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 , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 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]

———
[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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The Flow of God: Living Water (Fourth Annual Posting)

Image of the galaxy M101 from NASA's Spitzer and Hubble Space Telescopes, NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory, and NASA's Galaxy Evolution Explorer Photo: NASA

Image of the galaxy M101 from NASA’s Spitzer and Hubble Space Telescopes, NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory, and NASA’s Galaxy Evolution Explorer Photo: NASA

“Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God…”

– Revelation 22:1

This post is surely my most presumptuous, but perhaps the most important. It is perfectly possible that, by conflating pure physics and pure God and presuming to believe that not only do Einstein and his intellectual progeny have it right, but that our loving, personal God was the one and only Original Thinker who designed and built the physical realities these Nobel physicists are uncovering – tiny grain by tiny grain – I have over-thought and under-calculated. After all, who am I, an Alabama-born, New York marketing guy who has spent most of his career promoting magazines, to discuss – or even think about – such high-falutin’ ideas as these?

Nevertheless, taking courage in the fact that Einstein, himself, was a patent clerk when he made most of his discoveries, I persist because I do believe I’m onto something here, however unprovable it may be, and as it is nothing less than a new way to perceive and/or visualize the tangible Love of God and how He delivers it, I can hardly not continue to make my case. Thus, as promised, here is the fourth annual posting of my second foundational essay, originally called “Living Water Boson.”

If you have, by now, read “Uncle Jesus,” my inaugural essay, then you know that my journey of faith began as a five-year-old when my Sunday School teacher, Nelle Lethcoe, told me that Jesus just wanted to be my Friend, so I invited Him to join me and my two imaginary little-old-British-lady friends for our usual afternoon tea, even as I invited Him into my heart, where He has continued to grow organically, if you will, for the sixty years since. And however nebulous such an experience may seem to you, life itself has reinforced our constant bilateral commitment and association to the point of undeniability as everything I came to know about Jesus and his personality in those early years has been borne out by everything that has happened to me/with me/for me since. Can angels really appear in flowered hats? Does Jesus really live? Ineffable are the realities of faith, as they were meant to be, but I can state without fear of contradiction that the longer one lives in a way that allows for benefit of the doubt, the more the doubt disappears.

Are the Science…

First of all, how can anyone believe that the earth is the only place with intelligent life in all this great universe? I have always felt that there must be millions of inhabited planets strewn across the substance of space, each one boasting  millions of diverse material creatures doing their best to get the most out of such a life, even as they bring delight to the eyes of our mutual Heavenly Father. I’m not sure how I first subscribed to this notion, but perhaps I simply came to believe that the velvet of the midnight sky teems with life because it is the inescapably logical extension of a larger idea: that our fatherly God, while loving and generous, is never wasteful (after all, He recycles everything) and would not have expended such a wealth of matter and energy for aeons of time across infinite space just to give His meager earthlings, so very recently arrived and rarely deserving, a starry, starry night.

“Logical,” of course, is the operative word, for while I believe God is vastly/ immeasurably/infinitely smarter than all of us combined, even we who walk and talk on the material plane do eventually figure out that to act against reason is to live in a fool’s Paradise, and if the importance of “means, ends and consequences” is apparent to even the least of us, how much more clear it must be to God. He is not irrational, however inexplicable His designs may seem from our limited view, and He never operates on a whim, since to do so might imperil His beloved children, whose evolution, I believe, was His very motivation for creating our universe in the first place. And if God is God, then the physical logic – the science – of the reality He created must, perforce, flow from Him just as surely as the joy to be found in a moving hymn or the inspiration in a sunset. In other words, the operating, actual rules of physics must also, by definition, be the actual rules of God, Himself. And if this is true, then those like me, who profess belief in Him, do our followers – and truth – a profound disservice when we dismiss demonstrated physical reality just because it conflicts with some long-held dogma or doctrine, however venerated that teaching may be. “Though science courses from the Source//Who spawned, as well, the spirit//The Source cannot be proven//So, they socialize over coffee//And miss the point.”[2]

Nevertheless, it is a rare thing, indeed, to find science contemplating the nature of God, so it was particularly refreshing a few years back when the popular media started talking about the “God particle,” also known as the Higgs Boson (though, for the sake of balance, I should here note that many scientists loudly poo-pooed the designation.[3]) Now, please allow me, for just a moment, to get into the weeds of this: the “Higgs Boson” is a “flash in the pan” sort of impossibly small particle that, in and of itself, is not all that important, but the fact that it exists, as was recently proven in the Large Hadron Collider, does matter because it proves that something infinitely greater, the “Higgs Field,” is no longer just a

Artist's rendering of the Higgs Field.

Artist’s rendering of the Higgs Field.

theory, but something real. Described as a vast circular skirt (or “sombrero,” since the scientific models show a big bulge in its center) of energy particles/waves that stretches from the very center-point of the whole mass of God’s created universe out to its very edges, the Higgs Field is a never-ending Mexican Hat Dance of universal ripples gliding inexorably across the entirety of space.

and the Spirit…

Now, having said all that, allow me to shift the light from science to spirit for a moment and consider something that might, at first, seem entirely unrelated: the oft repeated idea of “living water,” or the “water of life,” which is surely one of the most cryptic and mysterious concepts in the Bible. According to the site Openbible.info, there are twenty-nine scripture verses about “living water” and exactly one-hundred about the “water of life.”[4] Isaiah,[5] Jeremiah,[6] and Zechariah[7] all mention “living waters” in some form or another, the book of Revelation is overflowing with citations,[8] and perhaps the most famous Biblical reference of all is found in the story of Jesus and the “woman at the well,” when He, having no dipper of His own, asks her for a drink and then uses the opportunity to invite her to partake of the living water “and never be thirsty again.”[9] But, all that said and for all the mentions in our sacred writings, none of these writers actually define it. What, exactly, are all these people talking about? Just what on earth is this living water, anyway, and how the heck do we get some?

I suppose almost all of us with any introduction to Scripture have asked ourselves this question at one time or another, but probably not for very long since, this side of unwieldy theological dissertations, there is very little to go on. Many writers speak of it in vague generalities, but none explains it in any tangible way. To be honest, I never really gave the idea much thought, myself, until I backed into it when – just like my Uncle Jesus epiphany – it grew out of my ever-evolving daily prayers.

