March 28, 2013

Old Friends

I was a nerd growing up. Okay wait, I am a nerd. Not the science-type, calculator bearing type of nerd, more of the Dungeons and Dragons, science-fiction type of nerd. In high school I didn't have many friends, most certainly I wasn't the most popular kid in school, existing with a very small group of friends, four of us really. Now the rest of kids in my high school I had known since kindergarten  we had grown up together, so while I wasn't overly popular, I was liked. I wasn't ever picked on or bullied, and always felt welcome. I think most kids thought I was pretty strange, I existed in high school quite happily on the fringes.

Being on the fringes should have been, could have been lonely, but I was never lonely. Besides my core group of friends I had another group of friends with whom I spent most of my time. Those friends unfortunately weren't real, but I loved them all the same. These friends I found in the pages of books. Those books were my companions and I read like a fish breathes water.

I would read everywhere, anywhere, all the time. The books that I loved the most were fantasy or science fiction, but that didn't stop me from reading almost anything placed in front of me. I loved our English literature classes, I loved reading about history, biology, nature, science, but mostly I spent my time when not working or at school reading books about knights, sorcerers, wizards, maidens, dragons, devils, angels, other worlds, magic. It was marvelous. Even to this day I read, though not nearly as much as when I was a child - I blame my own busy brain and my increasing inability to focus, or to be honest, to sit and read without falling asleep - oh middle age.

One series, which I've kept with me since first discovering them in 1984 with the book, Spell for Chameleon, by Piers Anthony. The hero, Bink, is an outcast in his world, literally and figuratively. In his world, Xanth, every person has a special "magical" ability, from as mundane as causing a colored to spot to appear on a wall, to as grand as being able to transform other people into any living creature. Bink, it seems, has no such power, and as a result he is banished from the world for being different. Before being cast out he seeks help from the land's local magician, The good magician Humfrey. Ultimately his quest fails, and Bink is cast into our world, a place without magic.

The story takes a wonderful turn, and at one point finally Bink is returned to Xanth, and not only discovers his power, but finds that honor, goodness, truth aren't as apparent as he was taught growing up. Most importantly in the story Bink discovers love, with the character Chameleon, who also sought a cure for her malady, which was an ever evolving personality and persona. This book, so simple, and written for a young adult audience, created in my life a tone that was the basis for what would be rest of my life. Looking back, most kids were involved in sports, religion, social activities, I was swept away in these fantasy worlds, completely absorbed in the dream. At the time of reading them I didn't know that that parallels for reality was so closely running next to the fantasy world.

Bink, outcast, considered a loser because he was different, resonated with me, because at the same time I was dealing with the same types of issues. I was trying to understand at that early age my own sexual attractions, and besides that, much like Bink in his world, I in mine was considered an odd ball, a bit lonely, an outcast. My fantasy worlds were a life line, and they became my childhood gospels.

I've read 1,000s and 1,000s of books, some I have loved, some I just had to close the cover and shake my head. In those books though I am attracted to the characters who exhibit certain traits such as kindness, love, honor, passion, wisdom, truth, the desire to work for the good even when no reward is offered were the characters I loved the most. These characters were the basis of how I wanted to live my life. Looking back, with the clear focus of 20/20 vision of wisdom, I learned more from my fantasy life than I learned from characters such as Jesus, Moses, Abraham, Isaiah. My reading, entry into the fantasy world gave me the friends and mentors I couldn't find in the real world. Those books, little universes into their own right, gave me the power to grow into myself.

I still read some of those books from my boyhood. I've read "Spell for Chameleon 40 or 50 times in my life. I still read it, and will probably read it again this year. I know how the book ends, the twists, the turns, the story line. Yet as I read it, while it hasn't changed, I have changed. I have continued to evolve and grow in life. I love to see the friends I made in that book again and again, they're always there waiting for me. The message of the story, the underlying current is still true. Don't judge a book by its cover. Kindness and selfless acts are more rewarding than selfishness and mean-spiritedness. Love is worth fighting for. Passion keeps the heart pumping. Lies only beget lies, truth and honesty, are liberating. Being a loving human and loving fellow humans is the reward that makes life joyful.

My friends in those pages still wait for me. They're there to greet me. They're there to remind me of my boyhood fantasies to be a great person. They remind me that even though I'm different, it's my differences from others that are my gift. Bink was cast out; I was cast out as a gay man, as an atheist. Bink was brought back by his own actions of honor and love. I have found myself because of my own honor and love. Bink realized that his life was special not because he was going to fit into the standard of what was expected, but because his life was his own, he was special because he was Bink. Chameleon tried to hid her true self because not everyone loved every aspect of it. She learned from Bink and her own self discovery that she didn't outside people to love her, she need to love herself for who she was. Chameleon needed to be Chameleon. My life has become increasingly rich, rewarding, and wonderful because I no longer try to conform to society's definition of normal. I'm a gay man, married to another man (yes MARRIED). I'm a former Roman Catholic Priest who is an atheist. I've lost friends in life but have in losing some of those friends found a new family. I surround myself with positive energy and people. I cast out hatred and darkness. I chose to live my greatness in its own unique way.

Time to go, my friends are waiting.
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