I Was Totally Oblivious
Many years ago, Andrew and I met at a church conference. I was a Protestant minister, while Andrew was a Roman Catholic priest. The focus of this conference was Group Dynamics, which was supposed to help us be better leaders in our respective churches. Houses of worship are comprised of groups of groups. If we can understand how individuals operate within a group setting, we maximize the contributions each person makes in their respective group. Or at least, it was supposed to go something like that. This was the mid-1980s, and there was a lot of navel-gazing going on. Group dynamics were all the rage.
The only person who I ever stayed in touch with from that conference was Andrew. There was something that resonated between the two of us; we enjoyed each other’s company and had the same wry sense of humor. After that particular conference, we needed a few good laughs. A few years passed by with us staying in touch occasionally. We finally reunited for a long weekend in Ocean City, MD, where I had called Andrew to join me. Those were the darkest days prior to my impending divorce, and I really needed his insight and support. My good friend gave it willingly and genuinely. I poured out all my fears and anxieties about becoming a divorced pastor. Andrew listened, reflected, and gave me hope for life after divorce.
Life interfered, as it tends to do. Andrew and I stayed in touch off and on, and then one day he dropped a bombshell on me. Andrew shared that he was gay, and had recently made a serious career decision. As a Catholic priest, being gay was a conflict of theology, a conflict of lifestyle. Andrew had wrestled with the question: Would he repress his sexuality and continue his priesthood, or should he be true to himself and live the life for which he was created? Thankfully he chose the latter.
Recently, I reflected on that weekend in OC. How had I not known that Andrew was gay? Were there cues that I missed? Had Andrew said something in coded language that I completely overlooked? Was I so consumed with my own problems, directing all our conversation to my divorce, that I did not allow Andrew to share what was on his heart? These questions nagged at me. And yet, to my discredit, I let those uncertainties linger for years.
Reading cues and discerning coded language are two ways to determine if someone might be gay. But the more I think about it, the more I realize that Andrew had likely not given me any cues or spoken in coded language. If this was the case, how was I to know? Was it even a possibility that I had given off vibes that created the impression that I was homophobic? I consider myself a pretty accepting kind of guy, and doubt that I came across as homophobic. But if not, then what was the problem? Why was I totally oblivious?
Not long ago, I gathered up my courage and called Andrew to have a frank conversation about this. I had given him notice beforehand that this was what I wanted to discuss. Via email, I wondered if he would be willing to share with me what it was I did or did not do that made me totally oblivious. Of course, being the friend that he is, Andrew was willing to share his perspective on this part of our history.
As he and I recounted that weekend in Ocean City so many years ago, revisiting our mindsets and the difficulties both of us were facing, Andrew shared something with me that loosened the bonds of my nagging self-judgment. My dear friend told me that it was not that I was totally oblivious to his sexual orientation, rather it was that he was still wrestling with it himself. At that point, Andrew had not been able to share that aspect of his life with me. What a revelation for me!
People have choices in life. They can choose to stay in superficial relationships and friendships, then cruise through life, knowing that these insincere connections can be easily discarded if any conflict or disagreement arises. Or, people can choose to have genuine relationships and friendships that carry with them the responsibility to give as much as they take. The path to authenticity is full of risk. We must risk our vulnerabilities, our fears and our shortcomings in order to mine the gold of truth and validation. As any financial advisor would say, “No risk, no reward.” The rewards of living life to the fullest, with relationships and friendships that are both deep and wide, are worth all the risks we have the ability to tolerate. That is what I choose, to have an authentic relationship with my good friend Andrew…who just happens to be gay.