Tuesday, May 30, 2006

The People I Needed to See

I spent most of the day at work debating with myself whether to attend an event tonight, "Civil Rights and Sacred Rites," sponsored by the wonderful Empire State Pride Agenda, at Congregation B'nai Jeshurun on the Upper West Side.

As I have mentioned before, I am not a person who is typically comfortable in crowded places, which makes New York City a difficult place for me at times, and explains why other people go to DisneyWorld on vacation, and I go to state parks in Oregon midweek in the rain. My friends, of course, are all supportive of gay rights, but most of them don't really get involved in activism, and none of them would be remotely interested in a faith community seminar on same-sex marriage advocacy. (Mike once said I am the only Christian he knows.) I didn't really feel I could invite anyone to this; I am generally okay in a crowd as long as I am with someone I know. So I was waffling as to whether my interest in the topic outweighed my discomfort in being surrounded by unfamiliar people.

Fortunately, in March I attended a similar Pride Agenda event called "Faith and Fairness" at Union Theological Seminary, which featured Bishop V. Gene Robinson and Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum; it was an absolutely thrilling evening. As someone who -- like many others -- had to struggle privately for years to reconcile issues of faith and sexuality, it is unbelievably empowering to gather together with large numbers of other people from diverse faith traditions who have endured the same struggle and come to the same conclusions, and who are willing to stand up and say that homosexuality is not incompatible with faith. Eager for a similar experience, I decided to go.

I should mention that one of the aspects of my crowd anxiety is the overwhelming sense of loneliness; maybe it sounds odd, but I feel far less lonely in the woods miles from anywhere with just me and the birds than I do in Times Square. And one of the questions that kept running through my mind on my recent vacation was, "What exactly am I doing in New York if I'm so lonely all the time?"

Well, tonight I made absolutely the right choice. First off, I had dinner at MaryAnn's near the the synagogue, and discovered the genius that is a blood orange margarita. Mmm. Then, to kill time so I didn't arrive at the event too early, I decided I would walk west on 91st Street to Riverside, then south to 88th and back to the temple on Broadway. Turning onto 88th, I ran smack into my dear friend Simon O'Neill, who is about to depart for Japan where he is -- again -- understudying Placido Domingo in Metropolitan Opera tour performances of Die Walk├╝re. So that was a happy coincidence.

Then just inside the temple, I saw two more familiar faces I hadn't seen in years: an old friend from school and her partner of eight years, who happens to be the daughter of a worldclass classical musician, a real household name. They now have two biological sons, the second one just four months old. They invited me to sit with them and we caught up on the events of the past years.

The event was absolutely phenomenal; the speakers were incredible, from a red-hot barnstormer of a diatribe from Pride Agenda Executive Director Alan VanCapelle to the devastating personal testimony of an elegant 71-year old woman who related the legal obstacles that befell her when her partner of 30 years passed away from cancer a few years ago, which served to highlight the more than one-thousand rights and protections that are automatically extended to heterosexual couples with the signing of a single piece of paper which are denied to same-sex partnerships.

The program also featured a performance by the Gay Gotham Chorus, of which three of my friends (two of whom are bloggers) are members, so I got to hear them perform and wave at them. They were great!

I guess I'm not so lonely in this City after all.


Silus Grok said...

Man! Sounds like an amazing evening... wish I had been in town, as I would have jumped at the chance to go with you.

Oh well... maybe in my next life.

: )

Jeff said...

It was so random seeing you there last night!

Incidentally... all three of your friends in the chorus are bloggers.