Unity is an easy theme for me to write about. When I was a student in seminary many years ago, my view of life was that we are all connected, we are all one giant body, and we thrive or fail based on what others around us do when we’re in need.
I’ve tried to live that philosophy all my life, even when the seminary basically kicked me out when they found out I was gay. They could deny me my education, but they couldn’t deny me what I’d leaned while there. Unity.
That unity, that one-ness, has always been important to me. When a young gay man I vaguely knew was in trouble, depressed, having a hard time dealing with some unfortunate health news, without a second thought I went to him and helped to pull him up out of his depression. I couldn’t stand to see him so down and took it upon myself to try to get him through his dark time.
I fed him occasionally, I took him walking, I listened to him finally talk about what he was thinking and feeling. When he had medical appointments, to be sure he got there, I left work and picked him up and went with him. When he had trouble getting enough money together to pay his rent for a couple of months I helped him out
We were both part of the same big picture, whatever you want to call it—life, Gaia, god, a body. The terms don’t matter. What matters is that we were both part of the unity of life. He had need, I could help, so I did. When one part of the body sees another part in need, it’s our responsibility to lend a helping hand, because each part of this giant body of life is valuable. When any one part is lost, the unity of life is damaged, becomes more incomplete.
When another young gay man came out to his mother, she didn’t take the news at all well. She threw him out of his home, the only home he’d ever known. One day he was a basic seventeen-year-old kid, and the next day he was homeless and on the streets. When we saw this, we had space, we had concern we could share, so we invited him to stay with us for a while.
I was nervous as hell doing it, because I’d never had children, so I hadn’t been through anything with them. But when I was in need, Elizabeth North listened and gave me the advice I needed for how to handle things. She, with three teenaged sons who were all growing up to be fine young men, was what I considered to be an expert. I’ll never forget how much just one phone call gave me confidence I needed.
The time with that young man was one of the best I can remember. He was depressed, he was feeling alone. It was easy to show him a stable male couple and to give him an example of what life could be if he stuck with it. We learned a lot during that time, especially that we needed to buy ice cream in much larger containers! But it was all part of the unity of life. He hurt, so we hurt. But we could help, so we tried.
There have been others, but the details don’t matter. The key thing is that we saw people around us, whether we knew them or not, who were in need of one thing or another, and we’ve tried to reach out and help. Sometimes it worked, sometimes our offers were refused. But we tried. If one part of the unity of life is in pain, I feel that pain with them. If they have need and I can help, I see it as my responsibility to try to lend a helping hand. Not to do something for them, but to help them do something for themselves after they get through their rough patch.
It doesn’t matter if the person is different. We’re all different. That’s part of the beauty of life. The tapestry of life weaves all those different threads, all those different lives together, into a beautiful picture, a vibrant picture that is only complete when all of us are there.
One final anecdote. A young man I barely knew, a student, was in trouble. He was suicidal, but he reached out for help and was admitted to a hospital for care. We were in the middle of a humongous storm, so the people who would normally have gone to see him couldn’t get there. I was close to the hospital, so I went. I couldn’t stand the idea of him sitting there all alone.
I had never been in a psychiatric ward before, so I had never been through the process of getting into the ward, of securing anything that was potentially dangerous, such as keys, before I could enter. But I did it, found him sitting alone in a common room, and we simply hugged. We sat for an hour and just talked. I listened a lot. What we said didn’t matter. I needed to show him that he wasn’t alone and that he could get through it. That there was more than just what he was going through at the moment. One part of the body of life hurt, and it cost me so little to just spend a couple of hours with him off and on that week.
It might seem like our country is more divided than ever. But no matter how you look at it, we are all still part of the same body. The floods in Houston recently show that. People who didn’t know those in need came, launched boats, and went out to pull people from their flooded homes. They could have been bitter opponents politically. But the unity of life triumphed over all. When one hurts, we all hurt. Unity.