Tuesday, April 23, 2019


It was the early Eighties and I was serving the fellowship of a major city in Saskatchewan.  As is typical of groups in that province at that time, everyone was white, educated, and insular.  They drew a little circle and stayed in it where it was safe.  Not that they agreed about anything because arguments kept them safely separated from each other.

AIDS had just hit the world and though they thought they would surely not have to deal with it, we had done a conference on "landscape" where we discovered that one of the clergy -- a handsome PK with a doctor for a partner -- was on the rigid and harsh regimen that might keep him from dying.  In those days there were few people who only carried the virus and didn't die.  We would have done a better job of pretending nothing was wrong if his pill carrier hadn't been electronic and beeped to remind him.  In a while he died anyway.

I tried to understand how to get people to understand. (Did I understand, myself?)  Then one starless night with a temp of forty-below (farenheit --though it would have been celsius up there) I was driving my old van back home from Calgary.  I was passing through a bleak area of sands that the Blackfeet identified with death, a place where their spirits wandered eternally.  

Just as a blood-red sunset crept under the dark, my van died.  I waited a while and restarted.  It ran a few miles and quit again.  I could see a town in the distance, but if I tried to walk there, I would die in spite of my big down "rancher's coat."  I got out and tried to stop the last of the traffic, people going home after work.  Once they had passed, there wasn't likely to be more traffic.  If the engine wouldn't run, the van would soon be as cold as everything else.  It was a struggle between despair and terror.  I tried stopping cars with no luck.  Finally I got so desperate that I jumped right in front of a driver and he had to stop or explain how my blood got all over the front of his car.

That's what AIDS was like: a struggle between the emotional impact and the urgent need for help.  After the sermon people left early and didn't say goodbye, but they did come back the next week.

It was almost harder to think of a way to convey what it was like a bit earlier when the culture shifted enough to allow a community of gays in all their splendid assortment and zany displacement of stigma, just long enough to set them up for death, which shifted them again to a new culture for men.  The limitless love of each other's bodies impelled them to nurse their lovers while they died.  Small Saskatchewan groups can understand this.  They still remember the Spanish Flu, a true decimation of ordinary folks.

It's much harder to explain the joy of release from punishing limits.  Those conscientious but nervous people had rarely, if ever, been part of a carnival (carne - flesh) so how could they understand its loss?  I'm the wrong person to ask.  My extravagance has been of the mind rather than the body.  It's evidently scarier to a lot of people.  I don't hide it much because most people only see disobedience, refusal to conform, anyway.

I watched "Jesus Christ Superstar" (1950) for Easter, but YouTube's algorithm always urges what they think is similar.  They came up with "Tommy"  (1975) which is an extravagant and over-the-top Hollywood big screen version of what they thought that SF gay scene was about.  I haven't seen it.  It must be still popular since they still pay to watch it even on TV.  I watched the preview and read a little bit about it.  It's based on Big Hollywood names.  The anonymous Wikipedia expert says:  "Tommy is a 1975 British independent rock musical fantasy drama film based upon The Who's 1969 rock opera album Tommy about a "seemingly disabled" boy who becomes a pinball champion and religious leader. Directed by Ken Russell, the film featured a star-studded ensemble cast, including the band members themselves (most notably, lead singer Roger Daltrey, who plays the title role), Ann-Margret, Oliver Reed, Eric Clapton, Tina Turner, Elton John, and Jack Nicholson."  

Music, dance, flamboyance, and culture-mocking are the markers of Russell.  I'm not a participant on a physical level, but thought and emotion give me access to at least thinking about the two extremes and the imputed relationship between orgasmic recklessness and torturing disaster.  HIV/AIDS is just one example.  There are so many.  I am fascinated.  

This is a "religious" issue about the foundation of what humans "are" just as much as the notion of Christianity that there is a humanoid God who raises the question of why good people are terribly punished.  This is such a clinging question that it has a name:  theodicy.  How can a good and compassionate God be so vicious and betraying?

Now that we see the heavens as not a throne room but an immeasurable vast receding space of revolving round worlds and blazing suns, theodicy is a silly question.  What is the pressing question now?  We can't even blame God, though we killed Him for His shortcomings.  We didn't crucify God -- just Jesus.  But why did we do that?

At least some people got busy to find a cure for HIV -- we've gotten as far as amelioration, but when we get to the essential elements of flesh we find that we are the obstacle.  We don't want to know. We don't want to do hard things.  We want to make a little cluster of connected people and not find out about scary stuff.  Is there a name for being intimidated by the cosmos?

No comments: