I had been sitting in the basement, in the dining room, when a woman entered the room. I’ll call her Elaine. Prior to that night I’d spoken with Elaine only once or twice, once in passing, once in uncomfortable and rooted presence at that same table under a similar circumstance. 10:30 pm or so; dinner alone.
Elaine is a doctoral student at Oxford who is about as young as my mother. Her dissertation is on widows in Africa—the details escape me. She stayed at the hall for a week or so to meet with advisors before flying to central Africa to interview women. The night of this story was the final night of her stay at Oxford.
Dinner alone, probably bow tie pasta or lentils and rice with the usual vegetable or two (green onion, tomato) and yogurt somehow included in it all. I finish eating, wash my dishes, and sit back down for a while. For the first time in a year or so—for the first time since I sat across a different table from a good friend in a city thousands of miles away and listened to him tell me that for God to use me where I am I need to first admit to myself where I am and the place where I was at that time and where I am still today is that I’m attracted to men; I’m gay—for the first time since accepting that about myself I am experiencing depression. I’m far from my family and my dog and I’m far from my friends. I’m far from my amazing university with all of the supportive people there who love on me. And while I do have new friends here, and wonderful ones at that, I am not at home. I am abroad, living in a building that is one of the world’s centers for Evangelicalism. While I am absolutely grateful for the opportunity to study here and get to know the interesting and good people here, I have been uncomfortable being myself. I have been uncomfortable wearing the clothes that remind me of the place I last considered home because when I wear them people stare at me and I assume that they are staring because they know that I am gay and dislike me for it. At this point in my stay I was beginning to experience paranoia. With that comes depression and the fear that I will live alone forever, boiling my pasta or lentils and rice with the usual vegetables and yogurt, washing my dishes, and sitting back down in the company of an immaterial family and a silent God, life as void. My fear of you God / it is the fear of silence / I speak and you say… What? What do you say? Elaine enters the room, returns the dishes she came to return, and sits down to look at me.
After pleasantries, we resume the conversation we had begun a few days earlier under similar circumstances. Life, vocation, passion. But then, “How are you?” The thumb in the dike, the culvert at the Battle of Hornburg, she found it. I do not believe in coincidence under such circumstances, so I hesitantly describe to her a bit of the aloneness I am experiencing and the reason for it. After some commiseration, she tells me of a conference she once attended that was focused on the Holy Spirit.
“This really isn’t my area,” she says slowly, “but one of the speakers spoke about the life he had been living—the gay lifestyle—and how he was waiting in a hospital bed for the results of an HIV test when Jesus appeared at the foot of his bed and said, ‘I’m not just going to heal your sexuality, I’m going to heal all of you.’ Then he… he left the gay lifestyle behind and married a woman and now he has a family. I’m not sure whether that is a helpful thing for you to hear or not…”
I told her that if God wants to make me straight, that’s great, and if God doesn’t want to make me straight, that’s great, too. I also told her that I don’t believe that so-called reparative therapy is a healthy or valid option for the vast majority of people. She raised me one and said that she doesn’t believe any therapy is valid unless the Spirit is involved.
“What would a full life look like for you?”
She asks good questions.
I responded saying that it would be knowing what God wants me to be doing and doing it. And although I think I’m headed in the right direction—grad school for English or an MDiv then teaching, or, if the recurrent itch becomes a call, preaching. Somehow.
“What else would living a full life mean for you?”
Embarrassed at the mundane nature of my next answer, I said, “Having a dog.”
After some talk about dogs, she asked again, “What else would be a part of living a full life for you?”
My next response came to me easily: living near my family and friends.
“Maybe it’s just because my parents have been great parents, but my idea of a full life includes having kids. I really want to have a family.”
I don’t remember her response to this. I do remember her praying for me at the end of our long talk. A long prayer, partly in tongues. She washed the glass she had filled with water for me to drink while we spoke.
“When do you leave?” she asked me.
“My program ends December 14,” I said.
She thought for a while.
“December 14. That is fifty days from now. This will be your Pentecost.”
Please note that while much of this is written in the present tense, the language refers to the described night specifically and the weeks surrounding it generally. Things have been a bit better for me as I’ve become more comfortable and as the processes that drive my depression, whatever the hell they are, have been less persistent. It is important for me to write this because although things have been so much better this past year, it would be false to say that hard times won’t come again no more. In writing about it, I can see it as a part of a narrative—part of a good story that has its difficult moments.
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Thank you for sharing, Sam. You are wonderful.
You make my life full, Sam. Such a privilege.