Pastoral Ministry Paper
In this introduction I will discuss the different forms and styles of mentoring. It has been my experience that it takes many forms depending on the circumstances that are present at the time of need. Mentoring can be simple discussion or can evolve into a full on hands on work experience as I have experienced in the past when it came to working with my team in caring for people with Aids. That is where the notion of Pastoral Ministry came into being, but at the time, it never dawned on me that I would call it that. I was just doing what came naturally taking my cues from the men around me that I happened to be involved with.
It takes a village to care for sick individuals because of the type of care that they require. Everyone on the team played their role in caring for the individual. It was very simple; if a need arose one addressed that need and took care of it as one was able. In my paper I discussed the memories of working in that aspect of team work under the auspices of a nightclub. There was more going on in that nightclub than slinging beer and picking up trash.
Our community was united in doing many things at once, and it was my experience that this was the perfect forming ground to instill in me the desire to be of service and to help my fellow. We cooked for people, we took them to doctors, we fed and bathed them and in the end when they died, we prepared them and buried them, all by the efforts of a team of men who went above and beyond the call of duty where our sick brethren were concerned.
As I grew up with my Aids diagnosis I came into contact with a priest who introduced me to reading, to a greater extent. Two books that impacted me at the time, and have become for me integral teaching tools are Margaret Craven’s “I Heard the Owl Call my Name” and Reverend James Close’s “No One to call me Home.” James Close’s book tells the story of a priest who is administrator of an orphanage in Chicago Illinois, it is an incredible little book that helped me greatly in the ways that I mentor my kids and help with other tasks that need to be accomplished in my mentor’s circle.
In dealing with disease the entire community is in action to help one another which is a huge responsibility and takes a team to complete what needs to be done. And I learned that first hand. Today, in my mentor circle the needs are not so dire and we don’t have to contend with life altering medical issues.
Today our mentors circle we deal with the every day and sometimes trivial happenings of everyday life. I have learned what it means to be accountable to my fellow in working with others in a pastoral means, although one would not necessarily title that work as pastoral when religion does not come up in the conversation. We were just serving the needs of people in our community.
This work, as hard and complicated as it was, prepared me for what was to come, as I work today in my circle. Academically, we have a group of men who take time out of their days when needed to help in the care of young people. Most of my work today happens to be one on one work, where I am in direct contact with my kids on a daily basis. I also tap the wellspring of experience of the other men in the circle to augment my own work. All of the men in our circle have specific skills that all of us can tap at a moments notice. We all have separate lives but when needed we can come together to give spiritual or concrete life skills advice.
Pastoral services come in many forms. It stems from ones desire to be of service and to have the goal in mind of being ‘Jesus’ to the people we meet on the journey. I have been in the ministry of the care of LGBTQ kids for many years, which stemmed from my work with men who were dying of Aids. Human beings are multifaceted and they require many forms of care and support. The most important aspect of this pastoral care is presence. To be present and to sit and listen to persons needs is crucially important. I learned from my team in caring for people with Aids that much is required for one with such great responsibility.
Today, here in Montreal I am employed in the service of people who are newly diagnosed with Aids. I meet with them and we talk about life and what will change and what it will take to live a prosperous life. I take this work very seriously and work diligently to help each person set up life skills set that will help them deal with where they are and where they are going. This work translates into a long term relationship with each diagnosee where I am in contact with them over the long haul to make sure that they are dealing with life on life’s terms and that they are coping well with the incredible change in their life circumstances.
Pastoral ministry is not all about religion, but it is all about God. It is serving one another in ways that may not occur. It is a way of life that is taught and integrated into our lives as human beings. I have worked in several circles of care and I have seen what a team of people can to attempt to care for sick individuals. From home care, to medical support and end of life circumstances it takes a village.
Pastoral practice in the context of teamwork is very simple. Where there is a need, there are people that are prepared to help our kids in whatever they need. Teamwork is very important when it comes to the raising of kids into the world. I have my skills and sometimes I need to tap the well for other advice and support and I get that from my circle. In our circle there are spiritual advisers available, men with parenting skills that are necessary to all of us, who are not parents ourselves when dealing with our kids.
It takes many hours a day sometimes when we are dealing with certain circumstances. I fulfill the role of parent with many of my kids. And I have learned these skills in working with others over the whole of my life. When necessary I speak with my mentors and we talk about what is going on with me and my kids and we formulate ways to help them together. I don’t make many of my decisions on my own. I always bounce my ideas off at least one other person in my circle to make sure I am on the right track.
Firstly, many of my skills in pastoral care came from life experience. Secondly, I read, I read many books that deal with ministry that I can incorporate into my work with others. Thirdly, I have learned many aspects of pastoral care through the vehicle of classes on the topic of Pastoral Ministry. I have written several papers on the topic of my ministry with LGBTQ kids in the past year. It is hard work but very rewarding. I am told that I have a calling to ministry, by men of faith like Monsignor Harty of the Catholic Diocese of Montreal.
All of my skills have been honed in life experience. And stem from a desire to work with others. And those skills have benefited me in working in teams. It is not a team as in a business sense where everyone has an office and does their share of the work. But the team we have is committed to the pastoral care of individuals as the need arises. Each young person is assessed and then the team comes together the figure out what to do next.
And we usually reach consensus and then we move forwards. These are my observations that come to mind when I consider pastoral practice in the context of team work.
Out teams are not so regimented and do not occupy a “box” of space. But we are a fluid group of men who, with each other’s skills available, come together to help those in need and to make it our goal to serve the greater good.
Pastoral Ministry –Working in Task Groups
A life well taught and well lived…
I have been thinking a lot about what I wanted to write about this topic and how I came to be where I am today. I think it is important to look at where this all began and why this began in the first place because from that base we will be able to see why this work is so important today. Many years ago I was involved in several communities of people, People with Aids, The Leather community of Ft. Lauderdale Florida and my religious affiliations. I served these communities to the best of my abilities because they were helping me keep a roof over my head and food in my pantry. My goal as the years passed by was to give back in some concrete way to show my gratitude to those who gave freely and without judgment to me when I most needed it.
If I am honest about the life I lived, I could tell you stories of how I came to learn about pastoral ministry and how I learned to work with others. So I have decided to deviate from my outline and share with you some stories that were written after the fact, through the vehicle of my blog, they are, in my opinion, some of the greatest writings I have ever done. All of my educational training came over the years of 1992 through 1996. This story begins prior to my Aids diagnosis and carried on for several years afterwards. I used to frequent a certain nightclub that was leather oriented. It came to pass that through my support and my desire to come to know these men, I would eventually end up working as staff for this certain nightclub when it moved from the location where it was to the location that we purchased some months after I started frequenting the club. But before I can tell you that story I must first start from the beginning, my connection to God.
Let us first talk about God and my relationship with that God. I will tell you the first of several stories that will tell you the story of my life as it happened in real time through the vehicle of my blog. You need to know how I came to know God prior to ever being associated to anyone sick with Aids. All these stories will take you on a spiritual journey for you my reader. It will also illustrate just how God moved in my life through the persons of the people I met, came to know, and eventually love.
Here is Naked and Sacred…
- Naked and Sacred –
As a young child I have fond memories of old churches and polished pews and candles flickering in dark corners of the building, statues of saintly persons who looked out over the congregational spaces and the dark corner grottos making sure we knew that they were watching over us and praying in tandem with the many who came to find peace, solace and faith within those walls.
