Thursday, June 12, 2008

Sunday Scribbling #115: Guide

Archivists will have encountered this in Murat-ville back on September 3, 2007, but if ever there was a guide in M-ville it were Bill, hence the reprise:


[Be forewarned: the following is meant to be an homage and a confession, but in the truest spirit of Murat11’s blogs, it will be, first and foremost, as we all know, a ramble.]

This past week, in the wake of the Larry Craig buzzing, I was driving in early morning traffic, listening to an addle-brained local broadcaster engaging in faux journalism with his incessant “I’m just askings.” I suspect that his apparent attempts to be “objective” had more to do with Mr. Craig’s Republican affiliations than with any issues of sexual orientation; I seriously doubt that the likes of, say, Melissa Etheridge would have been accorded the same deference.

At one point in this faux-caster’s radio twaddle, he invoked the phrase “homosexual lifestyle.” So much for journalism. Just what is, I ask you, a homosexual lifestyle? What, for that matter, is a heterosexual lifestyle? It’s clear, from subsequent comments that Mr. Faux made, that you could substitute “cruising and promiscuous” for the words homosexual lifestyle. If cruising and promiscuous = homosexual lifestyle, then there are quite a few of us out here in hetero-land that qualify for new sexual designations.

Howzabout we retire “homosexual lifestyle” to the graveyard, right beside “I’m just asking.”

So saith the hummingbird darting outside my window.

It is very clear to my visitors that, when not going all goo goo and nostalgic, I have lately been deeply involved in The Episcopal Church’s and Anglican Communion’s quagmire regarding issues of “full” or “non” inclusion, as it relates to the blessed place of all people, regardless of sexuality, to be accorded equal standing (seating, and kneeling) within both TEC and the AC: equal standing here = LGBT rights to marry within the church, rights to have marriages and unions blessed within the church, rights to serve in capacities from diaconate right on through to Archbishop of the See of Canterbury. The word “rights” seems a terribly legalistic and inappropriate word for something which, to my mind, should be a given. I don’t think the Son of Man was into parsing the “rights” of women, children, and men: he kept it simple—a two-pronged mantra. If we can’t think with the clarity and hearts of children, we end up with the primatial mess in which we’re currently embroiled.

Over the past few weeks, all of this has had me thinking again of Bill.

In September 1978, I moved to Austin, to attend the University of Texas Graduate School of Social Work. I was, as it happened, also newly married, and newly cast in the role of stepfather to a beautiful 4 year old stepdaughter. Most of the “enlightened” folks around me thought “one” of those new developments would have been challenge enough, without going for all three. I chalked that kind of talk up to just the kind of thing I would expect from social workers with agendas to grind; they may have had a point, but who lives a life as “rationally” as all that?

One of the earliest items of business our first day of school was getting our assignments for field placements and field supervisors. I was assigned to Bill; I would be working with him at the Travis County Child Welfare unit. The prospect scared me to death.

In a meeting full of intensely dour world-savers, Bill stood out with his infectious (well, not infectious to his dour brothers and sisters) mirth, his bright smile, and his raucous, cackling, grackle-like laughter. As I sat in terror of knocking on the doors of child abusers, I wondered, what in the hell does this man have to be so happy about?

Here’s where the details get a little fuzzy, so the actual chronology may be just a bit off.

I found that, in addition to my terror with regard to knocking on doors, I was also terrified about the prospect of meeting with Bill for our weekly supervisory meetings. Intimacy with older men was not something I had ever been comfortable with. I had, for all practical purposes, been a fatherless child, and while my relationships with two stepfathers had not been in any real way hostile, they had been marked by a great deal of anxiety: silence always weighed heavily in the air of any car rides that may have featured just the two of us. And Bill expected me to show up weekly for a meeting with him to bare my soul and work ethic?

Here’s where we get to the cutting edge:

Somewhere in these early weeks, a new friend of mine mentioned that she had been a therapy client of Bill’s; to this item, she also posed a question: “Do you think he’s gay?” I didn’t know if he was gay, but after the question, I did know one thing: I was terrified by the possibility. And I can’t even say exactly what that new terror was even about, which is my point here: I think homophobia is much more than fear of being the same, or of being seduced, or any of the other absurd and ridiculous notions that attend it. Because what I felt was pre-verbal: it went to the very core of me: there were no thoughts, images, or specific worries: there was just terror.

[If this terror is what the global Anglican Communion has institutionalized, as my friend Kenny Strickland suggests, then we have our work cut out for us.]

So, added to my pedestrian terrors, I could add the angst of a deeply existential one. I was absolutely horrified by the prospect of my next meeting with Bill. But, I couldn’t duck it.

