31 December, 2009

A New Decade, Unconditional Love

Approximately one decade ago, Westchester County (where I live) was debating the passage of legislation that would establish its own Human Rights Law/Commission. The proposed legislation was extremely controversial because it included "sexual orientation" as a protected class--something the New York State law did not do at the time.

As someone who has been politically involved since high school and active in the LGBTQ rights movement, I wrote a letter to the editors of our local newspaper in support of the passage of the county's proposed Human Rights Law. For whatever reason, somewhere around 90% of the letters to editors that I write actually get published, and this was no exception.

My letter appeared in the local paper, signed with my name and village of residence. My grandmother, very frail of health (at that time she'd had four major coronary infarctions and a series of minor strokes, along with the usual health problems associated with someone approaching their 80th birthday who had been smoking for 60+ years...), came into my room carrying the newspaper (while not bed-ridden, she didn't often get out of bed except to use the facilities and go to doctor's appointments).

She asked me how I could be so stupid as to have such a letter published with my name & location. I was very puzzled by her reaction, as she had tears in her eyes (I had already come out to her by this point, so it's not like she didn't know I was (am) gay). I asked her what the big deal was, and she told me that there are very crazy people in the world and having my name and location published, someone could be hiding in the bushes outside of our house and attack me for being gay, or come by the house & throw rocks at me, or while I'm out and about someone could try to kill me, etc. It was a cause of great consternation for her that I would be harmed by one of these crazy people.

I responded by telling my grandmother that it was she who instilled in me the values to stand up for what I believe in, to exercise my rights as guaranteed to me in the United States Constitution, and not to back down when I know I am fighting a just & worthy cause. My grandmother hugged me, told me that she loved me, and urged that I be cautious and safe. She said she would pray that I not ever fall into harm's way because of who I am, and advised that she would be worrying over me whenever I left the house (a promise she kept, as whenever I left she wouldn't go to sleep until I returned home safe & sound).

A few days later, a public hearing was being held on the proposed Human Rights Law. I was getting ready to leave the house, and my grandmother asked me where I was going. I told her that I was going to speak in support of the law at the public hearing (I had to explain a bit what was going on). She asked me if I could wait 5 minutes, and I said sure.

Less than five minutes later, my grandmother had her purse & winter coat on, and told me that she was coming with me (despite her frail health). There was nothing I could do to change her mind, so I brought her along to the public hearing.

We arrived a bit late, but not too late. We took seats near the front. When the legislators asked if anyone else wished to speak, I began to rise but my grandmother put her arm on me to keep me seated and instead rose herself and approached the podium.

At the podium, my grandmother relayed how she read my letter to the editor in the newspaper, and how scared she was for my safety. She told the legislators that she was a devout Catholic, but that I was her grandson and she loved me no matter who I was or what I did. She implored the legislators to pass the Human Rights Law, so that she could stop worrying about the safety of her grandson, and not have to worry that he would be fired from a job for being who he was, etc.

I had absolutely no idea that Grams was going to do this. Tears filled my eyes (just as they are now as I recount these events). It was then, right there in the public hearing, that I came to know the true meaning of Unconditional Love. I couldn't have been more proud, happy, or loved than I was at that point in time .... until now.

The past decade has been a roller coaster of events that have affected me in various ways. Let's view the events that have affected me over the past decade:

1999
  • Moved to Phoenix, AZ with a friend; experienced unrequited love.
  • Moved back to NY after disastrous fallout w/ aforementioned friend.
  • Came out to my grandparents.
  • Successfully advocated for passage of Westchester County's Human Rights Law.
2001
  • Missed being caught up in 9/11 by about two hours (I was working the night shift on 10 September 2001; left work @ 7:30am -- was asked to stay until 9am but was too tired -- got home, went to sleep, woke up shortly after 5pm & the world had changed).
2002
  • Was in a car accident that I should not have survived.
  • Was institutionalized for my chronic severe Depression for the first time in my life; tried numerous times to commit suicide but was obviously unsuccessful, mostly due to the fact that I was so doped on on narcotic painkillers (under the supervision of a pain management specialist) I didn't know what I was doing.
  • Suffered the loss of my grandmother, while in hospital. My father's brother, in his infinite wisdom, convinced the hospital unit's psychiatrist to discharge me rather than release me on a pass to attend her funeral; I attempted to wheel myself into the path of oncoming traffic in order to join my grandmother in the heavens of our universes. Had it not been for my younger brother's diligence, I would have been successful.
  • My father remarried, after some 30+ years, and told me months after the event.
  • A close friend whom I had made while institutionalized hung herself in hospital, and I was there when they discovered her, hanging from the ceiling of the bathroom--her body twitching as it limply hung. At the time, I was wheelchair-bound, and some of the staff attempted to blame me for their negligence by saying that I had helped her (had that been the case, I would have been hanging with her, not present in my chair when they opened the bathroom door and discovered her body).
  • My mother was first diagnosed with breast cancer.
  • My grandfather was diagnosed with melanoma, and suffered with pneumonia during the holidays.
  • Between the physical & mental hospitalizations, I spent almost all of 2002 in hospital.
2002 – 2007
  • I spent more than half of my time during these years institutionalized for my chronic, severe Depression. Either I was attempting to commit suicide, or in later years, I started feeling the desire to do so and put myself in hospital as a precautionary measure.