If you happened to read my “Uncle Jesus” post, you are already familiar with the part of my prayer that seeks to embrace all of our neighbors – from the neighborhood to the city to the world – having proved to my own satisfaction that it is a near mathematical certainty that nearly everyone on earth is much more related than we think – indeed, literal cousins – and more than that, that Jesus, himself, is equally certain to be our mutual great-uncle (going back about 62 generations).[10] But, this part of my prayer only comes near the end, after I have spent considerable time doing my best to align my personal, conscious will with His. In concert with my angels and to the best of my ability, I have settled over time on a sequence of thoughts and phrases that help me to attune my mindal wavelengths to His; to open my perceptions and align my motivations right down to the least whim with the will of God, until the love between us flows unimpeded in a joyful circle. Even Jesus began with “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done….”

So, I begin simply with a thank you to our Heavenly Father – whom I perceive to be both at the center of all things (“In the center of the center of the Universe//At the centerpoint of space and time//Sits the Source of the course of the Universe//The Supreme, the All Wise, the Sublime.”), as well as within my heart – for the day ahead and all the opportunities and challenges it contains. Then, I ask Him to please accompany my angels and me as we go from “moment to moment and place to place, task to task and person to person,” that whatever we may choose to be, do, say, or write is in accordance with His desire; that every joule of energy we may expend is spent as He would have it. Then – and this is where, for me, at least, the science and spirit begin to merge – I ask for His help in aligning myself as perfectly as possible with the steady flow of His living water, that I might drink deeply from those energizing gifts of the spirit He sends so very far, even to our little orb of jewel-encrusted iron spinning so silently through space: isolated, idiosyncratic, but never alone.

…Two Sides of the Same Sombrero?

Now, theoretical physicists tell us that without the Higgs Field there would be no material reality at all, and that would be that; that those invisible spokes of radiating energy are the foundational warp through which the weft of coordinate forces are woven into the fabric of time and space. In other words, to go back to our earlier analogy, if those ripples weren’t constantly conducting the energy of creation on its journey outward, all of it – every star, every planet, everything down to the last atom of hydrogen – would simply cease to be. But, that said, and however true that may be, I think the physicists are underselling their idea. They’ve discovered our Father’s transport, but neglected His cargo, for this phenomenon – this flow from the very heart of God to each and every person made in His image (i.e., as He imagined) – carries with it so much more, I believe, than mere being. Rather, it arrives filled to the brim with inestimable gifts pouring ever and always out upon us, even from today unto that day long hence when we, having finally followed His generous flow all the way back to its Origin, to the Center of the Center, may find ourselves standing in awe before the very Source, Himself, to sing His praise and respond in kind to His constant, omnipresent love of us and all creation.

Just to make it perfectly clear, what I’m proposing here is that both the “matterizing” Higgs Field and that mysterious Biblical “living water” are actually the same phenomenon, merely seen through the lenses of different disciplines and different times, requiring different words to have meaning. After all, even if you were a Son of God who completely understood the science behind these concepts while living as an itinerant prophet in First Century Palestine, how would you even being to explain it to your flock without any common vocabulary of physics? Given His situation, the “living water” description is about as accurate as He could be. How else could He have described it, if His goal was to assure His followers that the love of the Father is always engaged, and the more we are able to align with it – the more we can drink in of His largesse – the more we will be able to utilize the gifts He so generously and constantly delivers?

But what, really, does this living water do? How are we affected as it flows through and around us? As I have prayed my prayers over the years, consciously striving to align myself with the Father, His mind, and His flow the better to absorb it, I have also gained an ever-growing appreciation of, at least, how I see these treasures. Consequently, while it is possible that there are more of them that I have yet to unwrap, I am settled in my personal belief that our Father has graced us with at least seven identifiable gifts, invaluable life forces to help us along. Christ asks the impossible: “Be ye perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.”[11] But then He makes it at least nearly possible through these endowments that may, when fully embraced, expand our awareness a hundredfold – even a hundred times a hundredfold – thereby transforming and multiplying our otherwise merely animalistic potential into something much, much greater for our long journey ahead.

Our Doting Granddaddy God

If Jesus is truly our flesh-and-blood Uncle and, according to both of them, God is His Father (if you include that voice heard overhead when Jesus was baptized[12]), then the Source in the Center must also, by definition, be our Heavenly Grandfather, and, like all grandparents everywhere, Granddaddy God is overly generous, especially considering what an unappreciative, even unnoticing, crop of offspring we truly are. Nevertheless, our Father is Mercy, Itself – He who forgives and forgets, apparently – and we are the clear recipients of His never-ending magnanimity; his constant flow laden with gifts for His beloved grandchildren everywhere.

As I have come to clarify my understanding in each of these gifts over time, they have fallen, really, into two groups of three, plus a bonus that arises naturally from the first six. The first three are gifts of energy, and are absolutely necessary for the lives we lead: The energies of Love, Light and Life. The next three are gifts of discernment and must be gifts from the Heart of God since we could live perfectly successfully without them – biologically speaking – but not nearly as well: Our otherwise inexplicable discernments of Beauty, Goodness and Truth. Because, I presume, He wished His children to share the wonder of His vast, utterly magnificent universe – the stunning results of His astonishing artistry – He has given us the means to do so. And, the seventh? That would be a marvelous gift arising naturally from the fruits of the first six: The gift of Hope, a loving grace note adroitly placed to complete our Father’s grand embrace of every single person.

And, all of these gifts have one extraordinary quality in common: each is universally accepted as something real by everyone – even the most cynical of philosophers – but none has any provable origin. These seven gifts of God exist simply because He said so, and I believe He said so that we might have life and have it more abundantly. Let us take them one by one:

The first, of course, is the energy we call Love. Now, you may not think of love as a form of energy, but, if so, you have forgotten your youth. Surely one is never more fulsome than when first flung into the throes of love. And as for the Love of God, well, that must surely predate all except God, Himself even before the “Alpha” since it is the only conceivable reason for building the Universe in the first place. You might even say the big bang was actually God’s own Love in action, and the miracle of the Love that even now continues to ride, astride His open arms, is the ability it gives Him to hold each and every one of us in His heart, one-by-one and One-on-one. “Were there not Love//Would be no fear//For there would be nothing to lose,//Would be no hope//For there would be nothing to gain,//Would be no life//For there would be no reason.”[13]

The second gift of energy riding the Father’s waves is Light, itself: physical, mental, emotional and, most mysteriously of all, the Light of Spirit. And, when I use the word “Light,” I mean it in all of its usual connotations (it is a word of many purposes). Of course, all actual light and “energies” of space (strong and weak atomic forces, gravity, the great spectrum of light energies that includes our visible light but also a great deal more) would require the Higgs Field/living water to exist in any case, but the Light of Divine peace “that passes understanding,” for those of us who believe, is also included in my definition; the alluring, consoling, protecting, adjusting, rewarding, distinctive Light of the Holy Spirit with hosts of angels under Her command.

