tiny emerging bud, every new leaf, becomes as it is watched impatiently, day after day, for even the least little signs of growth. Even though we know full well that, to quote Psalm 90, “In the evening it is cut down and witherith,” we nonetheless cannot help but love the life we nourish, that comes from the seeds of our own planting. It is irresistible. How much more dear then must we be to our Father in Heaven who has tended His earthly garden over aeons, ever encouraging, ever sponsoring our progress from those single-celled swimmers of that original miry bog into the fully-developed human children that we are. Through His grace and, it seems to me, according to His purposes, we have been formed, step-by-step, from brackish mud into exactly those beings He yearned to form: beings capable of transmitting even His very own emotions through the love in our hearts and light of our eyes.

In other words, making people from scratch takes time and effort and, I would posit, lots of coordination by many celestial forces to accomplish. And, of course, this is just what is required for one planetary population; for one garden of material beings. As I have said before, it seems clear enough to me that God, not being wasteful, did not make all these billions of galaxies just to beautify the night sky. If you truly want to calculate the almost unimaginable costs of making a peopled universe, our mere billion years of growth on earth is but the last and least of the expenses our loving Father must have undertaken when He decided to populate His great expanse. Consider:

►The first expense would be matter, itself, which is extraordinarily expensive. To explain simplistically without getting too much in the weeds, when you split atoms and get an atomic explosion, it’s because you have released all the energy that had been holding those atoms together in the first place. And that’s just the energy contained in a few atoms! Just think how much force is required just to hold together the atoms in a sheet of paper! (Much less to make a person. One approximation I found on PhysicsForum suggested there are 100,000,000,000,000,000 atoms in a single human cheek cell. That, multiplied by the 100 trillion cells estimated to exist in the body would come to 10-to-the-25th-power atoms just to build you, give or take a few.) Now, if even you could, multiply that up to the billions of beings on billions of planets – not to mention the planets, themselves – filling the far reaches of space and all of if made of atoms. The total energy required for such a creation is beyond mind-boggling and surely incalculable, yet you, and I, and this computer and all the rest of creation really does exist because God has expended all the energy necessary to hold it all together. Unfathomable doesn’t even begin to describe it.

►The second expense on the ledger would be all those radiant energies that must be brought to bear in our universe, both those recognized by physics – gravity, electromagnetic, strong and week atomic forces, etc. – as well as, I would add, all those radiant energy gifts of God – Life, Love, and Light as explained in my previous essay (the Flow of God) – that also require a constant outpouring across all of His great creation.

► Thirdly, if you believe, as I do, that He has also created the hosts of angels who are ever and always watching, recording, urging, and guiding us to find the light and grow into our best possible selves; to help us be both more aware of God’s love and more loving of Him in return, then those costs in spirit, time, space, education and supervision must also be considered. Of course, I can’t prove my angels – or yours – are truly there, but I believe they are, even as I believe they are yet another gift from our loving Father assuring that every last one of us is sponsored and supported in every moment of every day by a cast of remarkable spiritual influences.

►Finally, as if all that wasn’t enough largess for Him to expend on our creation and care, our Father even sent the ultimate gift – in spite of the enormous risk – when He allowed His Creator Son to be incarnated as a human being to tread the sands of His own creation, learning to know His created children from the inside-out, even while giving to us and a watching Universe His example of a material Life Perfected, our very own Uncle Jesus.

Yet, in spite of all this Divine generosity, we are such ingrates! Given all the time, effort and cost required of our Father to make us who we are, and beyond that, to give us such a marvelous, beautiful world to populate, it is hard not to conclude that we are vastly under-appreciative and astonishingly cavalier in our utilization of the marvelous gifts He so constantly lays at our feet. You may not believe that everything the Father, Son and Mother Spirit have accomplished since that first Big Bang (we can call it that, however it all truly began) has been done specifically and expressly for the eventual emergence of material children like you and me, but I do. Once you have accepted the idea that God is infallible and thus we are truly God’s intended result, what other possible explanation could there be?

But Why?

Of course, this begs the obvious question: What makes us so special? If there really is a Father God and Mother Spirit, and they really did create worlds for people to populate over billions of years, really did eventuate hosts of unseen angels out of this thing called ‘spirit’ just to care for us, and ultimately went so far as to risk even our Creator Son, Jesus, allowing Him to be born as a defenseless infant, why? Why would He do that? What makes us so incredibly valuable? What could we possibly bring to the table that is so desirable? How could it be that the Heavenly accounting book actually balances?