I remember that day that my Memere took me to that grand church all alone, just her and I and God. It was an afternoon event; she brought me here for mass on a regular basis. These were the days of the old missal books and rosaries, women wearing lace over their faces, it was an ethnic parish church attended by many from ethnic communities all around.
On that day she took me to the church, she had a purpose. I remember this as if it was yesterday because, in my minds eye, this was very important to her. We went to light some candles and leave our offering in that little tin box attached to the candle display, we sat in quiet supplication and adoration before the Blessed Sacrament, and we lingered to hear the voice of God speak to us. I am sure that Memere and God had brokered an agreement over me.
After a while she got up from her place and she gathered me to herself and we walked to the edge of the banister that protected the main altar from people walking up on the dais. The banister was open, as if to welcome us to step up there – so with great pride Memere walked me ahead of her until I was standing on the dais before God. I must admit there were no words that were spoken to me; this is where the agreement must have been made. Memere looked up that the altar, then at her favorite statue and then beckoned God to look down upon us and take us into His arms and protect us. In that moment I believe I had been “consecrated” to Christ and to God and the Blessed Mother, not to mention Marguerite D’ Youville. (This will be explained later in the timeline)
Memere had a “tight” relationship with God. Her homes were shrines to the family that had gone before us, to the saints who protected us, and the God who gave us life. I always felt naked before God in her house. As if God sat with us daily and saw us for whom we really were simple God fearing folk. I never for one moment feared God. There was nothing I could not say to Him nor ask of Him, but I also knew that there were things one just did not ask of God, because greed and excess were not part of Memere’s lexicon.
I learned to pray the rosary as a young boy, we went to mass frequently. I don’t know if my mother and father were aware that I had so much “sacred time” in my early life. I am sure she knew that if I was with Memere that I would go where she went and I would love her for taking me and I would love the adventure of going to see God all the time.
The church of old is not the church of now, unless of course you live in Montreal and have living “great” relatives who live in a convent not far from home.
Being the first of two children in a family firmly grounded in the late 1960’s brought a lot of opportunities to me as that first child. I had three years on my brother. Three years are a big deal. I had the adoration of the matriarch’s of the family; I had three years of unadulterated wisdom taught to me over time. My time was my own; there was no one to deflect that attention away from me, which endeared me to the hearts of the women of the family. But secrets existed, secrets that would one day turn my life upside down.
My father was an abusive man; he came back from Viet Nam with major issues. I was born out of the man who came back from war, damaged and lost. He took a wife of Canadian blood, gave her an ultimatum and got her pregnant. I was there at the wedding, my mother carrying me in her womb, walked down the aisle that day and agreed to bear his children and live by his rules and regulations. My father, the racist, bigot that he was wanted to force a continental divide to rise from the ground to separate that which made my mother who she was and force her to become the woman he required.
That divide never rose, and my father’s resentment of the maternal “nursery” that I entered as a child began. I guess this is why I am so maternal, because all the men in the family were war shaken and damaged. They worked all the time in business, in the fields and in factories. It was up to the women to rear the children into the people we were to become. My father’s resentment of my presence was well known. Later in my life I would be told of the fact that my father wanted to kill me, that I was a mistake and should never have been born. He tried many times to snuff my light out as quick as he could. The one thing that he did not expect was the backlash that came in the form of vociferous rebukes by the matriarch’s of the family, hence my “consecration to God.” If I was consecrated to the Almighty, then my father’s plan for ending my life would never come to fruition.
I remember being chased through houses by drunk men in my life, I remember my grandmothers standing in doorways between me huddling beneath a bed, hiding for my life, and my drunk and angry father fighting with them to let him “do it already!” He wanted nothing more than to wipe me off the face of the earth. The women of my family tell me that he fought often with them to abuse me and to hurt me and eventually to kill me.
They were not going to let that happen, my mother was powerless to try and stop him, why, they had an agreement, and she was his bitch, and she did what he said without argument! That was his way unto this very day.
When I was born he gave me my name. I was given to the earth as the man he loved from the war, who died in the war, so every time he looked at me or said my name or heard my name called, the memory of “one dead soldier” would rise to the fore. What kind of man places that kind of sadistic torture on himself? Was he hoping to exorcise that memory from his brain by personal reprogramming? I think there was more to this story than met the eye. Yes, there was, it took me decades to divine the truth from those who knew, and in hindsight I was able to complete the puzzle.
At age 30 I changed that name and exorcised it from my life, it was the final conflict that separated me from my parents. Being gay – HIV Positive and changing my name was three strikes, I was now damned to live without parents. He made damn sure of that.
Needless to say, faith was a priority; God would protect and save me. My grandmothers agreement with God was non negotiable with any one else. Not that my father knew she had this deal on the table. Women are tricky characters you know! When Memere beckoned upon those she regarded as spiritually powerful, hell hath no fury like the wrath of an angry saint and my grandmother generating the turbine of retribution with her dedicated prayers.
Who was God? And why should I care? Because it was beaten into me that I was a mistake and should never have been born, for 18 years my father made it his life’s work to destroy me mentally and emotionally. Later on in my 30’s the revelation of my sexual abuse at my father’s hands would rise from my sobering mind. And you think HE had issues? I went to church, as a young boy. I would complete all my sacraments in the order of succession. I would be in communion with the church I would pray my rosary and my novenas. God was present in my daily life. I was always naked when I was sacred. There was nothing I held back from God, because my relationship with God was between him and me. To stand before God is to be naked in his sight. How much more sacred could it be?
My parent’s went to church off and on. After my brother was born in 1970, my mother found out she was RH positive and a tubiligation was ordered by her OB because she might not live through another pregnancy, and so it was done. This act of “birth control” forced an issue that divides the church and her people to this day. A woman’s right to decide proper birth control and the church’s position that if one impedes the ability of a woman to conceive then you are outside the rule of mother church.
My parents were dealt a swift blow by the parish priest where they were married. That priest, by order of Holy Mother Church, was bound to defend the party line of those times; he excommunicated them both from the church – which meant that they could no longer receive the sacraments. I have to assume my mother was crushed and my father couldn’t give a damn.
Years would pass, life would go on, God still existed in my life, and we, as a family went to church, I remember that much. It came to pass in my years as a pre-teen that we moved to the third home of transition, when I was in grade six. This afforded my parents entry into suburbia. It was a very big step up from where we had been socially and economically. We had made it into the “big time.” My father was proud of this accomplishment. I remember the day we saw the house, we all loved it, and it was sacred. It was in the right place, for the right money and had just the right charm to allow my parents to afford it.
St. Richard’s parish was less than a mile away; schools were “in the neighborhood” and all was well. My father’s drinking began in earnest so did his abuse, not only of me, but my brother and mother. My mother sought out the parish priest whom would play a large part in my later seminary formation at a later date. They began the process of becoming redeemed in the church; this process took almost 4 years, after decades of living in sin.