And, the third of the energy gifts is that riddle called Life. Of course, if there were no bosons, and thus, no matter, then neither would there be any living thing. But even if the atoms and molecules required for life could somehow be assembled, I submit – in spite of recent claims to the contrary by overly optimistic biologists – that without the touch of God, the assemblage would simply sit, inert. The Love of God requires us, the Light of God illumines us, and the breath of God gives us Life.

But, even as beautifully, lovingly created as we are, without the next three gifts – those of discernment – almost all of creation’s blessings would tragically pass us by, utterly unnoticed. Truly the keys to life well lived, the discernment of Beauty, Goodness and Truth are capacities that I presume to have come from God since I can conceive of no other possible source. Consider: it contributes nothing to our evolutionary success to be awed by the Beauty of a dragonfly or transported by the colors of a sunrise, and yet we are. Goodness? Find me any other species in all the great array of nature’s diversity that has ever even approached the ideas of “right” and “wrong” – the “knowledge of good and evil” – and yet we are consumed by such judgments from birth until our very last breath. And, Truth? Well, we could discuss the “truth of Truth” forever, but no one can deny the healthy instinct that resides within each of us for telling truth from falsehood: the Spirit of Truth.

No, our appreciation of Beauty, delight in Goodness and awareness of Truth are discernments that must have come from somewhere, but they didn’t arise organically. Nature cannot account for them, only Heavenly nurture. No other beings throughout the entire history of the planet have even come close to conceiving of such things, much less attaining the levels of perception necessary to inspire the building of great museums to beauty, temples to goodness or tribunals for truth, and yet, by God’s own Grace, we, His grandchildren, have done these things.

Finally, the seventh gift of the flow of the Father is a special one because it is not carried across the universe on waves of living water like the other six, but springs naturally, unbidden, from the human heart in response to God’s constant flow: the gift of Hope. For – at least it seems to me – even the most destitute, downtrodden or abased of us, once attuned to the Father’s Love, Light, Life, Beauty, Goodness and Truth, cannot fail but find Hope there, as well. Who could remain discouraged when showered in a constant stream with such rich and wondrous treasures? Hope is the bridge that carries us safely over life’s deadly chasms, the light at the end of every tunnel, and our never-failing spiritual salve, always at the ready to embrace us with its assuaging power, to lift us up and carry us forward past the inevitable disappointments of a material life. And, I believe, the living waters of the Father supply the fount of all hope.

I could, of course, be entirely wrong about all of this; simplistic and presumptuous in my analysis of the science of all these things, and I expect our cousin Dan, who actually studied with Dr. Higgs, will let me know if I’ve somehow slipped past the truth of things, but even if the Nobel Laureate’s ideas – the Higgs Field and Higgs Boson – have nothing whatever to do with the Father’s love, there is still that Biblical “living water” to account for, and however they may be borne from the Father’s heart to ours, I believe the gifts I have described are delivered on the wings of that flow.

Tools of Crystal

To receive such beautiful gifts from God, it goes without saying, is to be inspired to share them – which, after all, is why I am doing all this writing in the first place – so, once my daily prayer for alignment has harmonized my will with His as much as I can manage, I do ask for three additional gifts before moving on: a trio of crystal tools to help me share God’s grace with as many others as possible; to help me, as best I am able, increase the fruits of His gifts.

First, I ask for metaphorical mirrors – mirrors of all shapes and sizes – to reflect out the Light, Life, Love, Beauty, Goodness, and Truth in as many directions as possible, to as many people as possible, as much of the time as possible.

Secondly, I ask for metaphorical lenses to gather the light, the better to focus it, first, upon the Beauty, Goodness and Truth I may find along the way, as well as into shadowy corners where evils lurk, ignorance simmers, and fears feed upon fears.

And thirdly, I ask for metaphorical prisms to unfold the light, for what could be more affirming of our Father’s love of beauty than the rich, velvety jewel colors of His unfolded spectrum; the rainbow of His designing; a million colors in the Divine light given to all of us? And, I put it to you that, once such beauty has been seen and appreciated by His children – has delivered a foretaste of the infinite possibilities residing in His Heavenly paintbox – the gentle pull of such a Divine Designer, Caring Maker, Generous Host, and Loving Father is well-nigh irresistible.

Prayer, as I said above, is really an attempt, for me at least, to align my mind with God’s, to do my best to see and follow the path He has placed before me that I might become the me He would have me be. And so I begin every day by asking to be optimized in His flow – that very living water of which Jesus spoke to the woman at the well – the better to see and understand His desires. Then, fully aligned and equipped, I turn my supplications to the needs of others, and the issues of the day. But, dear cousins, that part of the story will have to wait until the third and last of this unintended series exploring our Father’s generosity, when we will also consider the unavoidable question: What is He thinking?!? How could we humans – frail, foolish and corruptible as we are – possibly be worthy of so much Divine attention?

If you’ve made it this far, thank you for sharing your time with me, and may our Father be with us as we continue to seek and follow His will as best we can.

GTW

March 7, 2014; revised February 13, 2017

© 2017 by George Thomas Wilson, all rights reserved

[1] https://inpraiseofangels.wordpress.com/2014/02/09/uncle-jesus/ , the Second Thread, paragraph 6.

[2] https://inpraiseofangels.wordpress.com/2014/02/25/wet-weathered-sunday/ fourth verse.

[3] The God Particle: If the Universe Is the Answer, What Is the Question? by Leon M. Lederman, Dick Teresi (ISBN 0-385-31211-3)

[4] http://www.openbible.info/topics/water_of_life

[5] Isaiah 58: “10 if you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday. 11 And the Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy your desire with good things,and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters fail not.”

