Saturday, September 09, 2006


Two days ago, I learned that someone I had been involved with 15 years ago died last year.

D-- had been a youth minister, about my age, at a United Church. We were both young and single and spiritually active. Then after 1991, except for seeing him briefly at a Bruce Cockburn concert, he left Canada, and I hadn't thought of him since.

Last year, about this time, I googled his name, just to see where he was. Of course, he had his own website, his-own-name-dot-com. Why would I have expected anything different? He had gone to the States to have his own show on a Christian radio network and to be editor of a Christian music magazine. He had also done some stints with nonprofits. He had a long-running blog and was frequently quoted by other Christian blogs, among whom he had a loyal following. Yes, it was D--, all right.

He also had cancer and was going through some painful treatments. I remember I sent him a carefully worded email wishing him well. I did mean it sincerely. He had replied, briefly, sounding amazed to have heard from me, and very very tired. I had meant to check back again sometime to see how he was doing.

I checked two days ago. He'd died about four weeks after I'd emailed him.

Sigh. So it goes.

It was too late now, a year later, to send any condolences to anyone. I never knew his wife, and he had no children. I have lost touch with the other people in our little group from back then.

My emotional response is what surprised me. How is it that hurts from so many years ago can surface like that?

D-- was extremely intelligent and had a strong personality, two things that I had been immediately drawn to. I was Quaker then, but single and lonely and living in a new city, not averse to joining a church group for company. But soon I had found that in interactions with him and his group I was hitting against an invisible wall. I didn't understand it. Eventually I discovered (to my amazement) that behind D--'s keen, sensual mind and moving, articulate style was a doctrinal and patriarchal set of values; and behind the charismatic, attracting personality was someone who didn't believe in his own ability to be in error.

He taught; he didn't learn. He led; he didn't follow. He spoke; he didn't listen. He wanted his words never to be questioned. It takes a while to learn these things about people. When someone is clearly and obviously intelligent, one assumes.

I assumed. Then I saw. But even when one can see, the charisma can still draw.

He wanted Christianity to be cool. He wanted to be cool. In many ways, he was. He didn't like my presence there because it was a challenge to his image. What he didn't know was how much others simply kept out of his path, especially the women of the church, most of whom felt they couldn't work with him at all. Why did I stay? I don't know – I guess I was that lonely.

He didn't think much of Quakers – it was just "recycle and be kind to squirrels," he would say. I would say nothing in response. I had learned by then that Quaker silence can be as useful as karate, letting someone's words echo back so that they hear what they have said – and others hear them too.

But it hurt.

In 1990, the church sent a small mission down to Peru to work with children who'd had polio. I was accepted to go, mainly because I was the only person to apply who had ever lived down there and who could speak Spanish. This put me and D-- at silent loggerheads, because he was not the centre of authority for the trip he had planned and organized. He wanted to do bible readings to prepare for the trip. I wanted to talk about cultural expectations, sanitation, prevention of disease from insects, and terrorist activity.

The group looked to me for guidance.

Peru was an amazing experience. Our little group bonded well, and D-- remained very much on the outside. He spent his spare time off by himself writing in his journal or talking with the evangelical missionaries who were running the camp. He expected us all to take part in the religious aspects of the camp. But the spiritual practices were offensive to us -- shopping-list prayer sessions, hymn sings about being washed in the blood of the lamb, wild exchanges of miracle stories. We ended up holding our own spiritual sessions in a quiet room in one of the cabins. We shared and had silence. They led the sharing, I led the silence.

He had this habit of tagging on biblical quotations with biblical references at the end of any note he sent to the Peru group. I recall once sending out a note of my own to everyone, an update on our post-mission photo exchange. I tagged on the end: Someday my prints will come. (Snow White 1:67-68).

Everyone else thought it was funny.

Ironically, he would talk to me. I suspect it's lonely at the top too. I guess he thought I was a lost cause, so it didn't matter if he showed some of his true colours. Maybe he was trying to prove something to me. I don't know. We talked a lot, wrestled with ideas, exposed ourselves, learned from each other. We were both writers, both thinkers, artists, musicians. I wasn't in awe of him, saw him as just a flawed person, the way I saw myself.

Only afterward did I discover that I was too impure for him to take seriously. A real woman did not have the kind of thoughts, the kind of past, the kind of philosophies that I had. He'd only taken what he must have considered a man's privileges. Secretly, quietly. No one else knew.

I had mistaken it all.

I learned about his new girlfriend while listening to one of his Christian radio broadcasts, only a few days after we'd been together. I don't remember breathing for a long, long time. He hadn't even told me. I guess he hadn't thought it was important. She was Christian and pure and too young to have ideas of her own. She was a woman. I was not.

Years have passed. I have a husband who tells me he loves me every day. I have a home of my own. I, unlike him, am very much alive.

But for these two days the ghosts of hurt and bewilderment have been swimming around in my head. I wonder at it all, so many years later.


At 12:18 PM, Blogger Liz Opp said...

It is hard to know how to heal these ghosts of our past, especially in cases like this. I hope you'll continue to hold this very tenderly and open yourself to the arms of the Comforter. Just as we never know when such a ghost-memory may appear, we never know when our own healing and transformation can happen.

Thanks for your openness about this part of your journey. I'm moved by it.

Liz Opp, The Good Raised Up

At 9:27 AM, Blogger Johan Maurer said...

My thoughts echo Liz's. I used to read one of his regular columns, by the way.

At 9:55 AM, Blogger Nancy A said...

Thanks for the comments.

I hadn't realized I'd given enough information to identify the person. Have changed it.

At 8:20 AM, Blogger Johan Maurer said...

It is a small world. I can't tell you how many stories about Friends I've suppressed because there is no way I could change enough details to preserve privacy.

In the case of D-, I'm probably one of the few Quakers who overlapped with his world.


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