Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Grateful for Years in the Closet?

I have forced myself to write this post as a companion piece to the one I posted the day before Thanksgiving:  Grateful to be Gay?.

I’m going to be honest.  There is a part of me that deeply regrets not coming out before I was married, or at least not too far into my marriage. 

But let’s face it.  It’s hard on the psyche to accuse oneself of a betrayal of a large swath of one’s adult life.

As I have been contemplating this recently, I have thought back over the years of my marriage and tried to see and feel where I was at various points along the journey that has brought me to where I am today.  As I have done so, various “lessons” have come into my mind.

First lesson:  I wasn’t prepared to live life as a gay man when I decided to get married. 

I was far too far into the closet and into my Mormon religion in order to take that step at that time.  In addition, then was then and now is now.  It was far safer to get married then.  I have written elsewhere that I made a deliberate choice to get married, even though I knew I was attracted to men.  I have also written that I told my wife about this attraction before we got married.  But I didn’t really think of myself as “gay” then, just someone who was very attracted to men.  Despite flirting with the idea of coming out of the closet while on my mission, I really had bought into the Church’s teaching that I could be happy living in a heterosexual marriage and that I could control my attraction and be a better person because of these choices.

Second Lesson:  Though in a sense I was living a lie, I couldn’t see it at the time.

As I have written elsewhere, most of my life had been spent trying to please other people and to hide the real me (which was not limited to just the gay me).  In a very real way, joining the Mormon Church facilitated this process (i.e., pleasing other people and hiding the real me) and gave me the ultimate reward for doing so:  eternal salvation.  So, psychologically, I had a vested interest in “toeing the line,” i.e., living the “priesthood path.”

I also didn’t really know who I was.  Again, I had spent so much of my life with my false persona, I actually thought my false persona was the real me.  Though I had some moments of connection on my mission, I had grown and continued to grow so out of touch with my real self that I could not possibly have allowed myself to come out at that period in my life.

As to my attraction to men, this turned inward (i.e., once I was married) as I fantasized about men and sought relief and “fulfillment” through masturbation.  It was tremendously emotionally unhealthful (in the sense that it was closeted, secretive, inward and ultimately unfulfilling), but it was, in a very real sense, a survival technique.  Just like I had learned survival techniques in my abusive childhood, I now channeled my secret sexual orientation into my private, hidden world, which helped me to cope in the “real” world of heterosexual marriage and the “priesthood path.”

Third Lesson:  Being married and having children forced out issues stemming back to childhood abuse and abandonment.

This statement perhaps sounds bad, but it isn’t.  As astonishing as it may sound, I did not come to grips with my mother’s abuse and father’s abandonment until almost 10 years into my marriage.  I had trained myself so well to absolve my parents of any guilt that it took an almost complete breakdown for me to finally see what for so long I had tried to hide from myself.

I never would have reached that point, I don’t think, but for the fact that my “buttons” were constantly being pushed, day in and day out, by the demands of marriage and parenthood.  The situations I found myself in as an adult started the playing of “tapes” from deep within me, ghostly situations from my own childhood that were buried so deeply in my subconscious that I could not recognize what was going on.

I finally saw that I had “excused” both of my parents for what they had done to me, that I had unwittingly taken on the blame for their abuse and abandonment (as is common in abused children) so that I could preserve the image of doting parents in my mind.  (It is too psychologically damaging for abused children to see their parents, the persons who are supposed to love, nurture and protect them, as they really are.)

I could write much more about this, but it would be off-topic.  The principal point is that my breakdown, recognition of the abuse and the subsequent counseling I went through helped me to crack – for the first time in my adult life – the false persona that had encased me for so many years.

Fourth Lesson:  Even though my false persona had finally been cracked, I continued to have low self-esteem and poor self-knowledge.

I’ll be honest.  For most of my marriage, I have been co-dependent with my wife.  I felt like I needed her, and the thought of separation and divorce scared the hell out of me.  I was willing to go to great lengths to preserve our marriage, and I did so.  I was not emotionally healthy enough to assert myself, to feel good about myself as a heterosexual, let along as a homosexual.

Fifth Lesson:  The serious marital problems that my wife and I have had during the past several years prepared me for where I am today.

The problems that my wife and I have had in our marriage during the past several years forced me to confront half-hidden legacies from my dysfunctional childhood, to face some unpleasant things about both myself and my wife, to go through the counseling I have received, and to break out of co-dependent behavior.  In the process, my knowledge of self greatly increased and my self-esteem was enhanced.  I can clearly see that these challenges prepared the way for me to finally embrace my sexuality.