[6] Jeremiah 2: “12 Be appalled, O heavens, at this, be shocked, be utterly desolate, says the Lord, 13 for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns, that cn hold no water.”

[7] Zechariah 13: “1 On that day there shall be a fountain opened for the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem to cleanse them from sin and uncleanness.”

[8] Revelation 22:1 (epigraph); 21:6: “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment.”; 7: 17: “For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

[9] Gospel of John 4: 1-15: “Now when the Lord knew that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John 2 (although Jesus himself did not baptize, but only his disciples), 3 he left Judea and departed again to Galilee. 4 He had to pass through Samaria. 5 So he came to a city of Samaria, called Sychar, near the field that Jacob gave to his son Joseph. 6 Jacob’s well was there, and so Jesus, wearied as he was with his journey, sat down beside the well. It was about the sixth hour. 7 There came a woman of Samaria to draw water. Jesus said to her, ‘Give me a drink.’ 8 For his disciples had gone away into the city to buy food. 9 The Samaritan woman said to him, ‘How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?’ For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans. 10 Jesus answered her, ‘If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, “Give me a drink,” you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.’ 11 The woman said to him, ‘Sir, you have nothing to draw with, and the well is deep; where do you get that living water? 12 Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well, and drank from it himself, and his sons, and his cattle?’ 13 Jesus said to her, ‘Everyone who drinks of this water will thirst again, 14 but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst; the water that I shall give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.’ 15 The woman said to him, ‘Sir, give me this water, that I may not thirst, nor come here to draw.’”

[10] https://inpraiseofangels.wordpress.com/2014/02/09/uncle-jesus/, the First Thread

[11] Matthew 5:48, King James Version

[12] Matthew 3:13: “13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. 14 John would have prevented him, saying, ‘I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?’ 15 But Jesus answered him, ‘Let it be so now; for thus it is fitting for us to fulfil all righteousness.’ Then he consented. 16 And when Jesus was baptized, he went up immediately from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and alighting on him; 17 and lo, a voice from heaven, saying, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.’” Revised Standard Version

[13] https://inpraiseofangels.wordpress.com/2014/02/14/love-notes

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The Family of God: Uncle Jesus

"Not even Solomon, in all his glory, was arrayed like one of these." - Jesus, Matthew 6:29

“Not even Solomon, in all his glory, was arrayed like one of these.” – Jesus, Matthew 6:29

[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; what my religious inclinations are. Which 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 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 fully understood, line up without deviation, and this blog represents my best efforts to illuminate those places where this divine conjunction can most easily be seen.

Thus, basic arithmetic and my personal journey of faith join hands to underwrite this first essay, even as the discoveries of quantum physics support the second (“The Flow of God”), and geology and biology undergird the third (“Diamonds in the Rough”).  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 it is largely the same piece.]

Our Uncle Jesus: Yours and Mine

[From early 2014:] 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.

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, a world 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, the grandparents were soon included in my nightly prayers, and when my sister was born, 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 infinitely and equally 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 I do it: 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 block 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 these astonishing spiritual helpers has grown over the decades, I have also come to appreciate how helpful they are in igniting the “Joy Profound” – that “peace that passeth understanding” – within each of our human hearts.

I pray that every neighbor may have a day of “angel gifts,” those inspirations and confirmations that always accompany true faith: synchronicities, coincidences beyond explaining, perfect timings, personal touchstones, delightful surprises, moments that cause us to say to ourselves, “I must be in the right place, must be doing what I’m supposed to be doing,” a sure sign that God is at work in our hearts, minds and lives.

And further, I pray that once ignited across the neighborhood, all that joy might generate positive energies enough to be pleasing in God’s sight, priming the pump of His grace enough to spread the phenomenon of love across the whole of the City, from our ten thousand nearest neighbors to our ten million nearest. To embrace all – from born and bred New Yorkers to the most recently arrived tourists who may chance to be here that day. Ten million are, after all, only 999 additional souls for each of the ten thousand already embraced, and I try to envision a range of fellow New Yorkers from the homeless in their shelters to the powerful in their penthouses, that all might catch a glimmer of the Light, for it only takes a glimmer to confirm the Light is on.

Finally, having fully embraced and envisioned, as best I can, my ten million fellow New Yorkers, 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 to seven billion (which, as it happens, is actually less of a stretch, since it only requires adding 699 souls for each of those ten million already embraced). Seven continents, seven seas, seven billion sisters and brothers under one Heavenly Father. Ours is a world without signposts – there is no marker saying “God made this” – so we are left to our own conclusions as we seek our personal paths, look for the light, so my prayer has grown, ultimately, into a plea that all of us will have God’s help in our seeking.

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 life even as it has stitched together everyone. And that, 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 angry with someone 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

At some point in the last 40 years, the US Forest Service decided to leave the ugly 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. Very sad to me.

At some point in the last 40 years, the US Forest Service decided to leave the ugly 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. Very sad to me.

Okay, now bear with me, please, reader, since the question I ask here is ponderous, but I promise to lighten up quickly: 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, 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.

In my case, this thread of 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 was the only church ever built in Grayson, Alabama, a tiny sawmill town located right in the middle of the Bankhead National Forest.

Just last February, 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.

Just last February, 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 my forester father was the woodsman! His boss, a kindly lumberman named Clancy, had donated the materials to build the church in 1948 once my newly arrived newlywed parents rallied the townspeople to raise 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 itinerants – from “fire and brimstone” to “down and dour” – made their way through, and, when there was no one else, Daddy filled in handsomely.

It was there among friends – and everyone in Grayson was my friend – 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 fanIn 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 twang: “Tommy, Jesus just wants 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.

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 new baby sister, and, so, once the notion of a friendship with Jesus had been suggested, I wasted no time asking the ladies that very afternoon if they agreed that we should invite Him to join us.

Well.

I gather they assented, since, 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 flowing 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 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 innately 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 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 Confirmation[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[5]; when I was nineteen, He confirmed to my satisfaction in another intense prayer that I 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 appearances occurred to absolutely seal the deal of our relationship[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. 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, often disappointed, ever-forgiving, pro-active 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, perhaps, 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 far beyond those days, and the bonds of our companionship – of our real, true, living relationship – are, for me, unmistakable and unbreakable.

