Thursday, December 22, 2011

Come Home to Yourself for the Holidays

via Huffpost Gay Voices, by John-Manuel Andriote

The four little words "home for the holidays" pack worlds of meaning and sentiment. They may evoke warm memories of dazzling decorations, family gatherings, gift exchanges, holiday parties, and way too much food.

But for too many LGBT people, "home for the holidays" means anxiety, drama, and stress from families that may not accept them.

Those of a certain age (full disclosure: I'm 53) can find that this season brings up difficult memories of loved ones taken from us cruelly and prematurely by AIDS and other causes.

Missing our friends at this time of year can underscore our grief for the lives we started to build in our younger years with friends and colleagues we expected to know our whole lives, who are now gone.

For some of us, HIV/AIDS has had such a profound impact that it has made us reassess our lives and make big changes. For me, my own 2005 HIV diagnosis sparked a very real midlife crisis.

After I was able to be more rational and knew I wasn't likely to get sick or die in the near future, I chose in 2007 to return to my hometown of 40,000 in eastern Connecticut. I'd spent 30 years "away," living in big cities: Boston, Chicago, New York, and 22 years in Washington, D.C.

It's an understatement to say I never expected to live in Norwich again. But time, and a changed perspective, can make a man think about "home," and even his old hometown, in surprising new ways.

Longtime activist David Mixner writes in his new memoir, At Home with Myself: Stories from the Hills of Turkey Hollow, about coming to grips with turning 60 and finally letting himself process the impact AIDS has had on him.

For Mixner, dropping out of his busy life for a while, like a modern Henry David Thoreau, gave him the perspective he hadn't been able to gain in the midst of his whirlwind of activity.

For three years, in a mountaintop house perched between two peaks in a town of 10 full-time residents two and a half hours from Manhattan, Mixner kept company with animals, birds, the moon and stars, and, most importantly, himself. In Turkey Hollow, fully living life came to mean something different for Mixner.

Instead of carousing on Fire Island and late-night dancing with younger friends, it now had more to do with quiet pleasures like watching an eagle soar from a cliff. "After a lifetime I was at home with myself," he writes.

As it did for David Mixner, home has taken on new meaning for me since I gave up my "big-city" life. For me, home isn't a particular house, though it is an area of land, with its own geography, history, and lore.

We New Englanders feel deep ties to our rugged landscapes and take pride in the independent and resilient Yankees who have gone before us into the "history" that surrounds us in our old houses, town greens, and graveyards.

Home is my family, the people I've known my entire life. We are similar in the ways families are similar, but we are also very different in important ways, too.

Somehow we have managed to stand with each other through the best and worst times for more than half a century now.

And home also has come to mean being at home with myself. For years, I was embarrassed about my lifelong interest in plants and flowers; it seemed so "gay." Now I live in a place, back where I began, where men farm and garden and talk about it with knowledge and pleasure.

I was shy about the fact that I have loved to cook since I was a kid. But I've always been told I take after my grandfather John, who owned a restaurant and was known as a terrific chef. It's not unusual for Greek men to cook, but when I was a younger man, I wasn't yet ready to embrace that part of my heritage.

So "home for the holidays" has new significance for me. It means not just a special place or people I love who also love me. Now it means embracing the life that has been given to me, and the man I was made to be. Home, as they say, is where the heart is. Home is also in the heart.

It seems to me the longest, most difficult journey in life is the search for our true home, that accepting and safe place "somewhere over the rainbow."

Yet when we find it, the place where dreams really do come true, it can look so different from what we ever imagined. And we realize it's been inside of us all the time, waiting for us to discover it and, finally, come home to ourselves.

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