For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. – 1 Corinthians 13:12
I have been doing some rummaging in my study. The space is mostly a disorganized mess, but I have enjoyed looking through some of my old handwritten journals.
One particular story details a weekend on Siesta Key that was both pivotal in my (ongoing) growth as an open-spirited human being and an important turning point for me and my brother Geoff.
Before he died (2012), Geoff specifically asked me to give voice to his unique story. A sampling is included in a series of essays titled “Passages” in my 2015 book, Pilgrim in Progress, but there is a lot more to be told. Some of it may be uncomfortable, or possibly controversial, but I have decided that it cannot wait for ever.
This chapter could be titled, “When the Tide Turned”:
Funeral on Siesta Key:
I’ll try to describe what happened that weekend (circa 1990), with the bare minimum in editorializing.
A few years earlier my brother had returned to Sarasota from living in Los Angeles. He moved in with his partner, Ted. But I – stuck in prejudicial social norms, limited biblical scholarship, and a theology that attempted to restrict the scope of God’s love – spent many years struggling with the fact of their relationship.
But then Ted fell ill, became increasingly sick, and died. Regardless of anything else, Geoff had lost his partner. So I drove from Pensacola to Sarasota for the funeral, and to be with my brother for the weekend.
To say I was unprepared for the colorful cultural milieu surrounding my brother would be an understatement. For three days I was immersed in the world Geoff and Ted had inhabited and I was blown away. The community accepted me without reservation and they felt free enough – somehow – to be completely themselves. Here is what I noted:
- The warm hospitality;
- the sense of community;
- the authentic sense of welcome;
- the genuine love;
- the palpable grief;
- the flamboyance;
- the very real faith,
- the gracious acceptance of me, and the lack of judgment;
- the open hearts and spirits…
These were good people who simply wanted to be themselves, people who had been repressed, suppressed, judged, excluded, scapegoated, rejected, vilified, and misunderstood by so many for so long that their grace and their decency presented like a banner of hope – a declaration of courtesy and civility to one who did not deserve such mercy.
After a beautiful ceremony at the Episcopalian Church on Siesta Key, a more intimate group of around a dozen boarded a sailboat, and we made our way out into the Gulf.
Ashes and Roses:
Now we are drifting a couple of miles off the coast, standing on the deck. My brother cradles a brown paper bag two-thirds full with ashes.
The sky is a rich sapphire behind thin, lacy white clouds; the water reflects the colors of emerald and turquoise – Florida green and Carolina blue – not just catching light from the sun but refracting, storing, and releasing it in the same way we absorb, store, and release light and life over the course of our lives.
It is late in the afternoon, and the air is beginning to pick up an early chill. It is time, and I watch as various friends each pick a handful of roses from the generous bouquet in the stern. My brother tears at the bag and it crumples noisily, like wax paper in a box of cereal. Then, in slow motion, he pours the powdered remains of love overboard, watching it cascade, entering the water without a splash, dispersing in a gray wispy cloud.
The ashes are quickly followed by the roses – crimson red, sunshine yellow, dusty pink, and creamy white. We watch silently, sailing west for a few more minutes before taking a wide turn and heading back towards the coast.
After a while we meet the roses heading out to sea (along with Ted’s ashes) into the inexorable pull of the Gulf Stream, where they will join the constant tug of the current, catch the slot between Key West and Cuba, drift up past Florida’s Treasure Coast, then head on over toward Europe, the flow eventually skirting the Old Country before becoming one with the oceans of the world.
And it is done.
I still have a long way to go when it comes to sharing stories, and grasping quite how to pass on both experience and truth in terms that translate well.
I wish you all could have been on the sailboat with me that day. I also wish that it had not taken me another twenty years to adequately understand.
Of course, knowledge is a journey; because “For now [in this time of imperfection] we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part [just in fragments], but then I will know fully, just as I have been fully known by God” (1 Corinth 13:12 – Amplified).
Knowledge is a journey – DEREK