The Third Thread: An Unexpected Obsession

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 elementary school portraits of my mother and her siblings from the late 1920s sent by a distant cousin who had found them in one of her grandmother’s old trunks. I was thrilled to see them, and soon wrote back to thank her and, while I was at it, to ask some questions about her branch of our family.

She did get back to me, but once the questions had 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 emerged.

And, what a Wonderland I found! The more I uncovered about the people from whom I and my parents 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 their stories. 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.

There are, as you might expect, some family lines for which the information only covers a few generations, but 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, 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 of 10th Century information to discover Lady Godiva, of all people, was one of my 31st great-grandmothers! Now, that was a rush.)

Lesson One: Families Don’t Grow on Trees

Which leads me to the first of my unanticipated discoveries down the rabbit hole: 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 that each of us, by definition, must have had only 450 years ago, we hardly think beyond those we can actually remember. But the math is irrefutable: 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=32,678 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 31-greats-grandparents!

Lesson Two: 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 pairings, 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.

Mindful of this shortfall, and being made of hardy stuff (especially the women), they 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)

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 31st great-grandmother. And, the same calculus would also have to be true for every other one of my 4.2 billion 31st 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. I also followed a few lines as far back as the time of Christ, which proved to be 65 generations, more or less, and included Romans, Greeks, Persians and Semites. I won’t even bother you with the geometric calculation of their potential grandchildren, but it’s in the billions of billions and certainly includes everyone alive today with only very narrow exceptions, perhaps hidden tribes in the Amazon or outposts of Inuit.

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 different.[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 as I did my research 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 is, then, once all are embraced as kin, to dismiss unkindness altogether!

And then, finally, 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 the truth! My oldest Friend, my dear Friend Jesus, who had been holding my hand since those days around the tea table, 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 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 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 nexus to connect us spiritually – God as Heavenly Father of all His material children. But how much more tangible is this new nexus, to be a member of the actual family of God? 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 He may have had. Nevertheless, for the sake of discussion, let us continue taking an extremely conservative approach and assume that only two of them had children. If we then assume the same progression and double the number in each generation, by the 31st, around the year 1000 AD, Jesus would already have had 4.2 billion potential great-nieces and great-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!

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, but 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, 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 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 than it would ever, otherwise, have become.

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 allowed Himself 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.

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 kept on Great-Grandmama’s back porch.

So, the realization that Jesus was not only my Friend, 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 one-time-only 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 us and all other material creatures across His vast, starlit creation the Way of Love through His perfected example. But, I do believe all of those things right down to the core of my beating heart and seeking soul, so for such a God to be, also, my literal Uncle is more than unimaginable, it is a gift of love and hope far greater than anything I could possibly deserve or even ever have imagined. 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 [Fourth revision, January 28, 2017]

© 2017 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] As an aside, in all the years following that day, in spite of spending countless hours in countless churches, I have not heard one other person put it quite so well. Indeed, for years I have told this story and always called Nell Lethcoe’s simple, emphatic statement to me the “most profound theological point I’ve ever heard.” At least, this was true until Pope Francis appeared, but 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 before spending my final high school summer working in a bread factory as a union trainee. I was 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, and His – and my angels’ – particularly strong and consistent overcare, often demonstrated to me in real, perceptible, ways, I managed to suffer through with only minor scrapes and bruises. I literally could not 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 2013, I have written about the dragonfly experience in detail. The link, if you’re interested, is here: 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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TBT/GTS#3: Peter Frazer, MD – A Life Redeemed

Peter Frazer at Grand Army Plaza in the summer of 1978, only a few months after we met. Photo courtesy Leath Nunn.

Peter Frazer at Grand Army Plaza in the summer of 1978, only a few months after we met. Photo courtesy Leath Nunn.

December 1, 2016 – I didn’t really plan to post this on World AIDS Day. It just turned out that way, but I can’t think of a more appropriate time for this story or a more appropriate tale for this day, because, of all these stories – these Profiles in Grace that will continue to emerge from my keyboard over the next weeks and months – none spans the globe or the gamut of human experience more widely than the story of Peter Frazer. And, it is truly a story of redemption as, in the end, he grasped his personal demons by the horns and, with the love of a friend, conquered them. But, let me start at the beginning…

[NOTE TO MY READERS: This is the third in this series, written to illuminate the wonderful lives led by my too-many friends who were simply stopped in their tracks by AIDS during the 80s and early 90s. If you missed it, I encourage you to read the full introduction to and rationale for this series at the beginning of the first of these profiles here: https://inpraiseofangels.wordpress.com/2016/04/16/tbtgts1-randall-robbins-actor-teacher-leader-friend/ ]

How We Knew Each Other

Peter Frazer was my first real New York City neighbor.

In the last installment of this series, I told the story of George Falkenberry, my Alabama friend whose apartment provided the landing pad that made my entry into NYC in March of 1978 possible. Having arrived without any thought of where I might set up housekeeping – but with no doubt that it would happen – I set about asking every last person I met, regardless of the circumstances, if they knew of an apartment for rent (there being no computers or internet in those days), and I had only been at this for about two weeks when one night, while sipping on a Budweiser at the Wildwood bar just a couple of blocks from my temporary digs, I met an aspiring ballet dancer named Richard Karsten who allowed as how he did know of an apartment being vacated in his building that would soon be available.

I took the name and number of his landlady, and the next day had my first encounter with the memorable – nay, unforgettable – Renate Smulewicz, a fiery, red-headed Auschwitz survivor who, with her husband Jan Jacob (a brain surgeon), had used their reparations to invest in two Upper West Side brownstones. We took to each other instantly, and within minutes I had my first very own New York City home at 16 West 69th Street, only fifty yards from Central Park, for the grand sum of $285 per month. I moved in on May 15, 1978.

It was a lovely studio apartment (one big room with separate bath and kitchen) on the fifth-floor of an elegant but timeworn brownstone that had originally housed some well-to-do family of the Belle Epoque, but had long since been carved up into a dozen apartments of widely varying size. Though it was four floors up (counting the stoop) my apartment had two large, north-facing windows, a sliver-view of the park and retained much of its original character (especially after I was done wood-stripping and painting) with a mirrored Victorian mantle piece and matching oak shutters that folded out of sight into the window frames. It was perfect.