There are things you do in life about which you cringe upon recalling them later. I do not cringe about that next meeting with Bill, but the me that grew through my relationship with him is astonished that I was once so very confused and lost.

We went through our meeting pretty much as before, looking at my cases, my documentation, looking at my – old social work catch-phrase – “use of self.” Social work has gotten no better, perhaps even worse, at its penchant for ridiculous neologisms.

Near the end of our session, Bill asked me if there were anything else I needed to talk about. I should have just asked him if I could throw myself out his two-story window, but instead, I blurted out: “Are you gay?”

As if that were any of my fucking business; as if it made one bit of difference.

The room was very quiet. Bill smiled a very warm smile and his face turned beet red. He leaned towards me, clasped his hands, and said gently, “In all my years of supervising students, you are the first person to ever ask me that. I’ve been expecting the question for years.”

“Yes,” he said, “I am gay. And I am perfectly fine with telling you this. But: I expect you to respect this information, and not ever hurt me with it.”

I was astonished by his honesty, and by the courage of his vulnerability. I was simply blown away—and so was the terror.

Bill was the one true mentor in my entire 20 years as a therapist. He was by far the greatest of my human fathers. He passed away several years ago, but I love him to this day. His genius as a clinician was to keep things elegantly simple, and not get caught up in a wash of psychobabble. He taught me the deep healing of laughter in my work with my clients. Once, when I called him to refer a good friend of mine for counseling, he listened to a laundry list of what my friend was struggling with, laughed, and said, in summary, “Oh, so he’s just a big ole mess. We’ll have a lot of fun.” My friend came to love Bill just as I did.

(Bill loved messes and challenges. Later in our year of working together, he told me that when the supervisors were divvying up the new students, no one would touch me. “They thought you’d be too much of a challenge. I told them to give you to me, that we’d have a lot of fun.”

Two students in that incoming class were Harvard graduates. Both of us were shunned for the same reasons: Bill grabbed us both.)

The truly great therapists are so much more than clinicians: they are shamans. Bill was one of the greats.

He may have blown away my existential terror at our meeting at the Rubicon, but it took a bit longer to take care of my more pedestrian fears. A few weeks later, we met after I had managed to run off all the clients he had assigned me. These were all individuals who had been reported for ALLEGED child abuse or neglect, claims that were in need of investigation: I was responsible for substantiating the claims, not swallowing them whole hog.

Bill said: “You know, if you sum up your approach to these folks, you’re just another cop. These people have plenty of cops in their lives, plenty of bossy parents. They don’t need another one. You need to figure out how to be something different.”

The key was simply getting to know them, talking to them, hanging out with them. I never lost another referral that year. And I took that simplicity into my 20 years of practice. My goal at all times, even in the most heinous or difficult of situations, was to be able to speak of things as if we were simply breathing.

Bill was born in Gonzales, Texas. He’s buried down in Lockhart. He lives in my heart.

I’ve been reading a lot of Louie Crew’s Anglican Pages over the past few months. There’s a Bill, if I’ve ever seen one.

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Blogger Granny Smith said...

I was deeply moved by this. It was a wonderful tribute to Bill, guide abd friend.

As a Sunday Scribbler, with your early post, you have set a high standard for the rest of us/

2:30 PM  
Blogger rebecca said...

i liked that this was written from the heart...with many life-lesson reminiscings and affection.

bill seemed like one of those rare and unique individuals that if you ever had the pleasure of meeting in life, you'd be one of those lucky few.

your truthfulness was written in such tender prose that was only matched by the loyal and tender love you came to know from knowing him.

oh this was lovely murat....just lovely.

3:00 PM  
Blogger sister Laura said...

I enjoyed reading about your early years - makes great sense to me now to learn how you approach the messes.

See you soon. LDL

4:53 PM  
Blogger murat11 said...

Granny Smith: Bill was one for the Ages. Thanks for your kind words.

Rebecca: There were tectonic plates in my life that were only shifted because of Bill's love and friendship, and he shifted them, as with all good shamans, with the subtlest of touches.

Sister Laura: Glad to see you signed on here, as I write from the Kingsville "Metroplex." Bill's approach with me was so simple and straightforward: just the thing to mesmerize a young man stuck in his head (and his fear).

6:37 PM  
Blogger Tammie Lee said...

What a wonderful piece of your life you share with us. I am touched deeply in reading your tale. Bill does sound like a guide, and the kind that lives for ever in ones heart.

Like Granny Smith says, you have set a standard. I like this subject and am not sure yet, what I will share.

11:00 PM  
Blogger murat11 said...

