A Poet and A Painter
Everyone is good at something. Sometimes the skills we possess feed into a career path. Other times those skills are utilized as an avocation. Persons approaching, or having achieved retirement have more time to hone these skills into an enjoyable pastime. Some might include becoming a master gardener, a gourmet cook, or even a scratch golfer.
Mark is a poet. My friend has a gift for words that he uses to express his faith. This started at an early age, according to Mark. “I can't remember a time when I wasn't writing. From elementary school onward, I loved creating poetry and short stories. In high school, I turned to my writing in a big way, contributing poems to the literary magazine, and poetry and occasional movie reviews to the school newspaper. At graduation, I won an award for “Excellence in Creative Writing,” and I vowed at that moment to 'be a writer.’
Mark's path has led him over the years to a unique time and place. “At this moment in time, I am finding purpose in writ-ing progressive new lyrics to be sung to familiar hymn tunes. Hearing these hymns sung in church settings is profoundly humbling and deeply moving.”
Here are two stanzas Mark wrote, to the tune of “Be Thou My Vision (SLANE).” It is titled, “Who, Where, When.”
Who is my neighbor and who my true kin?
Who, though not joined by blood, lives as my kin?
All who like Jesus are makers of peace,
working together that violence may cease.
When is the right time for justice to come,
Plenty for all, none with barely a crumb?
Now is that moment, no day but today;
time to take action, not just think and pray.
Sheldon is a painter. My friend started at the age of eight, when art lessons became a way of life and expression for him. As Sheldon shares, “I attended the Maryland Institute College of Art, where I was able to explore many styles and media. I then completed a Masters of Arts in teaching. I began my career in elementary art education, and went on to spend 31 meaningful years in that profession. [Today,] I am creating many watercolor and gouache paintings, with a goal of celebrating the beauty of God's creation.”
The poet met the painter in 1989, when Mark transferred his teaching position from one Baltimore County school to another. While Mark stopped at the school office to introduce himself, the administrators smiled at one another in an interesting way. Mark asked them why they were smiling, and they admitted they both thought Mark would like to meet the art teacher, Sheldon. Thirty-one years later, they still enjoy being husbands to one another and sharing life together.
Sheldon came out in a dramatic way at the age of 19. “I was a sensitive kid, gravitating toward artistic expression over typical 'boy' activities. My actual coming out was via an attempted overdose. In the hospital after that misguided act, my parents said, 'If you did this because you couldn't tell us you were gay, we already knew that, and we love you just as you are.' That parental acceptance freed me to live into my reality.”
Mark describes his coming out as being “by osmosis.” As he relates, “I never formally came out verbally. Instead, I let my orientation become obvious over time. A favorite memory is the moment when my mother, in and out of consciousness two days before she passed away, reached for Sheldon's hand and said, 'I'm so glad Mark found you.' My mother died peacefully, knowing that I would be well-loved for the rest of my life.”
Mark and Sheldon are both committed to social justice issues. In his teen years, Mark “discovered the music and politics of Joan Baez and, through her writings, began learning about Gandhi. I am passionate in my efforts toward the abolition of the death penalty, racial and LGBTQ equality, and nonviolence in all situations.” Sheldon joined the effort through Mark's influence.
Mark Gruber and Sheldon Lebowitz have roots in Rehoboth Beach. They both taught locally for several years before returning to Baltimore in the midst of family health concerns. They are ardent supporters of CAMP Rehoboth. As Mark shares, “When we lived in Rehoboth full-time, we enjoyed participating in CAMP Rehoboth activities such as condom-wrapping. We have been Sundance sponsors, and recently renewed our engagement with CAMP by leading the monthly book group via Zoom.” The poet and the painter, creating melodies and canvases of love, sharing life together, giving of themselves to others.
My wife and I are glad to be your friends.▼
David Garrett is a straight advocate for equality and inclusion. He is also the proud father of an adult trans daughter. Email David Garrett at email@example.com.