16 West 69th Street. My living room was just behind the two windows on the left side of the top floor. Peter's room was in the back. It's good to see the stoop still in place.

16 West 69th Street. My living room was just behind the two windows on the left side of the top floor. Peter’s room was in the back. It’s good to see the stoop still in place.

In those days, the Upper West Side was still seedy around the edges and just beginning to gentrify into the Yuppie enclave it became in the 80s, but the house I moved into had been very fine in its prime (The all-marble house across the street had been built by Enrico Caruso at the turn of the Century). Even the stairways still sported all of their original carved banisters and black-walnut paneling covered the walls, right up to the top floor. It was also the only house on the block that had managed to retain its wide, welcoming stoop, which became a favorite gathering place for many of us, in time.

Originally intended as servants’ quarters, the top floor included five residences: my studio plus four additional tiny rooms, rented individually, that shared a bathroom off the back hall. These “Single Room Occupancy” (SRO) rooms – for which Mrs. S charged $60 per month – were a vestige of the Great Depression, when they were as much as many people could afford, and those on my floor were occupied by four single men: Nicholas Skerchock, the iconoclastic long-time music transcriber for Andre Kostelanetz (I lived there for four years and saw him maybe five times, but we shared a wall, so I heard his banging for me to turn down the noise fairly often), two retired NYC policemen named McCollough and McCann who spent their days in a neighborhood pub and their nights in a stupor, and Peter, who, at 21, was seven years younger than I.

It took a couple of weeks of seeing each other around and about before we actually spoke. He had acquired the sullen demeanor of an abused puppy, so I gave him plenty of room, but eventually the opportunity presented itself, and we began to get to know each other a bit. I say “a bit” because, like Skerchock, he generally kept to himself, and I eventually learned why when he told me that he was a heroin addict and supported his habit by hanging out on East 53rd Street, the well-known place to go if you were in the business of picking up tricks. He also had a day job working for a placement agency as a temporary typist, so you might say he was a functional addict, but his sunken eyes and ghostly appearance were telling.

Within weeks of my arrival, Officer McCann died, and my new friend, Leath Nunn, took the empty room (Mrs. S gave him a free month’s rent if he would clean it out, which took several days of serious scrubbing). And, shortly after that, Peter moved out. He hadn’t even told me he was leaving – he was just gone one day – so there was no chance to exchange information, and I had no reason to think that I would ever see him again.

Until I did, nine years later.

It will be thirty years, this coming February, since Richard and I moved into the great apartment we still occupy today on 106th Street. We are just a  hundred feet, or so, to the east of Broadway, and it was while walking up that busy boulevard only a few months after moving into the area, that I saw Peter again, though this Peter Frazer was a much improved version in every way.

I almost missed him as we passed each other on the sidewalk, but I realized who he was just a second later and turned. “Peter?” I barked to make sure it penetrated. He turned around to see who had called, but the man looking at me was transformed in every way from his earlier self. The eyes were bright green-blue, alive and sparkly, his cheeks rosy, his step had acquired a bounce, and, of all things, he was wearing medical scrubs with a stethoscope around his neck.

He turned around and looked at me, but having grown a beard by then so my homophobic bosses at Rolling Stone would take me more seriously, I looked considerably different than I had in ’78, so I said, “Tommy. It’s Tommy Wilson from Mrs. Smulewicz’s.” I knew that would work because nobody who met her could forget Mrs. S.

“Tommy!” it finally clicked in as a smile spread across his face. “How the hell are you?” He still had his soft Australian accent.

He was on his way to class, but we spoke long enough for him to tell me that he had recently finished his undergraduate degree and was studying to become an M.D. at Mt. Sinai. You could have felled me with a puff of air. From then on, I would see him from time to time walking his dog, and more often than not, he was accompanied by his, by then, live-in girlfriend, Diane. This was counter-intuitive, I suppose, but you truly never can tell about people, and they clearly delighted in each others company, so I was happy for them both.

In due time, Peter finished school and began to build a thriving practice as an internist.  We continued to run into each other on the street, but after a few years passed, I began to notice the light fading in his eyes once again, his energies sagging, his complexion becoming pasty, but it never even occurred to me that he might have returned to his earlier habit. Tragically, by then, I recognized the all-too-familiar signs. He always smiled and said hello when we met, and he never complained or even mentioned it, but we both knew the unavoidable truth: he was dying of AIDS. I stopped seeing him on the sidewalk along about 1992. We never actually said goodbye, he simply disappeared from view.

Childhood and Family

Peter was born on the second day of January, 1957, to Helen and John Raymond Frazer of  Oxfordshire, England, but his early years were unsettled. They lived about thirteen miles south of Oxford at 9 Ash Lane, Ambrosden, Bicester, but for whatever reason, John and Helen Frazer decided in mid-1959, when Peter was two-and-a-half, to pull up stakes and travel to the other side of the world.

The two-family house where Peter lived as a toddler at 9 Ash Lane, Ambrosden, Bicester, Oxfordshire.

The two-family house where Peter lived as a toddler at 9 Ash Lane, Ambrosden, Bicester, Oxfordshire.

And, so it was that, on June 9, 1959, the family – John, Helen, Raymond, Jr., (nine years older than his little brother), and Peter – departed Liverpool for Melbourne, Australia on the ship Fair Sky. On the passenger list, his father is described as a farm worker, but as you can see in the photo, the Frazers didn’t live on a farm. I believe he was a horse trainer, but I’m still trying to confirm that.

In any case, Australia was their new home and that was where Peter lived with his parents and where he presumably attended school, played with friends and did all the usual things we do as children growing up, until, that is, when he was fifteen and – like far too many of my friends in those early days – he was disowned by his parents and summarily kicked out of the house because his gay tendencies had began to show.

After Leaving Home

Where do you go when you’re a bright, talented, good-l00king fifteen-year old who suddenly finds himself cut off and homeless in Melbourne? Though I have done my best to contact his brother Raymond, I have not been able to reach him, so I am woefully short of information about the early years of Peter’s wanderings. What is clear, however, is Peter’s determination to get as far away from home as he could in both miles and mentality; to find a place where he could both be true to himself and fulfill his destiny. Diane told me that he landed in New York when he was sixteen, so he clearly wasted no time getting here, and, once he arrived, I’m sure he found the city more than welcoming for a bright blonde charmer with an Australian accent. And, I suppose it’s no real surprise, extrapolating further down the predictable path he was traveling, that by the time I met him at age twenty-one, some of the bloom had faded from the rose. Five years of uninhibited frolic can take their toll.

