Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Band of Brothers

41 years is a long time.

That’s how long it’s been since I was with most of my classmates.  I was a Franciscan seminarian for seven years, from 1961 through 1968.  For the last two of those years I was a member of the Order.  When I left, I still had my senior year of college to get through, and my classmates were still my classmates for that final year.  I left because I was gay and I couldn’t reconcile my feelings with the Roman Catholic teaching on homosexuality.

Over my years in the seminary, I came to love my classmates, sort of like a soldier loves the men with whom he’s gone to battle.  We went through a lot together, good and bad things, and came to see one another as real brothers.  Most of all, we grew up together.  We went through our teens and into our twenties side–by–side.  I have so many vivid memories of those guys and the times we had.

Most of my memories are good ones.  Long walks on Wednesday, Saturday, and Sunday afternoons.  Funny things we did with and to the priests on the faculty.  Singing in the choir and doing amazing music together.  Playing the organ for Masses, especially funeral Masses still sung in Latin.  Long talks after lights–out when talking was forbidden.  Staying up all night on October 4, 1964, and seeing a meteor shower in the clear skies above our school in the Catskills.  Singing the Solemn High Requiem Mass for President Kennedy the Sunday after he was killed.  Discussing masturbation for the first time with any human being, except for priests in the confessional.  Discussing gay feelings for the first time with peers.  Getting to be comfortable being naked around others and being around others when they were naked.  Volleyball.  Ice skating.  Phys Ed classes with a priest I thought was a total sadist.  Bad meals.  Trips together to see museums, plays, and opera in New York City.  Visits with one another at home during holidays.  Jokes, verbal and practical.  Drama club plays.  I have a ton of memories, and sometimes it seems as if what I’m remembering happened just this morning.

After I left the seminary and this band of brothers, I lost touch with all of them, ignoring some loving attempts to stay in touch.  Leaving for me was very traumatic, and it took almost 10 years for me to get over it.  Being a Franciscan Friar had been a dream of mine since I was a little gay boy who was overwhelmed with the mystery and beauty of Church.  Giving up that dream and losing my brothers were the hardest things I’ve had to do in my life.  I didn’t deal well with my trauma, and one of the worst things I did was to lose touch with, turn my back on, even, the wonderful brothers who had gone through it all with me.

Now, all these years later, the guys are sneaking back into my life, virtually at least.  The first encroachment was form a great, sweet guy who has been trying over a period of about 8 or 9 years to get us all back together.  He got my e–mail address from the alumni office at Catholic University and put me on a distribution list that included all the classmates he had found.  One by one in the two years since other classmates have contacted me.  Now there is FaceBook.  I got on FaceBook a year or two ago, but only recently have I been active there.  Now I find a bunch of classmates who also are on FaceBook and, tentatively, we are scoping one another out.

This is both a great and a scary experience.  I remember these guys as they remember me, bright–eyed, fit young men in their early twenties.  Every time I see a photo of one of them now, I go into some kind of cognitive dissonance.  What has happened to these men?  How could they be so OLD?  and OUT OF SHAPE?  and RETIRED?  I also worry what they think when they see my photo, and most of all I worry how we’ll connect, having all been changed by a lifetime of unique experiences.  Scary stuff, really!

Almost everyone whose e–mails and postings I have read, though, says the same thing: the years we shared back in the 1960's were some of the best of our lives, and the people with whom we shared those years always will be special to us.

I’m glad I have my brothers back in my life, scary or not.  It’ll be interesting to see if I can do this reunification thing better than I’ve done similar things in the past.

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