Well, I believe that it is not only about Love, though it is surely that, it is also about experience. God delights in experience, and nothing pleases Him more, I believe, than to join with each of us – every last one of His material personalities – one at a time, as we lead our one-of-a-kind, individual lives. After all, if God is God, He can do that. Of course, He hopes that we will lead productive lives in preparation for an eternity of loving association with Him, but even when our actions may disappoint, or our choices reject His path, our experience is still His experience, and every life lived still adds another chain of doings to that which God the Supreme has done; to the sum total of His own meaning. God, I believe, wants to do every righteous thing there is to do, to be every beautiful, good and true thing there is to be, to join with each and every one of us as we live out our material, fractured, imperfect, even occasionally iniquitous, lives. He is, all the while, speaking to our inner ears with His still, small voice, hoping for the best, filling our dreams with beauty and goodness and rejoicing with us when we actually, occasionally, succeed in reaching them for ourselves.

And, He does all this, insists upon a partnership with His creatures because, being above and beyond the limitations of time and place Himself, it is not possible for the Totality of Our Father to live linearly, to slice up existence into little bits of experience, so we do it for Him even as He lives through us. Even the angels, who were created whole and nearly perfect – who lovingly descend to assist us even as we ascend, with their help and in the fullness of time, to the Father – cannot help Him experience anything new, anything unexpected, since He created them out of His own cloth. No, it takes a random, happenstance, higgledy-piggledy sort of evolution implanted across billions of worlds within billions of galaxies to truly cover the possibilities, to ever be generating something never before seen or done or even conceived. That is why, I believe, no two personalities are ever alike. We were made to be unique and creative, to deliver a life distinctly ours in every moment of every day, and that is what we unquestionably do. Whether for good or ill, for better or worse, we inevitably deliver upon the promise of our creation, just as He has designed us. And that, dear reader, is why He loves us so much, and why, even at such great expense, I believe that He would say the scales of our mutual gifts to each other ultimately balance.

Uncut Diamonds

Did it ever strike you as strange-bordering-on-bizarre that the most iconic and beautiful material found in nature, the diamond, is also the hardest? I remember being astonished when I was taught that in elementary school. It was hard to believe that something so seemingly delicate as the glimmering ring on my mother’s tiny finger was basically indestructible. But the secret to both the beauty and the strength of diamonds is found in their origin: the slow, intense burn under which they are born.

That any diamond was ever formed, given the difficult and rare conditions required, is something of a miracle. Structurally, each one is a latticework grown from a simple square of four carbon atoms that, first, must be bonded at depths of a hundred miles underground within a narrow range of very intense pressures (45-60 kilobars), and a narrow range of temperatures that are uncharacteristically low for that depth (900°-1300° C.). And, once all those conditions are met, it has to stay put, unmoving, to slow-cook for at least a billion years. Finally, after growing for all that time, if it just happens by some stroke of extraordinary fortune to be in the right place at the right time to be thrust up to the surface by a volcanic eruption at the right speed (at least 30 to 40 mph or it can turn to graphite),[13] it may actually, one day, become anything from the sharp end of a drill to the Hope Diamond.

But, of course, you’d most likely not even notice one if it was lying at your feet since, when they emerge, they are just common pebbles of no particularly interest to any but the well-trained eye. They come out uneven, knobby, occluded, dirty, and most of the time without any hint whatever of their astonishing qualities; of the beauty, clarity and light they carry within.

Well, like diamonds, it has taken a billion years or more to make human beings, and like diamonds, no two of us are ever alike, in spite of our common origins. And, I would submit, like diamonds, we are course around the edges and often filled with imperfections, but that is only natural given the rough and tumble way we are born, live and die on planet earth. However, even as the eagle-eyed rock-hound sees the potential within the stone that becomes the fancy diamond, our Father also sees the jewel that we have residing within, the beautiful soul that we have nurtured together knowing that possibly, one day – perhaps while still on the earth but more likely in the ever more spiritual levels of life to come – our rough edges would become polished, our occlusions be cut away, and we might, facet by facet, become perfected into the radiant realization of our Father’s original idea.