But the real story here – the tale worth telling – is what happened in those years between ’79 and ’87, and that was a story I didn’t know until I started trying to put the pieces together for this profile. All I knew was that he was a lost, lonely pony when we met, but by the time we became reacquainted, he had utterly transformed himself into a bright, energetic doctor with patients and a purpose.  It was a mystery that had puzzled me for years, so I went digging for answers.

And, what I found was an old, old story, but one that never fails: the redemptive power of the love of one person for another. The astonishing transformation of Peter could only have happened with the help of a determined, loving helpmate who was willing to do the hard work, to forgive and forget and forge a future made of stouter stuff. And, in Peter’s case, it turns out that it was his friend Diane – the one I so often saw walking with him in our neighborhood – who rose to the occasion; who cared enough to see the potential pushed down so deep within him, and found a way to get it out.

The story begins in December of 1980, only a few months after Peter left Mrs. S’s. The temporary typing agency had sent him on assignment to the offices of McGraw-Hill, the textbook people, where, as fate would have it, a young and equally eager Diane Harriford had also been placed, and they met by chance over lunch one day in the company cafeteria. Something must have clicked, because, in the days and weeks ahead, they became close friends, but since Peter’s formal education had come to an abrupt halt when he left Melbourne, while Diane was already a college graduate and working on her first advanced degree, the disparity in their backgrounds severely limited their common vocabulary. And so it was that, as their relationship seemed headed into uncharted territory for both of them, Diane said to Peter, “Look, if you really want to hang out with me, you’ve got to get some education.”

Yearbook shot of Peter Frazer in 1985 as an undergraduate studying Natural Sciences at Fordham University. It took me six months to find a photo of him for this profile, and my sincere thanks to the Fordham University library for their help.

Yearbook shot of Peter Frazer in 1985 as an undergraduate studying Natural Sciences at Fordham University. It took me six months to find a photo of him for this profile, and my sincere thanks to the Fordham University library for their help.

I can’t really say, but that may have been the first time in his life that anyone had actually known him well enough, and cared enough, to insist that there was more to him than met the eye, and who was willing to help him realize the potential that she saw and that he must have known, all along, was buried deep within. After all, his inner voice had moved him halfway around the planet in search of personal fulfillment. Here, for the first time in his life I imagine, was someone who actually loved him him for his mind as well as his body and who wanted him to rise up to meet his possibilities. He must have realized that with Diane’s help and encouragement, he might just have a chance, and so it was that the very next month, in January of 1981, Peter enrolled in two college classes at Fordham’s Lincoln Center campus, one in science and one in literature. He aced them both.

Encouraged, and with Diane’s promise to help support them with her teaching while he pursued his education, he enrolled full time the very next semester, and sailed through to his degree with straight “A”s and a perennial spot on the Dean’s List. Following graduation, he moved right on to the Icahn School of Medicine at Mt. Sinai, and, at long last – after nearly a decade of study and work, all the while supported by Diane – Peter was graduated as a fully-fledged medical doctor in 1989. He was also diagnosed, that very day, with full-blown AIDS.

He must have known for some time that he was HIV positive, and one can only wonder how much that condition had played a part in his determination to become a doctor. Perhaps he had hopes of helping in the development of treatments for AIDS, or even a cure, but if so, his hopes would never be realized.

I cannot even imagine how devastating Peter’s news was to Diane. After nearly ten years together, almost all of it spent with Peter in pursuit of his education while Diane took teaching gigs to pay the rent, her dreams of a future in which each of them would prove a bulwark to the other, were dashed and, even worse, there was no one, no place, no easy target for the anger and pain and frustration she must have felt. I have the greatest sympathy for what she must have gone through, and for the endless months of suffering as she stood by his side until the end of his life.

As Peter’s condition worsened, his brother Raymond did fly over from Australia to assess the situation and do what he could do to help, though it seems his primary objective was to get Peter to agree to go back home to Melbourne, where he might spend his last days in the very home that had ejected him twenty years earlier. I’m pretty sure that Peter would rather have eaten nails than make that trip, and ultimately, when it became clear that Peter wasn’t going anywhere, that he was determined to remain with Diane, in New York, until the end, Raymond returned home alone. Peter died on May 28th, 1994.

Trajectory

Getting a handle on just how successful Peter might have become had he lived, how many lives he might have saved, how many positive ripples might have circled out from him as he contributed to the good in the world, is impossible. But we humans have a way of choosing for our friends – and especially our partners – those whom we believe to be our intellectual equals; whose perceptions and internal realities jibe with our own, and I believe we can extrapolate at least to some degree just what Peter might have gone on to accomplish from the success enjoyed in the years since he died by his faithful and generous partner, Diane, who has accomplished a great deal.

To illustrate, I found this telling biography accompanying an article in the International Journal of the Humanities she authored with a colleague following Hurricane Katrina:

“Diane Harriford is Associate Professor of Sociology and Director of Women’s Studies at Vassar College. For the last twenty years, she has been teaching sociology, Women’s Studies, and African American Studies while engaging in various social movements. In the 1970s, she was an assistant to Bella Abzug, a member of the US House of Representatives from New York. Diane also worked closely with the Coalition of Labor Union Women. Currently, Diane is involved in the National Women’s Studies Association and the Black Radical Congress. Diane has spoken widely on women and slavery in the 19th century, on Black women and sexuality, and Black women in the academy. Most recently she has spoken in Brazil on the rise of Black conservatives in the United States and on Hurricane
Katrina in Tunisia.”

Like Diane, Peter had the chops, as jazz people say, to play his own tune, a beautiful tune reflecting realities forged in the fires of life lived hard, but tempered, at last, by the love of others, and had he not been so rudely and roughly brought down, there is no telling just how many contributions he might have made to the betterment of us all. He was a bright, clever, intrepid and determined man of charm and grace, and the world is a poorer place for his loss.

Post Script

When he died, there was a tiny paid death notice in the New York Times stating that Diane and his brother Raymond would be announcing the time of his memorial service. And, in due time, it was held in the beautiful, soaring Cathedral of St. John the Divine, right up the street from where he lived and loved and practiced his medicine. And, it is entirely appropriate and just, it seems to me, that the priest who officiated at the service of my friend Peter – former addict and street hustler turned loving partner and gentle healer – was none other than the fabled Bishop of New York, The Right Reverend Paul Moore.

