Ginger and I got one of our Christmas presents early tonight: Jay took us to the Boston Gay Men’s Chorus “Home for the Holidays” Concert. Chad, the organist and choir director at the church in Hanover is the musical director for the group and we know a couple of folks who sing in the choir, so I was psyched to get to hear them. They lived up to my expectations. It was a wonderful evening.
Along with the obvious holiday emphasis, the other theme that ran through the evening was that of family. Between songs different choir members told stories about growing up, about their families of origin, and about their chosen families. The stories were full of both pain and hope, as any good story is. As the evening drew to a close, they sang a song called “God Bless My Family.” The chorus said:
all of the family my life has given me
from the corners of the earth
to the beaches of the sky to love eternally
though my heart aches everyday
this Christmas I will find a way
to let each face I’ve loved shine out in me
God bless my family
I got to talk to my brother today. I’m twenty-one months older than he is, which means there have been times in our lives when the age difference felt insignificant and other times when it felt like a huge cavernous gulf between us. At fifty and forty-eight, we seem to be pretty much in the same boat. I’m deeply grateful that he and I are related because our interests are different enough that we might not have crossed paths otherwise. I’m glad I’ve known him most all of my life and that we shared a roof for so many years. I’m glad we’ve had to learn how to communicate and live out our love for each other. I’m glad we’re getting to grow old(er) together, even though we are separated by several states and a lot of miles.
I spent an hour today with Don, the pastor at the Hanover church where I worked for three years. We’re family by choice, finding a sense of brotherhood in the many hours and cups of coffee that fueled our ministry together. I also called Doug, the other charter member of the Pastoral Spousal Support Group (OK, the only other member) to tell him the Social Committee had dropped the ball on our Christmas party so we were going to have to schedule it on our own. He and I are going to have Mexican food on Thursday. We’re related to one another by our love for our minister-wives, our willingness to explore interesting ethnic cuisine, our senses of humor, and beer.
Last week, both my parents and my in-laws were here to celebrate my birthday. I’m grateful that I got to turn fifty with all of them around the table, along with Cherry, Jay, and Eloise who are among my chosen family. I loved blending the two together as we stuffed our faces with Brazilian food.
Ginger and I are a little over a month away from having known each other eighteen years. We met on a weekend youth retreat and the short version is I followed her around until she would go out with me. (I can say that shamelessly because she married me.) No one in my life has made me feel like I belong more than she has. I have learned more about love and what it means to be family from her than I can tell.
Family has not been an easy concept for me. I know there were many years I made my brother and my parents wish they were related to someone else as I tried to figure out how to let them or anyone else get close to me. In my twenties, when things between my parents and me were most distant, I can remember praying that my father wouldn’t die before we had a chance to get things straightened out between us. I still don’t want him to die, but I can say the air between us is clear and good. If something does happen, we’ve both said what we need and want to say to one another. (Yet another thing I learned from Ginger about what it means to be family.)
Most all of the men in the chorus tonight were old enough to have had to grow up coming to terms with their sexuality in less than hospitable environments. Some were ostracized by their families when they came out, others were embraced. What was clear as they stood shoulder to shoulder, one hundred and fifty strong was their harmony was something more than musical and the family they were singing about something more than sentimental; they were a family whose arms were open to anyone else who wanted to join in.
The last verse of Lyle Lovett’s song, “Family Reserve” says:
and there are more I remember
and more I could mention
than words I could write in a song
but I feel them watching
and I see them laughing
and I hear them singing along
God bless my family.