A major turning point in this regard came this past summer when I had a sort of epiphany in which I suddenly realized that there could and would be life after divorce, if that is what it came to.  In fact, life might even be better.  This experience strengthened me and helped me to move past codependency.  As my more recent therapist told me, “You need to be a position where you can say to your wife, ‘I choose you – not because I need you, but because I want you.’”  My revelatory experience helped me to move past needing to choosing, thus preparing me for the possibility that my wife might not choose me or that, ultimately, I might not choose her.

Sixth Lesson:  My marriage has given me wonderful children.

I laughed out loud when I saw the painting below by Wes Hempel entitled Fatherhood because I recognized so well the look on the man’s face.  I love it!  Though there have been many challenges involved in being a father, I am grateful for my children.  I have wonderful children whom I love, and they love me.  Sometimes, they even like me.  J

I am grateful that recent events in my life have helped me, I think, to see and relate to my children in a healthier way.  I have written particularly about my oldest son in this regard.  And I know intuitively that my relationship with my children will continue to grow more authentic as I grow more authentic.  For too long, our relationships have been governed by external mandates rather than internal, authentic love and caring.  I have already worked to change that and will continue to do so.

Seventh Lesson:  Everything I have gone through in my life has prepared me for this season of my life.

Because I know that I am gay, I suppose it is inevitable that I wonder what my life would have been like had I come out years ago, rather than now.  I particularly regret the passage of my youth, masquerading as a heterosexual, hiding in fear behind a mask.

However, wishing something “don’t make it so”.  And if I were to be honest with myself, as I have tried to be in what I’ve written above, I would admit that I was not in a position – emotionally, psychologically and religiously – to come out before this point in my life.

So, even though a part of me mourns what might have been, an older, wiser part (not the emotional part, and definitely not the sexual part) of me tells me that I should be grateful for the years I spent in the closet.  They prepared me, brought me to a knowledge of myself and gave me my children.

For all of this, I am grateful.  And as part of an ongoing effort to learn to love and forgive and accept myself, I must let go of the regrets, and go forward. 

I’m not so naïve as to think that this will not happen overnight.  But I have begun the journey.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Music and Identity: Advent Memories ~ O Come, O Come Emmanuel

I grew up in the Catholic Church, and many of my childhood Christmas memories are associated with the church services that took place during Advent, leading up to mass on Christmas Eve. 

The season started out plainly, the only decoration in the church being an advent wreath containing four candles.  On that first Sunday, the first candle would be lit, and another candle would be lit on each of the following three Sundays before Christmas.  The purpose of the Advent wreath, as well as Advent itself, was to remind us of the coming of the Christ child, and the idea was that we were to use this time to prepare ourselves for that event. 

The singing of Christmas hymns in church did not begin until that first Sunday in Advent; and at that early date, when Christmas seemed (in my boys’ eyes) a long time away, we traditionally sang a hymn that I associate with my earliest memories of the Christmas season:  O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.

The origins of the music of this hymn are unclear.  It is believed that the traditional music stems from a 15th century French processional for Franciscan nuns, but the melody may also be based on antiphons (short statements sung at the beginning of a Psalm or of the Magnificat at vespers) going back to at least the 8th century.  Each of the antiphons greets the Savior with one of His various titles used in the Scriptures, names such as "Emmanuel," "Lord of Might," "Key of David," and "Rod of Jesse." 

The original lyrics were in Latin, the text being based on Isaiah 7:14, which states that God will give Israel a sign that will be called Immanuel.  The text was translated in English in the mid-19th century.  I can remember both versions being sung, the Latin during my early childhood when the mass was still in Latin, and the English from when I was older.

Yesterday marked the beginning of Advent, and as another in a series of posts about music that has given meaning to my life (as I seek to regain lost elements of my identity after coming out), I am sharing this Advent hymn by posting two arrangements, the first a traditional Latin version sung by the L’Accroche Choir Ensemble of Fribourg, Switzerland (which has recorded a number of beautiful Christmas carols – including several in French – that are available on iTunes), and the second a contemporary version sung by Enya.

The English lyrics are as follows. 