My father’s parents were cursed in the years when I was in grade seven and eight. The curse first took my grandmother with a stroke; I was taken from school at age thirteen and flown 1500 miles to her bedside where my father expected that I would be the one to bring her back across the divide. Since I was his first born son, and had the connection I did with her that seeing me would ignite the fire that went out in her brain. I failed to re-ignite the flame. I don’t think my father ever forgave me for my failure to heal his mother. A year later my grandfather was hit with a stroke one year to the day of my grandmother, but he was no favorite of mine, and I did nothing to help him. He abused us all, and for that abuse, death was right punishment.
At age 15, I entered High School. This was a very important period for me. I met a circle of friends that would impact the rest of my life. St. Louis Parish was one block from the High School which I was attending. The youth minister on duty at that time used to open his office at lunch and that is where people would gather to pray, to meet and talk and to learn about God. Who knew it would lead me where it did.
It was in my grade ten year that I would make my confirmation. In order to make that confirmation, my parent’s needed to step up their game in attaining absolution from the church for their “faux pas” with the church over birth control. The Pastor of the parish spoke to them, and gave them counsel and I remember that day he told those, in his Irish Brogue, “the hell with that priest and his excommunication.” I remember my mother doing the happy dance the day that God re-entered our home. He never left, I mean he was in my room, I wasn’t quite sure of any other room in the house up until that point, but for my parents that was the biggest coup of their lives.
When I was home alone on many an occasion, I prayed and I listened to music and in my sacred space within my room I would become naked and sacred. I believed that God was with me, and he protected me, because I really needed it. My father had once again stepped up his attacks, and they were getting even more brutal. My friends all came from broken homes, parent’s divorced, splitting up or on the way there… I was a misfit like all of them. These were the years I spent more time out of my own house than in it. I just could not cope with the ritual mental, emotional and physical abuse.
Where was God when it hurt?
High school was hit and misses, God was here and he was not. I followed him and I cursed him through both sides of my mouth. I was becoming addicted to alcohol; I was starting to slip in school. My relationship with my parents was strained and the priests and ministers of the church had to do something lest they loose me to the statistics of teen tragedy.
I was given chores at church. Any free time was spent working on cleaning the church and keeping the sacristy in tip top shape. I had access to areas of “church” that not many had. In those years the rectory was on site and I spent a lot of time in that rectory doing chores and loving every moment of that time.
Those priests kept me from self destruction. My consecration to God had begun once again. I guess once you are given to God, you don’t have to ask again. Hindsight shows me that I was being groomed for greater things. What my father “beat” out of me, the church replaced in me. What my father on earth took – my heavenly father gave back ten fold. I was in the right place at the right time, when the priests of the parish began to entertain me with seminary speak, serving the church and the greater good. Was I good enough to wear a robe to preach to the masses, to herd a flock?
From the age of ten through out my later life, I was aware of my sexuality. In that I mean I knew how it worked. I knew the finer details of sex and sexual variations. My parents lived a double life, which I was privy to. Knowing the secret sex lives of my parents was an addiction. I couldn’t get enough. Why was I like this? Where did this all begin? I can’t say, and I really don’t want to know when it all began.
I had had relationships in my teen years with others, WHAT I was – was not an issue at any time during my formative years, although I heard the word queer and faggot come out of my parent’s mouths frequently. Our family had been introduced to “homosexuals” when we made that third and final move by friends my parent had and we blessed to have.
I did not identify myself in any “other” term than heterosexual well through my high school years. I dated girls, I had relationships, and I went to prom. I never questioned who I was openly, but between God and myself there was a lot of discussion and praying. Masturbation became a sacred activity, because it happened when God and I were alone. I wanted that sacred experience – to feel that divine communion with the God of my understanding, I wanted to feel sublime love in sacred terms. I’ve never had sex with a woman; I never had sexual inclinations towards the girls I dated in school. I was chaste in that way, but I was profane when left to my own devices.
After completing high school I attended one year of junior college and I failed miserably. I had no tools; I had no knowledge about the “world at large.” My parents never taught me about “transition.” This is the KEY moment in a young person’s life. I know that now, and I teach that to my boys and my fellows. That was when the priests of our parish suggested that I consider the seminary. It was a possible and real option. I got the necessary letters of recommendation and filed my application with the diocese. I was put through my paces and psychological testing, and I passed the boards with a clean sweep.
At this point of my life, my grandparents were getting old. My father’s parents did not know who they were cursed by strokes, Memere was living in a retirement home 1500 miles away, but she saw me enter seminary. When Memere consecrated me to God on that day many years ago in that church came full circle the day I moved into my room at the seminary. All her prayers and novenas were now fulfilled. I was safe for eternity.
I loved God with all my heart and all my soul and all my being. It was unlike any feeling I had every felt before. I remember moving in that day and walking with my parents around the grounds. My mother was so proud, my father had no choice, and he was hell bent on my destruction, my mother on my survival. The battle of the wills was raging on in front of my very eyes. God would win that days cavalry charge. We said goodbye and my mother cried as I walked them to their car and they drove off.
It took a few days to get used to being in the seminary. I sought quiet spaces to commune with God. I went to the chapel whenever I could. There were chapels located on the upper floors of the residence hall where we could pray and have mass said for us. It was the closest to the sacred nakedness I longed for, that I would get that year. God was all powerful and loving. I was there to do one thing, find the way to Him, to serve him to love him in the most sublime way.
The Eucharist became the ritual that would bring me closer to God. I sang my heart out; I prayed until the beads ripped through my hands, I walked in circles until there were ruts in my gardens. (I was a seminary gardener) during that years. It was in this year that things became clear to me. I started to hear God’s voice. I was just a boy in a big world. I was unprepared for the drama of living with others in such tight quarters. My every decision was scrutinized. My every prayer was spell checked. My intentions and motives were questioned. My classmates became my judges but I observed them as well.
My quest to find God was not the same quest that my fellows were on. It had seemed that “identity” was the issue on the table. Many of my peers had figured out their identity and were comfortable in their own skins to “practice their ways.” I had not come to this stage in my life yet. What did I know about identity? I was just this boy in a seminary trying to find my way in a world that was not kind to me. Sex was the first topic of discussion at each and every spiritual direction session I attended that year. It was one of the only lies I told to the man who was interested in my sexual proclivities. What did my masturbation have to do with the attainment of holiness? What I did alone with my God was my business and no one else’s.
I saw injustice in the church; I witnessed people being removed from service because of judgment. I witnessed the church move gay priests and some with illness to our grounds to live and work with us; they were taken from their parishes as a punishment for an unholy lifestyle. Homosexuality was right there in front of me. Grown gay men of the cloth living in community with me, and from my mouth to God’s ears, these men had more sacred reverence for God than any heterosexual holy man in residence with us at that time. I highly respected some of these men. They showed me real faith and real love for God. They gave me more in that year than others. They did not judge me nor force me to be anything but myself. It was the institution that forced choices of identity and allegiance.
I was not ready to “identify” nor was I going to pledge “allegiance” to the rector of the seminary or to mother church.
What I do know is this, that I knew then who God was for the age that I was and I was ready to sacrifice my life for that God, but I was hell bent on denying the pressures of the institution to turn a blind eye to blatant abuses of power and human dignity and respect. I had no desire of entering or pledging for the “boys club” it was beneath me. I was better than that and I wasn’t going to compromise my walk with Christ to be like them.
After a year in seminary I was told that my invitation to return the following year had been rescinded. That maybe seminary was not “the place for me.” That maybe becoming a priest was not my “calling.” Who were they to judge with blinders on their eyes? What did they really know about my relationship to God, not that any of them really wanted to know? I walked away from the church and from God.