    Unfortunately during this time, mental health care changed to the point where feeling the need to be in hospital in order to remain safe was not really something that they did anymore. They just medicated you and kicked you out the door. What would happen is that for one reason or another (either I couldn't afford the medications, couldn't get into a treatment program, or couldn't physically travel to obtain treatment/medications), I would go off my anti-depressants and end up with the same ugly suicidal thoughts after a few months, and end up back in hospital.

    I am happy to report that since my last hospitalization in 2007, I have been able to remain on my medications and in therapy, have not had bad thoughts to the point where I have felt a need to be hospitalized, and have thus avoided hospitalization.
  • During this time frame, my mother underwent two or three lumpectomies, each a few years apart.
2004
  • My sister gave birth to a beautiful baby girl, who on her 2nd day of life, had a stroke.
2005
  • I learned that the friend I moved to Phoenix, AZ with in 1999 died in June 2002, the same month as my grandmother's death. The circumstances of his death were sketchy and learned he may have committed suicide. I had been thinking of him and actually wanted to apologize for the way I left things with him in Phoenix in 1999, so I Googled his name to see if I could find him and instead saw the death notice dated from 2002. I was floored, and it sent my Depression into a dovetail, as I was still in love with him but hadn't spoken with him since leaving him.
  • Coming into this knowledge brought bad thoughts into my head, and was arrested while attempting to purchase illicit narcotics to use in a home-brewed death cocktail.
2006
2007
  • My brother's then-girlfriend gave birth to his daughter, whom I was not allowed to meet because my brother's then-girlfriend is a homophobic nincompoop who believes all men are pedophiles who rape girls.
  • For the first time since it happened, I went back to the town/location where my accident occurred, and as a result I finally started living again after having been "stuck" in time since my accident in 2002.
2008
  • Finally got into a housing program, after being homeless (couch-hopping among friends) for nearly three years.
  • Had to move three times in a period of six months, due to issues w/ the housing program & new ownership/management of the building that I was initially placed into with a roommate.
  • My only sister was diagnosed with Stage 3 Breast Cancer. She underwent a bilateral mastectomy, and then underwent reconstructive surgery. In the one month it took them to perform the surgery after her biopsy, the cancer had progressed to a Grade III, Stage 4 cancer.
  • My grandfather died. I wasn't named in the will at all--thanks, again, to my father's brother. It's as if hadn't existed. I was there, thanks to my sister, when he passed away in his home, so I did at least get to say goodbye to him and let him know that I still loved him, despite everything that had happened.
2009

As this list indicates, there have been many more downs than ups in my life over the course of the past decade. If you've gotten this far, you may be wondering why all of this matters.

Approximately 2.5 years ago, I discovered the true power of the Internet: I began connecting with other people who shared similar experiences. At first, it was done solely through my blog. Then I moved into the realm of the MMORPG (in particular, Daimonin MMORPG, a free, free-to-play, open-source MMORGP). Finally, I discovered social networking.

Through all of these various media, I have connected with people from all over the world. When I say "connected with" I'm talking about real, emotional and social connections. Although I have not met the vast majority of those with whom I communicate, I consider them friends, best friends, even family. They are my lifeline, my support system, my shoulder & ear, as well as my second opinion.

With the support of the network of individuals I have connected with over the past few years via my blog, MMORPGs, LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter, I have encountered individuals with whom I could not possibly have dreamed I would ever encounter in my lifetime, from all walks of life and corners of the world.

I have weathered the low recent points in my life better, because of the connections I have made. I cannot possibly begin to create a list of these individuals; however, if you're reading this, then chances are good that you are one such individual.

And for that, I owe you my life. Truly, without your support, assistance, advice, laughs, and love -- yes, love! -- I could not have gotten through these last few years without you.

And so we come back to unconditional love; it is mostly through Twitter (and Facebook to a lesser extent) that I have once again experienced unconditional love--that feeling first felt when I sat in my seat in the auditorium and listened to my grandmother admonish the legislators for even thinking of voting against the Human Rights Law because it covered sexual orientation, and implored them to protect her beloved grandson.

I feel this same connection, the same kindred spirits now, as I did then.

Through all of you, the love my grandmother has for me lives. And it is through you that I can honour her memory and return the gifts upon which she has so lovingly blessed me.

As such, I resolve to continue doing just what I've been doing in the coming year, decade, and for all eternity: to love all of you as I have been loved by you, to appreciate you as I have been appreciated, and to be there for you as you have been there for me.