O come, O come, Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free
Thine own from Satan's tyranny
From depths of Hell Thy people save
And give them victory o'er the grave
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Day-Spring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night
And death's dark shadows put to flight.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Key of David, come,
And open wide our heavenly home;
Make safe the way that leads on high,
And close the path to misery.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, O come, Thou Lord of might,
Who to Thy tribes, on Sinai's height,
In ancient times did'st give the Law,
In cloud, and majesty and awe.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Meeting with the Bishop: What Just Happened?

There must have been some reason why, almost 18 years ago, I went in to see our bishop, while in graduate school and serving as ward executive secretary, to tell him that I “suffered” from “same sex attraction”.  But for the life of me, I can’t remember now what it was.

As I look back on my early married years while I was in graduate school, and in light of my recent “coming out,” I have tried to remember what was going through my mind in terms of same sex attraction.  We lived in married student housing on the edge of campus in a large city.  I saw plenty of guys all the time, walking across campus and in classes.  But yet I don’t remember having a “problem” thinking about guys.  I certainly don’t recall ever having a guy crush or anything approaching a bromance.  (Well, maybe just a little one.)

So why, I wonder, did I go so far out on a limb to do something I had never done before and have never done since:  confide in my bishop that I secretly harbored an attraction to men?  I admit it:  I’m baffled. 

But I think my bishop was far more baffled by my confession than I am now.  I don’t remember exactly what I told him, but I think our conversation went something like this:

“Well, bishop, I asked for this opportunity to talk to you today because something has been weighing on my mind, and I’ve decided I want to get it off my chest.”

(Remember, I was serving at the time as executive secretary.  Every other member of the bishopric was about the same age I was.  My wife and I had been married about 3 years; we had one child by then and another one on the way.)

The bishop looked nervous and his brow was somewhat furrowed.  I imagined him thinking, “Oh no!  What now?”

“Well, bishop, I’m struggling with same sex attraction.  I’ve pretty much always struggled with same sex attraction, and even though I’m married, I still struggle with it.”

His facial expression shifted from worried furrowed brow to deer-in-headlight look.  This quickly morphed into a look that conveyed total incomprehension.

I think by then, I had started to cry a little bit.  This made the bishop even more uncomfortable.  He shifted in his chair and looked over the top of his glasses at me.

“Do you mean,” he finally said, “that instead of thinking, gee that’s pretty woman walking down the street, you instead think, there goes a good-looking guy?”

Rather stunningly simplistic, don’t you think?  But in an effort to go with this tack that the bishop had decided to take (after all, he was the one who was supposedly entitled to inspiration on my behalf), I said, “Yeah, that’s sort of it.”  (The words “gay” or “homosexual” were, to the best of my recollection, never used in our conversation.)

After that, my memory goes blank.  I have no idea what he said after that or what I said.  But I’m pretty confident that he didn’t go into any details – he probably didn’t want to – nor did we discuss, in any substantive way, what this “revelation” meant to me personally, or to me and my wife as a couple. 

I have the impression that he reacted in much the same way concerning my same sex attraction as he would have had I told him that I had a problem with masturbation, i.e., it was a “bad habit” that needed to be overcome.  This impression was reinforced in subsequent bishopric meetings when he started to call on me to say the prayer, then changed his mind and called on someone else.  He obviously saw my attraction as a “worthiness” issue that had temporarily afflicted me and would go away with time.

There were no follow-up appointments, and the subject was never discussed again between me and the bishop.  End of story.  I never again talked to him, or to any other bishop, regarding my same-sex attraction.

I look back on this incident now with a mixture of bewilderment, bemusement, sadness and regret.  I am bewildered and saddened by the fact that I do not have a clearer memory of what was going on in my mind and heart that was obviously significant enough to propel me into the bishop’s office.  I do know I must have written about this in my journal because I recall ripping certain pages out of my journal at a later date, wanting to leave no record of my struggles with homosexuality.

I am somewhat bemused by the bishop’s initial response to my revelation, but I am also saddened by it.  I wonder what might have happened if he had really pursued the matter.  Would this have had the effect of forcing the issue to the surface and inadvertently forcing me to confront my gayness?  I wonder ...
I can’t recall whether I told my wife, either before or after the appointment, why I had sought a meeting with the bishop.  How might this have affected our marriage had the bishop called my wife in so that we could discuss this together?

I am left with the conclusion that the bishop didn’t understand homosexuality and, in consequence, didn’t think I was really “serious” about being attracted to men.  Again, the comparison to masturbation:  it was of some concern, but I was a strong member of the church and could “deal with it.” 