I moved back home for a short time. That did not last very long. I got a job and traveled the world. I met His Holiness John Paul II twice in the space of 2 years. Once in the states the second time at the Vatican. He was a sainted man; he was a star in my eyes. What I did not know then would not hurt me until decades later.
In my 19th year of life I took a trip to visit family that summer, this was the first time I gave into my sexual desires for another man. It was a one night event under the influence of alcohol, but it made its mark and stuck for good. I knew what sacred felt like when I felt penetration for the first time.
It was a moment I can still recall in vivid detail. It was then I realized what sacred penetration felt like. I buried that secret deep in my heart and never shared that intimate “detail” with anyone for almost two years. I was forced out of my house by my father once again. He was still hell bent on my total annihilation.
I was “Outed” by my best friend on a cruise when I was twenty one. We never spoke again after that. I moved away to be gay, to have my coming out experience. God was no where to be found in my lexicon. He was there; I just refused to allow him into my life, because the church had shit on my spiritual journey. That I took as a clear affront by God so I retaliated.
I got drunk. I stayed inebriated for years after that.
Until that day in 1994 when the news of my impending death made me re-evaluate my relationship with God. The rest they say is history
Nothing prepares you for life like education in the real world. And it is in this tradition that I continue my stories. There is no classroom like real life. There is no other way to learn about death, than to see it for real, in real life, in real time. You learn how to live once you have stared death down in the face. This is how we learn about working in task groups; this education far outweighs any time spent in an applied human science classroom being taught technique, terms and coping skills. I did it all in real time, as it came to me without anyone to tell me how to do it first. There were no directions to follow, no user manuals, no guidebooks. I have life education that no other person I know would have today unless they walked the same route I did, experiencing the same highs, lows and in-betweens. So we continue with the stories. Each story is meant to magnify what I learned and how those lessons work in today’s ministry to my kids and fellows.
Crazy – Servant of the Bones
I am alone, it is early, the bar is not yet open, but I am there alone. Just me, the music and the spirit of God. Well, what little spirit of God there was at that time of my life. It is mid-summer in Ft. Lauderdale. I have just told Todd that I was going to die…
Over the next few weeks, the teaching would begin. The team rose to the call, one of the boys was sick and was left on the side of the road with nothing but what little dignity was left in his soul. All I needed would be provided come hell or high water. Wild Horses would never stop the charge for life. We were all sick, we were all dying. Save for two people in the entire organization. My champions would save me, if I wanted it or not. Death was not an option and I would either get it or I would die…
So it began…
At that time, the temple of sin was alive and things happened so quickly that if you blinked you would miss it. The temple was filled with every earthly delight; Dante would have been pleased with our Garden of Earthly desires, carnal, profane and truly sinful. I loved every minute of it.
The rule was set…
You have a life, outside the temple. When you come to work, you leave your baggage at the door; do not bring it in here. No exceptions. Come to work, and you will serve me your Master and do whatever you are told without question without complaint, is that clear!
I took that time of my life as sacred and profane, but that is another story. You can read about the Sacred and the Profane further below… This is another thread to a long running story of how this boy was made a man, a saved man, a profane man, and in the same vein Sacred. You never know where your lessons are going to come from, and you are grateful for the wisdom and time people took out of their lives to care for you and teach you lessons that nobody else was going to teach you. So pay attention Little One.
This is your life we are talking about…
The gobos are tracking across the floor slowly through smoke and mirrors as the music plays just for you. I learned very early on, in that space that music would identify particular moods, paint particular pictures. Farkle and I had a ritual. He IS the only one left from the fray of men who lived and died from the temple of sin. We began each shift in our own way, begging god another night, another day, another minute. I was surrounded with warriors fighting their own significant battles with AIDS.
I was not hit by the KS demon. I was not plagued by things I saw and witnessed, thank the creator. It was ugly. It was brutal and it was most importantly the fight of the century for all of us. Many men went to their deaths in our arms. We bathed them, clothed them and in the end we buried them.
When I got sober there was a man with AIDS named Larry, he was a drunk like me. But he was unique. He sat with a bottle on the table and a loaded revolver to shoot himself. He carried that gun with him and showed it to every one of us, and he told us relentlessly that he was going to kill himself. He got sober with the rest of us. Over the years following his spiritual awakening, he did something that no one else thought to do.
People with AIDS were being left in the streets. Mortuaries would not process sick people; they would not touch a body that had been infected with AIDS. Families would not bury their children. We did that. Larry opened his mortuary services to the community and he became another champion of the cause. I knew him. He eventually got rid of the gun, so I heard.
For a few minutes during transition, I would warm up the smoker, fire up the turntable and start the computer so that I could worship my God to the music of my soul. I did that every night. I worshiped whatever was going to save me.
I was servant to the men. I was servant to my Master. I was a slave for God, be he dressed or undressed. You never saw God until you witnessed true beauty of the soul in all its carnality. There is something sacredly profane about this part of my life. What went on inside the temple stayed in the temple? Many months would pass and I battled my demons of alcoholism before I finally fell into the pit of death, and there happen to be somebody watching from the sidelines.
Danny saved me that night. He was the man who cradled me in his arms, oxygen mask on my face and had called the paramedics to try and revive me. Danny took me home that night, and did not leave my apartment for a week. He fed me, bathed me and cared for me, under that watchful eye of my Master Todd. When the word was spoken, action was taken, and hell hath no fury if you did not jump when told to. Todd was very protective over his boys and men.
We were reminded that Todd had lost love to AIDS. Bob was buried across the street in the cemetery that faced our building. It was hard – it was painful, and it was sacred. Kevin and Larry did things for me that no man ever did for me in the real world. We were the three musketeers. We were the team to beat in bar management and service. We ran a tight ship and we were accountable, respectable and reliable. We proved a mighty force against the odds we all faced.
Let’s get it on…
Shift was begun at eight. The wells were filled the beer was stocked and the ice bins were full. Put your money in the drawer and let’s get the music thumping. Like clockwork at the strike of eight bells the first note hit the turntables. They were lined up around the building. Cars were parked all over the place. The temple worship had begun. Heaven was found amid the souls of suffering men who knew they were all marked for death, but for tonight, whatever you desired was fulfilled. You could drown away your sorrow and dip into the well of living water if you wished as well. You have never lived until you party like your dying with crowds of undulating flesh as far as they eye can see. The ghosts of those men now inhabit the fantasies and dreams I have still to this day.
One by one, two by two, they died in our arms. We held them until they took their last breaths. Memorialized in the careful and blood soaked threads of quilts, as the years went by, they started collecting by the dozen, then by the hundreds. If you’ve ever seen the entire quilt unfurled, all the men who were part of my life in those first years of my epidemic life, they are all together in death, as they were in life. Memorialized until the end of time. And we remember each of their names.
So many young boys torn from life before they knew what hit them. Men who infected them had died as well. Many of my friends were taken on trips that were detrimental to them, and just robbed them of life that was still left to live.