How can it be that we suffer both for taking ourselves too seriously, and, yet, not seriously enough? On the one hand, at best, this earth, this material plane, is naught but a seed bed, a place where our original two cells might join and grow into fully-developed beings, where each of our personalities may take root and gather understanding and strength for the eternal life to come. It is a place where we can find our way to walking and talking, smiling, even loving, but even the most wizened and ancient of us is still just a baby in time, a mere infant in the universal scheme of things. No one – especially a loving father – would punish a newborn for wetting his diaper, yet, even though we are no more than infants on the cosmic level, we are terrible at forgiving each other, and even worse at forgiving ourselves. Yes, we take ourselves, and especially our perceived transgressions, entirely too seriously.

On the other hand, we don’t even begin to take ourselves seriously enough. I’m not talking now about our earthly selves, but about our real selves, our child-of-God selves, for we truly are His diamonds in the rough, each a treasure-trove of eternal potentialities long nurtured and greatly beloved. We, you and I and all of our earthly cousins across seven continents, are the result of an extraordinary billion-year effort – a process of eventuating that began on the shores of Pangea – to make us exactly who we are! And, however rough and unformed we may judge ourselves to be, however dirty and flawed we may feel, I truly believe it is ever and only the one-of-a-kind precious gem, the eternal soul growing within each of us, that Our Father sees as He waits and watches, longing for us to answer His knock and respond to His love; waiting for us to finally emerge, in accordance with His divine design, as the beautiful ascending jewels of earth we truly are.

© 2014 by George Thomas Wilson. All rights reserved. [Revised 2017]

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[1]“He remained an independent thinker throughout his life. Some years ago, one of his daughters presented him with a license plate bearing one of his favorite aphorisms: ‘Do the arithmetic or be doomed to talk nonsense.’”
— from the Oct. 25, 2011 New York Times obituary of John McCarthy, coiner of the term ‘Artificial Intelligence,’ (or “AI”) and one of the pioneers in its pursuit, who died on October 24, 2011 at the age of 84.
[2]There are widely varying theories on when the first humans appeared. Here’s one article: http://www.sciencemuseum.org.uk/whoami/findoutmore/yourgenes/wheredidwecomefrom/whowerethefirsthumans.aspx
[3] https://inpraiseofangels.wordpress.com/2014/03/09/the-living-water-boson/ (first paragraph)
[4] https://inpraiseofangels.wordpress.com/2014/03/09/the-living-water-boson/ (fourth section, fourth paragraph)
[5] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Hooke
[6] 2 Sep 2005, uncredited article in Times Higher Education, http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/198208.article “Each kind of tissue has its own turnover time, related at least partially to the workload endured by its cells. Epidermic cells, forming the easily damaged skin of the body, are recycled every two weeks or so. Red blood cells, in constant motion on their journey through the circulatory system, last only 4 months. As for the liver, the human body’s detoxifier, its cells’ lives are quite short – an adult human liver cell has a turnover time of 300 to 500 days. Cells lining the surface of the gut, known by other methods to last for only five days, are among the shortest-lived in the whole body. Ignoring them, the average age of intestinal cells is 15.9 years, Dr Frisén found. Skeletal cells are a bit older than a decade and cells from the muscles of the ribs have an average age of 15.1 years. When looking into the brain cells, all of the samples taken from the visual cortex, the region responsible for processing sight, were as old as the subjects themselves, supporting the idea that these cells do not regenerate. ‘The reason these cells live so long is probably that they need to be wired in a very stable way,’ Frisén speculates. Other braincells are more short-lived. Dr Frisén found that the heart, as a whole, does generate new cells, but he has not yet measured the turnover rate of the heart’s muscle cells. And the average age of all the cells in an adult’s body may turn out to be as young as 7 to 10 years, according to him.”
[7]https://inpraiseofangels.wordpress.com/2014/03/09/the-living-water-boson/
[8] https://inpraiseofangels.wordpress.com/2014/02/09/uncle-jesus/
[9] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cell_%28biology%29
[10] [10]https://inpraiseofangels.wordpress.com/2014/03/09/the-living-water-boson/
[11] http://www.dstoner.net/Math_Science/cell1.html
[12] https://inpraiseofangels.wordpress.com/2014/03/09/the-living-water-boson/ (part four)
[13] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diamond

© 2015 George

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