After Mass at Newman / Holy Spirit Parish, it was nice to have some quiet, restful time. Attending Mass at Holy Spirit had been another emotional experience for me -- being back there for Mass for the first time in over 25 years. So I sat in the sun for a bit, then changed to get ready for dinner.
A bit of background here: In 1978, a number of progressive Roman Catholics got together in Berkeley to form a religiously-based organization to oppose what was known as Proposition 6, or the Briggs Initiative. Those of you who saw the film Milk will know right away that this was the CA ballot measure that sought to prevent gay men & lesbian women & allies of gay / lesbian rights from teaching or working in the CA public schools. The organization, named Catholics for Human Dignity (CHD), became the lobbying arm of Dignity USA, the national organization of glbt Catholics, their families & friends. Somehow, I was invited to attend a meeting of CHD to plan our anti-Prop 6 campaign. To this day, I cannot remember who invited me to a Northside apartment in 1978 where I met two men with whom I became close friends: Scott McElhinney & José Léon. Scott was a UC Berkeley undergraduate; José was a graduate student at the Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley (JSTB). It was their apartment, & there I also met Mary Hunt, then a doctoral student at the GTU & now co-director of WATER (Women’s Alliance for Theology, Ethics, & Ritual), a national Catholic feminist organization, and Eileen DeLong, a Sister of the Good Shepherd on sabbatical at JSTB, where she had been deeply moved by the situation of gay men & lesbian women in the Catholic Church. At the time I first met Scott, José, Mary & Eileen, I was in the throes of figuring out my own sexual orientation; having separated from my husband on New Year’s Eve 1975, I’d been content with celibacy & wasn’t looking for either a man or woman in my life. It would be two more years before I would “come out” as a lesbian women, at the end of my first year in seminary.
Although I didn’t consider myself to be lesbian, I had no trouble seeing the justice issue involved in Prop. 6. Nor did my sister, Andi, nor did our parents, both of whom visited us that summer. “If gay & lesbian people are banned from teaching, who will be next? Jews? Single mothers? Blacks?” I think both of our parents voiced just that concern. So I marched in the 1978 San Francisco Gay / Lesbian Freedom Day Parade with a big “No on 6” button on my t-shirt. Two years later, after meeting, loving, becoming lovers with, & breaking up with Kathleen, I came out & began a long active association with both SF Dignity & CHD & helped to found a chapter of Dignity in the East Bay. All of that lasted until the end of 1983, when I formally left the Catholic Church for nearly 10 years.
Back in 1978, Scott, José & I quickly became good friends, & we remained close friends throughout my years in the Bay Area. Scott remained an especially good correspondent after I moved to Boston, & even when he didn’t hear back from me, he kept in touch through the years, even visiting me for several days. So seeing Scott & José was a high priority on this visit. They made it easy, as Scott is an excellent organizer & José an excellent cook with a lovely house & back yard. José invited several of us for dinner on Sunday, 13 June.
José has been an ordained priest for over 25 years, serving as pastor of a parish in Union City, CA; Scott has worked at UC Berkeley for about 20 years. Scott’s husband, Alan, received his MLS degree from UC Berkeley & is now a librarian at Dominican College in San Rafael, CA. Shortly before I left the Bay Area in 1987, I told Scott that I knew a man I thought he would like, thinking of Alan who, at the time, worked as Admissions Director at PSR. I mentioned to Alan that I thought he would like my friend Scott, who, at the time, was working in the Admissions Office at UC Berkeley. Without me actually introducing them, they met; two years later, they met again & got together. They’ve now been together for 21 years & got married in San Francisco prior to the passage of Prop. 8 in November 2008.
In addition to Scott & Alan, we had invited several other friends; only 1 other couple could make it, Brad & his partner, Dan. Brad is a psychotherapist, & we knew each other from Dignity.
It was a lovely, delicious, and often riotously funny dinner. We talked, laughed, told stories, talked about the Church – what else do practicing Catholics (with 1 Episcopalian) talk about when they get together? The food was marvelous, &, no surprise, the time went by all too quickly. That evening, however, confirmed something that I had wondered about: That although I had been away from the Bay Area for over 20 years, I still had and still have a community there – a community of close, dear friends who would love it if I were to move back there; a community upon which I could depend. Dinner with Scott, José & Alan that evening confirmed that my community is still there. I slept very well that evening.
The following day, Monday, I was set to change locations, from the PSR campus to the home of my wonderful friend Nancy Midlin & her husband Bill Coy in Oakland. Nancy & I had known each other since the mid-1970’s at Newman / Holy Spirit (NHHSP), where she was music director & I a member of the choir. We hadn’t kept in touch, although every once in a while, I would hear about her life from a mutual friend, Mary Christine O’Connor, who had also been a choir member & now lived in New York. Then, nearly 5 years ago, at the same time as Hurricane Katrina was devastating New Orleans, Paulist priest Fr. Jac Campbell died in Boston. Jac had been director of NHHSP for several years, & he & I had become close when we discovered we were both living in Boston. Jac had kept in touch with Nancy & several other NHHSP friends. Thus, after Jac’s wake – at which I had spoken, for both myself & Mary Christine – I was amazed & so very glad to see two women walking toward me who I knew I knew… Nancy and Heather had flown from CA for Jac’s wake & funeral. Nancy & I had stayed in touch since then, & when I told her that I was planning to visit, she invited me to stay at her house.