Todd saw to it that I would never go there…
You come to work, dress as you will, you obey me and do not waver from my eye, for I know your carnal desires and you are too young to tempt the devil with his dance. Because I surely did not know what could befall me if the right charmer enticed me into his web of desire, and they all knew I was fair bait. But in order to dine from my buffet, you needed explicit permission of my Master, who never allowed any man to defile me like many had been. I was off limits. I never crossed the line provided because that meant disrespect and I could never bear to break my Master’s heart with disobedience.
I loved Him, and He loved me – I had many problems. I was depressed and angry and resentful. I had the scars of traumatic visions of my dead lover’s corpse in my head, and the words of his mother still ring in my ear today “I hope that every night until you die, that you see the corpse of my dead son in your field of vision.” That curse still lives with me and will go with me to the grave. Five day old corpses are not pretty. I had to identify the remains when all was said and done. Save that he was wearing jewelry that I could identify and part of him was still recognizable – God forgive me…
I remember that day, it was early afternoon the morgue called me from work to come and do the deed. I drove in and looked upon him in that room, I wept tears that burned into my soul forever. I just could not imagine – the pain was so hard to bear. I drove over to the bar. Bill was working behind the bar. I drank until I could not stand up on my own. I drank for a week, straight…
Todd and Bill needed to find me a solution and quick, because I was on the outs.
I started suicide therapy in a group setting that lasted 32 weeks. Nothing like rehashing death week after week, until the pain was purged from your soul, but is it ever? Months went by until I got my news.
But they cared for me in all my brokenness. A young angel would earn his wings back. Come hell or high water. In the end, when all was said and done, at the end of the day I survived, but so many did not. And each night I offer them prayers in hope that when I meet my death that all of them will be waiting for me in the Temple Of Earthly Desire in the promised land of the Kingdom of God, where the sacred and profane are mingled with the blood of the Almighty and the blood of my friends who have gone before me, on that day we will be cleansed of our sins.
And forgiven by God…
So you see. I was born into a life of service even before I knew what the depth of that service would become. From my initiation in the church, through my education in all things religious, and on into life, you see that before I came to Montreal and set off in studies in Religious Education and further into Theology, I had all the education I needed to carry me into a profession of working with others many years later. Being taught lessons in the crucible of death were tragic as well as the most rewarding period of my life. Charles Dickens writes “It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.” Truly if I was granted a wish by God to revisit one time in my life it would be to return to this period of my life and maybe I would have made other decisions but that is something we could only wonder about. These stories are integral to the way I was trained in working with others and how that training impacted me as a human being. You could not ask for a better classroom to learn in than the one I had chance to walk into that fateful day I stepped foot into the old Stud that night long ago. Let us look at another series of stories.
The Sacred and the Profane
“One cannot have the Sacred without the Profane”
I alluded to the “place” that kept me sane during those first two years after my diagnosis and I’ve mentioned it several times in the narration. So let’s go there and let me show you just how I got around the issue of “Diagnosis.” This is the most important and sacred part of my personal story treat it with thought, respect and understanding, because I will now take you on a journey into another world wholly separate and other from the world that you live in today.
The Stud was a bar I frequented in the days when James and I were on the outs. I went there one night and got put in my place by a very big imposing man who would later become the man who would save my life. The stud was a little hole in the wall Leather Bar with a crew of notorious big men in leather. This was exciting and new to me. I have an issue with the world of S&M and the leather bar would be my introduction into all things “Profane.” I am telling this story because it related directly to how I coped with disease.
The night that I met Todd I was sitting in the corner of the bar with my rum and coke and I was drinking it in, all in the music, the men and the sweaty scent of leather, little did I know that in the office my every move was being watched by a very daunting leather man. He approached from the shadows and walked up behind me and tapped me on the shoulder, the he swung his hand and slapped me clear off my stool across the floor. It was love at first contact.
I went to the bar every weekend to dance, and to see the men who would later become my family. I learned a great deal from each and every one of those men, most of them are dead now. And I miss them, so this in their tribute to just how much they all meant to me.
I hung out at closing and picked up glasses and bottles with the bar back, this was my form of “working my way into the fellowship.” A few months later I learned that the bar was closing and the new space had been purchased, the new Stud would be better, rougher and bigger in scale.
I volunteered to work on the “wrecking crew.” Over 14 days and nights, around the clock we moved, built, painted and stocked a brand new “STUD.” Opening night was April 15th 1993. I was in my element. I had been hired on staff because of my devotion and loyalty. Todd was watching me.
The weekend went without a hitch. I remember that night like it was yesterday. It was so exciting and new. The song they used to tune the sound system was Whitney Houston’s “I’m Every Woman” that song must have played a hundred times that night. It was the most amazing time of my life.
Sunday morning the 17th, my life would change when we found out that James was dead. He had committed suicide in an apartment in Western Ft. Lauderdale. I was a wreck; I was on my way out. Todd was there to hold me and console me and give me fatherly guidance and kept me in line, until at one point the men of the bar took me to get counseling for survivors of suicide that met every week. I did that for 32 weeks. During that time I learned that James had AIDS and that was never disclosed to me.
All this time I was working at the bar, I was safe inside the walls. My greatest leather fantasies were being realized. Todd was more than my boss; he was my Master, my Mentor, my boss and my guide. He kept me on a very short leash, literally.
You see, I found myself in a place that I wanted to be for many years, and Todd gave me the freedom to explore as far as I wanted as long as I did not act out. None of the men who came to the bar had direct access to me unless they went through Todd first. There is an entire other “subculture” here that not many people know about and for the most part they have no clue what it means to those who are within it. And for most of you, you will find this chapter repulsive and unnecessary to speak of, but I will disagree so let me enlighten you.
When I met Todd, he tapped the most inner desires of my soul from the moment we met. He knew that I was a submissive male and he could tell at 50 paces just what was going on in my little head. Todd got so good at reading me that all he had to do was look across the crowded bar and give me one particular “look” and I would know exactly what he was saying and with that “look” I would be totally satiated. It was divine.
Remember this thought as you read on. I was given certain responsibilities at the bar when we opened. I had a place at the “table” so to speak, and nothing I thought, felt or desired was “out of bounds.” Todd had seen me through James’s suicide and I survived my own personal hell as well.
The Dominant/submissive role is very important in this narrative. You see, up until I got my diagnosis I had been given free reign to dress and express myself in any way I chose as long as that choice did not impede my ability to work. Not to mention I was a hot little leather boy in leather as well I belonged to a group of young leather men who were cared for and educated in all things profane inside these walls. It was heaven. And I was a hot commodity.
Now this does not in any way speak to the affect that I had countless sexual encounters with nameless, faceless minions of men in those years, because for the record I was not having sex on a regular basis. But it does mean that anything was possible and looking and touching was not discouraged. My sex life is not important at this point of the story.
I do know that Todd lost a lover to AIDS a few years prior to the bar moving to where it now was. In fact Bob was buried in the cemetery that was across the street from the bar itself. So it had to have been a constant reminder of where he had come from. Not to mention that almost all of the employees at the bar were positive and or had AIDS. And that was fine by me. I learned the nitty gritty of AIDS education. It was in front of me around the clock. I served these men who worked behind the bars and I served my boss and I served my Master. And for me that was sacred. Besides my faith, my leather life was the closest approach to the sacred and profane as I had ever gotten.