Tammie Lee: Thanks for your good Montana words. I find that many shamans are hidden away where we least expect them: they shine brightly wherever they are, but they are not ones to seek the bright lights. Wonderful to find the gift of them when we need them most.

11:06 PM  
Blogger Lee said...

Do indeed remember a fair bit of this story, Paschal. I'm glad you revisited him. Especially the part about how to see and honor others by remembering that we are all so similar in needs and choices.

I've known about and heard bits of the dark side of life where alternatives are concerned. It worries me that there seems to be so much of it. Wondering if I'm being naive about there being more than in what I've encountered in my own.

Anyway, I hope you'll visit Bill again and tell us more about him and what types of things you two discussed and lessons learned. He sounds like a wonderful man. Glad he entered your life.

Oh, and before I forget, I like the imagery you chose for this one.


9:57 AM  
Blogger murat11 said...

Thanks, Lee. I'm not sure I entirely understand what you mean in your second paragraph, but something that came to me when I was working with clients who had gone through the most harrowing of lives was that all we can do is focus on and connect to the light, that it is truly stronger than the darkness. This came to me unreasoned, just as simple knowing. It does not guarantee that darkness will not enter our lives, but it is our way through even the most harrowing of passages. To some, it does sound simplistic and naive, but that is usually from folks who are living out of their heads (as I certainly have, and at times, still do). Bill the Grackle King lived out of his heart, deeply out of his heart.


11:05 AM  
Blogger paisley said...

what an absolutely intimate portrayal of a tribute to a wonderful man.. i so enjoyed this,, and wish so many more would be privy to the beauty you shared here with us today.....

12:39 PM  
Blogger murat11 said...

Thank you, paisley. Here's to many more Bills: they're certainly out there...

3:13 PM  
Blogger danni said...

i think people are fascinating, and i love the way you shared this relationship as it developed and grew - and good for you to know what great value he had for you - sometimes we get so fixated on picking up the stones that we miss the precious gems

3:45 PM  
Blogger murat11 said...

danni, thank you for dropping in over here, and thanks for your appreciative words.

3:49 AM  
Blogger Linda - Nickers and Ink said...

Lovely tribute.


IN MY FATHER’S FIELD, at Nickers and Ink

4:51 PM  
Blogger murat11 said...

Thank you, Linda.

5:42 PM  
Blogger Steve said...

nice one!

1:44 AM  
Blogger GreenishLady said...

I too loved this tribute to Bill. I've been fortunate to encounter supervisors and mentors with many of those qualities you valued in Bill. What really struck me was your description of him as a natural shaman. Yes! That's the thing.

4:23 AM  
Blogger murat11 said...

Steve and Greenish Lady: Thanks for your good words.

7:46 AM  
Blogger b said...

if your Bill is responsible for teaching people that are talented and able to do what you do, we should indeed be very grateful.

I don't know if anyone has said "thank you" lately but here it is!


7:25 PM  
Blogger murat11 said...

And thank you, scorpio/snake sister b. Not November 6th by any chance, are you?

9:17 PM  
Blogger Overeducated Twit said...

What a beautiful tribute, and so timely. We certainly could all use a Bill in our lives.

12:17 AM  
Blogger alister said...

I love people like Bill… One of the human gods, the ones receiving a signal from way out, from deep into the Universe, and translating it to those of us whose antennas are broken or just forming. You’re one of the luckiest creatures alive, you know… Right, you do know. And you are a challenge, btw ;-) A really good one.

10:52 AM  
Blogger San said...

Thank you for posting this again, Paschal. I loved it the first time around and it was wonderful to revisit it.

2:48 PM  
Blogger murat11 said...

OT: Thanks for your words. Bills do have a way of showing up, sometimes in the strangest of places. Having spent about twenty years around linear-thinking and box-building social workers (and other counseling folk), I came to realize that finding such a shaman in a social work grad school was never a given either.

9:54 AM  
Blogger murat11 said...

Miss Alister: I don't know about challenge: I'm sure it was my smart-ass admissions essay that tipped things that way, but in truth, at 24, I felt like one big lost puppy in life. Which, I suppose, would be challenge enough.

9:59 AM  
Blogger murat11 said...

San: Glad you re-visited this with me.

10:00 AM  
Blogger OneMoreBeliever said...

what a blessing to be so caring and w/a smile.. through no fault of my own...haha... i have been on the receiving side of welfare/social workers child abuse and when you meet a bill it is a ray of light from above... i cherish those moments deeply for such a person as bill to change the direction of lives... the system is so overloaded it is a heartache... it is good to know the something or other does not fall far from the tree...

6:46 PM  
Blogger murat11 said...

OMB: I'm sure there are many Bill trees out there: he sowed well...

8:44 PM  

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