What a wonderful invitation, and what a lovely time I had there!! In addition to Nancy & Bill, her 20+ year old daughter Liz lives there with her 18 month-old daughter Natalia. When I first arrived, Nancy’s 2 sons were visiting. So I arrived that afternoon via East Bay Para-Transit into a sea of fun, laughter, good humor, & wonderful people. I stayed there through Saturday morning, & it was wonderful to spend time with Nancy, get to know Bill a little better – we’d both been at the GTU at the same time – & get to know Liz & Natalia, who is a delight. It was lovely, too, to spend the rest of Monday resting, both before & after having a lovely dinner.
Tuesday, 15 June, was my busiest & fullest day – lots on the calendar. First: 12:10 pm Mass at Newman / Holy Spirit; then, lunch with a friend from the GTU; finally, a gathering at LaVal’s Pizza on Northside with whoever decides to show up.
15 June is the actual anniversary of my Baptism, Confirmation, & First Eucharist; 35 years ago that day, I formally & officially became a Catholic, standing before the community and affirming the Creed that is the faith of the Catholic Church. So the para-transit van dropped me off at Newman / Holy Spirit so I would be able to celebrate my 35th anniversary there – something I had very much wanted to do & one of the reasons I had chosen the particular dates I’d selected for my trip.
Since I was early for Mass, I rode down College from Dwight to the Elmwood district, the three block area along College and Ashby Avenue. I lived in the Elmwood for over 4 years, from 1976 until 1980 & had loved it, renting a one-bedroom flat on the 2nd floor of an apartment building at the corner of College & Stuart Street; the building is still there, and it still looks the same. I doubt it had even had a paint job. A bit further down the street, I was delighted to discover that Nabolom Bakery was still in its same location on Russell Street, and that Body Time, the original Body Shop, still had a store on College. Body Time, founded in 1970, was the first natural and organic body care company; it is still based in Berkeley, still distributes product in reusable containers, and has not “franchised.” I went into the College Avenue shop to purchase a few items that I had missed in Boston, including several wonderful olive oil soaps. Many other shops that had been on College Ave. had disappeared, including the delicious Russian restaurant where I’d eaten with friends. However, the movie theater is still there; the last film I saw there was Kiss of the Spiderwoman. After checking out other stores, I returned to Holy Spirit.
Mass at NHHSP: It was lovely, a typical weekday Mass, quiet, with time to pray & reflect – something I’ll do in writing in another blog.
Then it was time to head for lunch with Anne Dinkelspiel Howd, a friend from the GTU & someone who had been very supportive in my early days of coming out. We met at a small Indian restaurant on the corner of Shattuck & Virginia & spent a wonderful hour talking, catching up, and laughing. She is now raising a son & has a psychotherapy practice. We could have talked for another couple of hours…
I went from there, still in my wheelchair, back up to Northside, following Virginia Street the entire way until I could turn right onto Scenic. From there, I spent some time in the GTU Library where I worked as a cataloger for several years, before heading to LaVal’s.
In riding around both Northside and South of the campus, I again saw clear evidence of the CA financial crisis. Sidewalks have been left in disrepair in many places. More interestingly, the areas of grass between sidewalks and streets on almost every street have been left to grow into weedy, unkempt messes; no one has mowed them, even where homeowners have mowed their own lawns. In many places, the paint has faded in crosswalks and has not been refreshed.
LaVal’s is a Northside institution; everyone knows where it is, & it’s been there since long before I began my graduate work in 1979. So it was a perfect place to meet. I got something to drink – no food because of my gluten-free diet – and waited to see who would show up. The first to arrive was my friend from PSR, Garland Walker, who had come up from Modesto. Garland & I met during my 1st year at PSR, when we both took Systematic Theology with Robert McAfee Brown & ended up in a working group together in which we were to critique a book; we chose Hans Küng’s On Being a Christian. That experience certainly changed my life – but that’s a long story for a different blog… Garland had also been very close friends with one of my closest friends, Stuart Weiner, a PSR student who was killed in February 1983 by a speeding car. So Garland & I had much to discuss & share.
After we had talked for 45 minutes or so, Heather arrived, & the 3 of us went inside. After a while, a friend I’d met through Jac Campbell, Ludwik Zych, who lives in Palo Alto, showed up with white tulips & a card; he & I hadn’t seen each other for over 25 years & were very excited. Nancy then came from the airport where she had dropped off her 2 sons, & finally Scott arrived. It was such a lovely event – lots of laughter, catching up (especially for me with Ludwik), lots of people getting to know each other. Again, it confirmed for me that I have a community in the Bay Area & will have one to which to return when I move back sometime in the future. Scott helped me onto the van, & I was ready to return to Nancy’s for some rest & sleep & not a few tears.
To Be Continued Tomorrow With Part III.......