In my service to the bar and to my fellows I learned what respect, duty and anonymity meant. The men in the Dominant roles kept me at the level that Todd has instituted for me. I answered directly to Todd, but I was also at the beck and call of anyone who needed my help at any time of the night on shift. I was in charge of guest relations as the Stud hosted several leather events in those first years. It was great being a gopher because I was the director behind the scenes. And just the endorphin rush I received knowing that I was serving another was enough for me, because if they were pleased with good hospitality, then Todd would be pleased as well. You see there is reciprocity here.
Men are pigs; they are dirty, nasty and have no manners or scruples in a profane way. I cleaned up after them; I unstopped toilets, cleaned vomit and assorted other bodily secretions. I was also the house cook along with Dennis and Roy. I wore many hats at the bar and my list of nightly chores was impressive.
When James died, I was shaken to the core of my being and that started to impact my ability to work. I was drinking heavily, and I was mindless and scattered. Todd cut me off from alcohol while in the building. The rule of the house was this, whatever happened outside the building during the day stayed OUTSIDE the building when I came to work.
I was the first man in and the last man out after closing. So my daily ritual went as follows. I would bring my “gear” for the night in my duffle bag and upon arrival at the bar; I would dress to whatever end I chose, then I reported to Todd for my nightly orders. There was nothing like the rush of kneeling before one’s Master alone in the office and hearing his voice and looking into his eyes. He was divine. Sorry, but I am there at the moment.
I had things to do and responsibilities to take are of and I knew that. So began my nightly ritual of finishing each task assigned to the best of my ability, so that I would get that immediate gratification in the phrase “good job, little one.” That was the “Holy Grail” sentence for me.
Over the year before my diagnosis I did a lot of work as my range of tasks and level of responsibility grew, then came that fateful day that I made the call to Todd and Roy while they were on vacation, to tell them what I was told. Here is the turning point of this story. Todd loved me and I knew that. His depth of emotion when I got sick was palpable. He was visibly shaken. I was 26, living alone, no family to speak of and no one to take care of me.
That responsibility, in hindsight was something I think he felt that he had to do. He came back and I cried in his arms he held me as a father would hold his son, he touched me and told me that I would be all right. The rest of the bar was notified and our family got a lot tighter after that. Farkle and Billy and the bar tenders and staff all tried to help me acclimate to where I was going as quickly and as completely as they could. Farkle is the last vestige of men with aids that still survive today out of the entire group I knew. I was heading for the breakdown and my eventual bottom. I spent a few weeks trying to drink myself dead on many occasions until I collapsed one night at the Copa, and I woke up on the pavement being held by my friend Danny and an ambulance. I got sober on August 23rd 1994.
Throughout this time, Todd started to get tough in a Dominant way. My submission to him totally and completely was his demand. I came to work
“To work” and nothing more. What happened outside stayed outside as long as I was inside the building. And I have to tell you that was my saving grace. I had something that maybe none of you will ever have or ever experience to the depth that I had.
Every night there were shitty toilets to unstop, and garbage to be cleaned and bottles to pick up and stocking to be done around the shift. I used to whine about these shitty jobs and cleaning up after pigs.
Until one night Todd dragged my ass into the office and screamed at me.
“DO YOU KNOW WHY YOU HAVE TO DO ALL THIS SHIT, BECAUSE IF YOU CAN DO IT FOR OTHERS, THEN YOU WILL BE ABLE TO DO THIS FOR YOURSELF, IF AND WHEN THE TIME COMES.”
Everything that Todd told me to do was for a reason, to teach me something about taking care of myself. I cooked food for hundreds every night. I knew everything that there was to know about keeping a club up and running and fully stocked. I cleaned enough trash and crap to last me a lifetime. I learned how to be responsible for others along with myself. That was the beginning I now know, in hindsight of placing the needs of others before my own. (This is very crucial when you get married and you experience “for better or for worse.”)
Most of all, I was taught the tough lesson about being alone and having to cope with that “place.” I would always do my work to end up receiving the Holy Grail sentence, until Todd thought it was time for me to learn a very valuable lesson, so it started. One night went by; I was given my list and sent off by Todd, with not a word, shift ended, and still not a word. That went on for days, and let me tell you how difficult it was I think, for Todd to keep his counsel and to see me squirm and beg for something from him but he stuck to his guns. And I cried night after night going home alone, without one word from my Master.
Each night I would do the dance and then at the end of the night I would kneel in submission and wait for those sacred words to fall from his lips, yet no answer. This went on for 12 days. You can imagine what it could be like for me to live in my submissive brain for all those hours waiting to get my Master’s look and hear his voice.
On the 12th night he called me to the office, I knelt as usual as he sat behind his desk, and he watched me crack in front of him. I raised my eyes to his and fell apart into tears. I knelt there and sobbed. He rose from his chair and came over to me and knelt down with me and grabbed my face in his huge hand and looked into my eyes and said “Good Job Little One!” That was it, I was lost, he hugged me to him and I cried.
He went on to explain that the reason I had to learn this lesson was because, as he stated, sooner or later you will encounter someone or work for someone or be in relations with someone who might take advantage of you, and your work may go unnoticed and unappreciated, so you need to know how to deal with silence. It was one of the greatest lessons he ever taught me.
I will tell you truthfully that if it were not for Todd and my profane leather experience, I would have died years ago. Within the profane world of Dominance and submission, I learned a lot about myself personally and emotionally. Within the submissive ability, is that to completely give oneself over to another and trust that he will take care of you and protect you from the outside world.
When I walked into work and presented myself to him, in my submissive way, whatever he had in store for me was done for a reason, and I had to trust that he knew that, and he did. I could shut off whatever was going on inside my head regarding dealing with HIV and focus on what had to be done nightly. That does not mean that we did not deal with my status, because we talked for hours and weeks and months.
On the outside Todd ministered to my needs. He hooked me up with everything that I needed to have. Marie took care of my medical until I got hooked up into the system in Ft. Lauderdale. The focus of this story is to show you how I survived the worst period of my life “within” the sacred devotion to the profane world of Leather and the Dominant and submissive roles that each of us lived.
That submissive boy learned a lot in those years and it was the best of times amid the worst of times. Todd had seen me through two of the strongest defining moments in my life. And I lived! I have read some pretty scathing views of the BDSM world in as many years, but until you come and experience the world of the sacred within the profane you will never know what it is like to totally love and totally trust with abandon.
It is very close to faith in God. A good Christian will totally love and totally trust. So I ask you how many totally loving and totally trusting Christians do you know? I have seen the face of God in my Master’s eyes, and they are blue and sometimes they were grey.
Todd was the closest I have come to the “Divine Presence” in my totally human existence. Because he loved me so unconditionally, he forgave me without question and he cared for me when lesser men and women walked away. I think that Todd knew exactly what God wanted from him, because all those lessons he taught me and the love he gave me is now yours to have.
Not many people will ever know a “great person,” in the sense of unconditional care and love like Todd’s, the world is cruel and in the “real world” there are no systems like this to help you cope. And unless you are gay and understand the ways of the sacred and profane, in the form of fetish, this chapter may go in one ear and out the other, but I had the courage to share with you the most sacred part of myself, so that you will see how deeply I feel when writing about this subject of coping and dealing with serious situations.
I know what you will go through and I know in my heart that every word that I have written here will bring you closer to the sacred by sharing with you my journey through the sacred and profane leather world. This is my strength and my experience; you can take it or leave it. This is the rock of my survival.