There is no panel for Peter in the AIDS quilt, but there should be. And while these Profiles in Grace are written to illuminate the lives of those we lost rather than to document their deaths, there was another article published after Peter died – a touching and painful-to-read piece about the last years of his life – that was dedicated to his memory by its author, Professor Carolyn Ellis of the University of South Florida. If you would like to read it, you can find at this link: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/240761189_Speaking_of_Dying_An_Ethnographic_Short_Story  .

I was able to speak with Diane about all this only once, back in the summer, and she was very up front about the pain of it all, and how difficult it is, even now, to talk about Peter and their time together. Nevertheless, when I suggested glossing over some of Peter’s earlier difficulties, she was quite clear that I should tell his story accurately, warts and all. “It’s already out there,” she told me, “I wrote the story myself and published it some years ago, so please feel free to tell it like it was. It’s no good to anyone if you don’t tell the truth.”

And so I have. Peter Frazer, if there were a dean’s list for life, you would surely be near the top. We hardly knew ye, my friend, and you are truly Gone Too Soon.

Acknowledgements:

First and foremost, I have to acknowledge Diane Harriford for her help in making this  profile possible. I am also indebted to Professor Carolyn Ellis of the University of South Florida for helping me connect the dots, to the delightful and extremely helpful Patrice M. Kane at the Walsh Family Library of the Fordham University Rose Hill Campus for sending me the yearbook photo and a copy of the death notice, and Google Streetview for both the photo of the house in Ambrosden as well as Mrs. Smulewicz’s house on West 69th Street. Thank you all.

© 2016 by George Thomas Wilson, all rights reserved

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#dollyofanothercolor

30438688463_6bb766bd43_oI’ll make this very brief. I was heading downtown on the subway today and sitting right across from me was a little Asian girl about five years old who was clearly in love with her new plaything, a beautiful African-American doll with big bright eyes and huge smile. And, as I watched her adjust the dolly’s dress and pull up her tiny socks, I had the happy casual thought that, thanks to that little doll, here was a child who would never be prejudiced against people of color .

And, then, it hit me like a slap of angel wings! Of course! Dolly of Another Color!

But let me digress: over the course of the past few months, I think we have all learned something about our country, our local areas and even ourselves when it comes to racial prejudice. When the Supreme Court came out with the Shelby decision a few years back (that basically eviscerated the Voting Rights Act) they said the Act was no longer needed since racism, by and large, no longer existed in America; that people of color need not worry any more about being disenfranchised. Of course, recent events have made it very clear to all of us that those five foolish men got it horribly wrong. Racism is not only alive and well in this country, it’s truly much worse than we thought.

If Donald J. Trump’s election has done nothing else, it has allowed this subterranean truth to rise to the surface and expose the underbelly of racial attitudes in our country, and it is not a pretty sight. But you can’t fix a problem until you know you have one, so it can only be to the good, however ugly, that this election has shown truth to power, has brought this great infection of our national body politic to a place where, at least, it can be treated and, some day with a great deal of effort and love, cured for all time.

Examples are rife, if you need them, but apocryphal is the tale of two Clay, WV women, both government officials (including the mayor), who, after the election, found themselves in hot water for calling Michelle Obama an “Ape in heels.” I suppose they suddenly felt empowered, now that their man had won. The mayor, who had retweeted the comment with the additional note, “You made my day!,” said later in her apology:  “Those who know me know that I’m not of any way racist,” and the astonishing thing is that I have no doubt that she really believed what she said!

“O wad some Pow’r the Giftie gie us
To see oursels as ithers see us!” –
Rob’t. Burns

You see, one of the greatest difficulties in confronting our racism arises from our inability to even see and gauge our own attitudes because we came by them as naturally as breathing from the time we were born, and like any other resemblance we may have to our families, they are practically invisible to us. As Rogers and Hammerstein so perfectly said in South Pacific:

“You’ve got to be taught before it’s too late,
Before you are six or seven or eight,
To hate all the people your relatives hate,
You’ve got to be carefully taught!”

“Okay,” I can hear you say, “But what can I  do about that? I’m not the one who’s got the problem, and even if I were, this is a bigger issue than any one of us can confront. At least, not without creating more heat than light!”

Well, that’s where #dollyofanothercolor comes in.

The beauty of this idea is that it accomplishes two very important – hugely important – things, but first, my proposal: That we all do whatever we can to encourage everyone we can to make sure that every young child we know is given a dolly of another color this year for the holidays. This could include action figures for boys as well as dolls for girls (or vice-versa if you object to gender-specificity in toy giving), but the important thing is to help the child grow to have affection for the toy, and by extension, to inoculate him or her from a lifetime of disrespect for ‘the other.’

That’s the most obvious reason to participate in this push, but there is another, more subtle beauty to this proposal, it seems to me, and it goes right to the problem of our inability to gauge our own degree of prejudice. If you say to your sister you’re thinking about giving her child a dolly of another color, she will learn, from her own reaction, just where she stands on the issue of prejudice, and you will, too. How would you feel if it happened to you? What degree of prejudicial feeling do you have buried deep within that might surface? Surely this is something we all need to learn in these days if we are ever to have any chance of truly cleaning out the rot of racism that is apparently marbled throughout the land.

So, I’m going to do what I can to create a meme: #dollyofanothercolor to try to move this idea into the mainstream. It may not work, but I can try, and I’ll know this campaign is a success when I read a news item someday close to Christmas that the toy companies are finding it difficult to meet the demand for dolls of color because so many of their white customers have been demanding them. It’s a tiny thing. It’s tangible. It’s inexpensive. It’s therapeutic. And anyone can do it!

To help me move this needle, I’m reaching out to Dolly Parton and some other Dollys I know in hopes of making a Youtube or two, and I invite you – no, urge you – to join me in this effort by whatever means, including sharing this post or writing your own. We have to address racism where it starts, and for almost everyone, it starts in the nursery, so that’s where we have to go.

Thanks for listening. Know hope. Sending with Love. #dollyofanothercolor

© 2016 by George Thomas Wilson, all rights reserved.

 

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