The day Todd and Roy left for California was one of the hardest days of my life, choosing to walk away from that life because I felt it my duty to stay in Florida hoping to heal the rift in my family (that never happened), and take care of myself on my own, I had to re-learn how to live in the real world without that “Structure” of the Dom/Sub world to fall into daily. But all that experience helped me heal, and prosper and survive for now going on 12 years.
Now we come to the second of our stories – that fall within this time line of stories from that period of my life – each story is a vignette of what life was like, what my responsibilities were and how I ministered to others through my work at the Stud.
One Night in Heaven …
Shift change has started and I am off the happy hour shift that I used to work. Off to the kitchen to change for the night shift that is going to start soon. Farkle is in the booth and he fires up the first song of the night.
Jeans, t-shirt and chaps. The hot little stud is going to tempt the Temple of Earthly Desires once again tonight. A little tug here, and a zip there, I am ready for action. In the grand scheme of things I am a jack of all trades. Larry is in charge of liquor distribution; Kevin is in charge of incidentals, beer, ice, stock and supply. I am following up my fellows with the same.
But I have other responsibilities.
Open up your heart…
Aside from bar responsibilities, I am in charge of taking care of special guests and entertainers. I check them in at the door and escort them through the maze into the back stage area where all the real action is to take place. Nobody has access to the backstage area except employees and management. I am to make sure that they all have what they need, and that means everything.
We are hosting the Leather man contests that are very common in the Leather community at that time. The schism of the Ft. Lauderdale leather men has not yet taken place, between the Old Guard and the New Guard. I am of the Old Guard group. I was born into this life by my Master Todd on that fateful night some time ago at the old location.
I am in the position of leadership. Part of my education in those early days is obedience and respect. The hierarchy is set in stone and I know my place, I report to the Master, the guests report to me.
I am in charge of taking care of their supplies and to make sure that they are treated with respect and the position that they hold in the greater community. This job, I take very seriously, because what the guests tell my boss later will reflect on my future as a man to be trusted and it will also either permit me further access or punishment. To be removed from community or silence is the greatest punishment in my world at that time. I learn that lesson the hard way at one point in the story…
Kevin has just walked in the door. He is young. He is a Leather man of the highest degree. I spent a night with him at the Caribbean Resort a few nights ago. I was caught in a moment of rapture. He is the finest specimen of a man I have ever seen and after the first introduction, I was taken. I was “Taken!” Sitting in the bar with him and his crowd was worshiping God. Kevin has my full attention and then some. There is nothing I would not do for him, and many things I would like to do for him.
He is competing tonight for the crowd, and I am going to make his competition the best of the night. In the grand scheme of things, he who is represented outstandingly is going to win this competition. But first they must prove themselves worthy of the award. A little conversation and a little performance that is going to knock to crowd off their high and mighty pedestals. This is where we separate the real men from the boys. That he is younger than most he is automatically at odds with them.
After all of my settling in work is done and everybody is checked in and I’ve seen to their comfort, I am off to take care of the rest of the bar. Every one of our guests has a handler, and I am only to take care of Kevin. The lights are swinging at a fast pace, the music is pounding and I am dressed to the nines’ so to speak. I have rounded up all of the young leather men and we have discussed strategy for the night. As representatives for the young leather community, it is our job to look out for the interest of our club and the community at large.
As part of our education as a group, the bar has had weekly meetings of the Young Leather men. There are about 30 members and several Leather MEN to guide us and teach us about protocol, respect and personal safety. We have attended lectures and demonstrations and spent hours discussing situations and life experiences. When the bar is called on to host events, we are the first line of representation and service. I am the closest one to the center of the universe, by my position “to” my Master.
I am in charge of cleaning up the club all night. I am the one who is going to take up bottles and glasses and garbage on the main floor. It is my job to always keep the bar in a condition worthy of proper presentation. In addition to picking up refuse, I am the one who is going to keep the bathrooms up and running. Nasty pig men can be nothing but a head ache because while they are adults, they do not know how to clean up after themselves. They stop up toilets with glasses and mounds of toilet paper and this must be kept an eye on. Running toilets are detrimental to a proper night’s business. This is one of the serious lessons that I must learn about because if I cannot clean up shit and dirty toilets, then I won’t be able to do it for myself.
I though about this last night after I wrote my last entry. I was dating a particular man at one time in this life. He was arrogant and yet I liked him. He did things for me that no one else had done. He made me feel things that I had never felt. He had room mates that were sick and could not go out in public without a diaper, because they were struck so hard by illness. It was very sad. They did not make it. But I digress…
The nights fly by one after the other and the job is the same. I am visible to everyone in the bar, because I have planned it that way. Part of my mystique is to get the right men to notice me. I have amassed quite a collection of gear to wear. I have collected it and some of it is custom made. This was the age of “High Leather” and I was at the center of the universe. I would troll the crowd as they came in looking at all the signs that were being flown.
The hankies in the right or left pocket, what color they were, and what arm the armbands were being worn on. After a good hour of trolling I could go to my locker and replicate whatever “response” I was going to give back. It always worked. I could play the game just as well as the heaviest hitters.
Nothing pleased me more than to walk out of the kitchen in my chaps and usually by the late hours of the night, I wasn’t wearing a shirt. I could do that then and get away with it. I would be carrying a bucket of ice (they were small garbage cans) full of ice, over to a particular bar, where the heavy hitters would be gathered. I would bounce behind the bar, dancing to the music that was being played and I would fool around with a bar tender, and we were all family.
What the ‘lookers’ were very cognizant of was that I knew that many of them were flying red or red brick hankies in their left pockets. I had responded with the same hankie in my right pocket. And we would stand there and I would watch them look at me and then they would make a fist and hold it up in front of their faces, pondering the thought, look at me, well, at my backside, and then back at their hands and then they would shake their heads, in disbelief. That was the most excellent feeling…
To know that they noticed me. I played the game and I usually won…
The music would change as mixes were played…
One night in heaven.
I’m on the dance floor, Farkle is in the booth, he is dancing as I look over to the booth from where I stand and I can see him pointing towards the speakers above the booth. He is in a good space tonight. He is playing “up” music and everybody has escaped into that place of utter bliss. It is all well tonight. We have done our jobs. The bodies are gyrating to the same beat, bodies move in unison. Sweat is falling down all around me, I fell arms around me. Hugs and pushes tugs and tweaks. I set down my bag for a moment on the bass speakers lining the wall and I am engulfed in the arms of some of my friends, and we dance for all it is worth. I am watching the lights swing from one side to the other, and I am in heaven.
Every time I read these stories I am transported back to that exact moment as it is burned into my brain never to die. Working within a task group was something I learned to do without having to pay the price to enter university to sit in class and listen to some woman drone on about applied human sciences. I lived it, in real time. When Todd and Roy relocated to San Francisco, where they live to this day, I was left on my own. Well, Farkle and I were the only ones left and so we continued to care for one another. AIDS was the proving ground for any future interaction I wanted or would have with other people in my life. I needed no university diploma or certificate – I had already earned all the accolades I needed from the men I cared for and buried when they all died.
I took an 18 month “geographic” trip that almost killed me and landed me back in Miami in the year 2000. Farkel reconnected with me and I had found a place to live that would take rental assistance from the state and I had a menial job working in an antique store. I got sober a second time in 2001. And once again I was working with others in an intimate way through the vehicle of sobriety. That giving it away to keep it mentality was and IS the backbone of sober living. Farkle provided me with a computer in which I began to connect to the rest of the world. I took care of my friends to the best of my ability and they in turn returned the favor and the kindness in spades.
In 2002, I was invited to Montreal for Easter vacation. I came for a week. I loved it, so I stayed for two. The second week I had lined up interviews for doctors and healthcare. I found a place to live, and set forth in getting to know the city. I went back home, packed my things and flew back to Montreal. My mother had two children in the U.S. while she retained her Canadian Citizenship in the 1960’s, which she eventually naturalized in 1974. But I had the out. I used my birthright to leave the United States to stake my claim in the world.
It came down at one point, living in the states, that I had to choose between being able to buy food each week OR paying for medications. That’s how bad it was then. I became a Canadian Citizen on February 17 2003. God was really good to me. A series of fortunate events came to pass in an order that I can only say was “divinely influenced.” People in high places in the government of Canada were very good to me. And for that I will always be grateful.
I met my husband in the rooms of AA in 2002. We began to date, then cohabitate. In the fall of 2003 I returned to university. I was 36 years old. What started as a stint in psychology quickly became a career in Religious Studies under the wise tutelage of Donald Boisvert, my academic advisor, my best friend and my mentor to this day.
My husband and I were married in 2004 after he faced his own battle with bi-polar depression that almost killed him. During that year when he got sick, he was down for ten months. I fed him, bathed him, and took care of him. I saw many dark nights, but through the medium of the internet and the men of faith, I came to know and call my friends today, I was victorious in conquering the darkness and taking care of my then sick boyfriend.
This is when I started to write for a living, along with my studies in university. I made friends with holy men of various faiths around the world. I was attracting young people to my blog and through my studies I began to reach out to others from my little apartment in Montreal to kids all over the world. My Mentor’s Circle was born, through the vehicles of the phone, the internet and by blog connectivity. From the way I was trained in my earlier life, all that knowledge came to pass as I started working with other men in my circle in the care of young people we all came to know and love.
It is a strange story how I came to meet the boys I work with to this day. Each of them have a past, and each of them has a particular story and each of them had particular needs. In this group of men we all care for the basic needs for our kids. Giving them each what they need as much as they need, whenever they need it. The fact that we live in the world of instant electronic communications make it a very viable medium to help in the assistance of other people. What I learned in a micro way with AIDS was translated into a Macro way today.
Each man in the circle brings with him his own life experience. Some are parents already and serve as touchstones for our kids when they check in and or when they need particular guidance. Many of the men in our circle are men of faith, be that Baptist, Christian, Mennonite, Jewish or Buddhist. All of our kids have direct access to us on a 24 hour basis. We care for each of them as they need it.
Over the years, I have adopted a few of those boys into my nuclear family of choice. Jon and Clay are as close to sons as I will ever get. They have been part of my family for over seven years now, and the mentor circle has seen them grow up from awkward teenagers into men of the world. Karl is another young man I work with from afar. His needs are more present than the others due to his family situation and he is one boy that gets the full advantage of having contact with several members of the mentor circle at any time of his day or night. He gets around the clock mentorship from a team of well placed men located in Montreal, and the Wisconsin Dells. With the three men watching his every move and guiding his every decision, we have a direct impact on the man he is becoming. He is a caretaker like all of us in a way. So we try to instill in all of our kids proper morals and values. We teach them ways to make decisions; we help them deal with the loss of parents or the fact that some of our kids are taking care of ailing parents who are suffering with their own demons and illnesses. All of my former training was not in vain, because I can tap that well of knowledge at any time of the day or night.
Taking care of others has become a 24 hour a day job. Being married is a 24 hour a day job. My husband is still bi-polar and his medications do most of the heavy lifting but I am the safety net that hangs beneath him every day and night. Taking care of my kids has been the most rewarding addition to my older incarnation. I speak with them every day. My boys come to visit when they can and we are a family that meets on holidays and special events. I am a very “nesting” motherly figure. I have found over the years that I am a very maternal man. And caring for my boys is something akin to motherhood. They came to us, each in their cocoon is issues and lack of life skills, and we birthed them into the responsible and successful men they are today. I did not need a degree in applied human science to attain the proper credentials to care for another human being. I know how to care for another human being. And working with others is a huge part of my ministry. Be that group my sober group here in Montreal, my spiritual guidance mentors from all over the world, to my church group at the Christ Church Cathedral in downtown Montréal.
Much of what I do is a direct result of how the men I call my friends have given me over the last fifteen years of my life, living with AIDS. It all started with an innocuous visit to a bar and has sprouted into a world wide reaching mentor’s circle that reaches kids all over the world. There is nothing we can’t do for kids that need a little assistance. Working with kids for multiples of years has given us all the ability to help shape the men that our boys are continually evolving into.
I have had a few mentors in my life that taught me things I would never have learned on my own, and with that knowledge in my soul, I can use it to help other kids on their journeys of personal growth and recovery. What you get, you give back, and what comes back to you in just what you gave out, but a hundred fold. You can’t keep it, you must give it away. The old recovery adage comes full circle in our lives. All of our kids work on the basis of “Paying it Forward.” This is the only way to teach kids to grow into mature and trusting adults.
Through my association with Donald Boisvert, as my guide and mentor over these last six years from 2003 to 2009, I have become quite a confident man. I had my challenges. I faced my own demons and had to consult Donald on many occasions over the years just to make sure I was doing life right. During those first years in Montreal, prior to the Iraq war I was a man stuck between two worlds. I had one foot in the U.S. where I was raised, and I had one foot in Canada, so to speak, where I was presently living. People were rioting in the streets and Americans were becoming targets for anti American war sentiments. I sewed Canadian flags on all my bags and sought the guidance of Donald as I navigated my way into the place where I learned where my allegiance lay. Wise words were never spoken, when he said to me that “I should sit in this place and get to know it intimately. I should not make a decision to move or pledge in any way until I knew what it was that I believed. Then and only then should I be ready to move or decide, I should consult my map, look around and then take my next step.”
My adventures in Montreal were all guided by steps. I was guided here, I believe through a religious tradition that was borne into me by my mother and grandmothers. Mere D’Youville was the woman who got me here and it was she who nourished me here in many ways. They Grey Nun’s would connect with me a great aunt “Sister Georgette.”
We would have a relationship, and I would later bury her, but the last thing I did for her as I sat by her bedside the night before she died, we sat and prayed. The next morning she died. What she taught me about devotion and love was incredibly spiritual. There is another story I could tell, but not today. Suffice to say, what began with Memere so many decades before was realized through the Grey nuns in Montreal. God was surely there watching over me the entire time, I truly believe that today.
I graduated with a B.A. in Religious Studies in 2007 and I followed that degree with my work on a Certificate in Pastoral Ministry. Now in the fall of 2009, I will enter my M.A Studies in Theology. My life has been one of adventure and exploration. Every word written in this paper has been lived through, tested and fired in a furnace. I have survived all my friends and I live still to this day. Life taught me how to work with others and to care for those I love. I did not need a degree to get here. I got here on my own. I have a life degree that no one can take from me or ever discount as time well spent in the service of others.
I got here with the help of a few friends…