I look back on this incident with regret because, even though I cannot remember the circumstances that propelled me to talk to the bishop about this, I was obviously concerned enough to feel that I needed “help” of some sort.  I wonder what might have happened if we had lived along the Wasatch Front at this time instead of in a large city far away from the center of the church.  For example, how might my life have been different if the bishop had asked me to go to Evergreen?  How might such an opportunity to explore my sexuality with others have perhaps affected the course of my life?

As it was, the whole matter was promptly swept under the rug and forgotten.  Based on my experience with this bishop, I concluded it wouldn’t do any good to ever bring the subject up again with another bishop.  So, I locked myself into the “Peter Priesthood Path” and marched forward, believing in the Path, yet at the same time dealing with feelings of guilt and self-loathing on a regular basis, resenting the guilt and self-loathing, but believing I had no other real choice.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Music & Identity: Fantasy for Violin and Orchestra

As I have written in other posts, my process of coming out is inextricably linked with a process of recovering my identity, of reaching back into the past and collecting bits of me that have been jettisoned or suppressed, stifled or repressed over the years.  Part of this process of recovering and affirming my identity involves reviving my interest in and love for music.

Today, I want to write about a piece of music I only recently discovered: Fantasy for Violin and Orchestra, from the movie Ladies in Lavender, composed by Nigel Hess and performed by solo violinist Joshua Bell.   I was introduced to it after it showed up in iTunes as something that I might be interested in.  The first time I listened to the entire performance, I literally felt transported, it spoke so powerfully to me. I have since listened to it several dozen times, and each time I do so, I experience the same reaction.

This music, to me, is awful, terrible, majestic, heroic – up to the very last defiant chord – which seems to reach directly into one’s soul and issue a challenge to defy fate, to embrace and live life in all its texture, to experience sorrow as well as joy, agony as well as ecstasy, doubt as well as faith; to be – in the fullest sense of the word – human.

I invite you to listen to it.  The movie is also worth watching.  It stars Maggie Smith and Judi Dench, the latter of whom plays an elderly spinster who falls in love with a young Polish violinist who washes up on the Cornish beach below her house after a shipwreck.  The film poignantly portrays (with the help of beautiful music) a mourning of life’s lost opportunities as well as the vibrancy of the romantic human spirit.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Lovely: Pachelbel’s Canon in D – Music and Identity

I recently published a post here about compiling a list of my 10 favorite movies.  I described how this simple exercise grew out of an existential crisis, in which I had realized just how out of touch I was with my Self.  

I have lately also been thinking about music and reflecting upon how it is a lost love in my life, like someone in a foreign country with whom I long ago shared a tender and fulfilling relationship, but then left to return home, and of whom I have fondly thought from time to time over the subsequent years.

In my earlier life, music was very much a part of who I was.  I learned as a child and youth to play several musical instruments and had (if I may be permitted to say so) a beautiful soprano voice before going through puberty. J  As an older teenager, I re-discovered my (more mature) voice and enjoyed singing in choir.  Within the somewhat limited cultural landscape of the place I grew up, I sought out and enjoyed opportunities to enrich my understanding and appreciation of music (while always being somewhat fearful that I might inadvertently expose my gayness in so doing).

For many years, my love of music has been lost amidst the demands of family, church and career, not to mention the abandonment of my former self when I got married (which I have written about here.  Now, during this time of re-naissance in my life, I wish to travel back to reclaim that part of myself who loved music and found meaning in it.

In this spirit, I thought I would occasionally prepare a post about (primarily classical) music that speaks or has spoken to me.  This is the first of these posts.

For as long as I can remember, I have loved Pachelbel’s Canon in D.  I somewhat regret that it has been somewhat cheapened by its mass appeal, but that in itself says something about the appeal of this piece of music. 

To me, there has always been something ineffable about this piece.  When I listen to it, I feel as though my spirit is being nourished by something spiritual, something pure, something unworldly, something eternal.  The melody seems to strike a chord of remembrance, to unlock a treasure chest of knowledge hidden somewhere within me.  In a way I cannot really articulate, I feel cleansed and uplifted and ennobled when I listen to this music.

When I think of the Canon in D, I think of a word that Joseph Smith (paraphrasing Paul) used to describe something that we as humans seek after in this life:  lovely-ness.  In its essence, the Canon in D is lovely.  I like that word; it has a nice gay ring to it.  It’s a word that is not used very much in our modern society. Oxford defines it as meaning “exquisitely beautiful,” and that is what Pachelbel’s Canon in D is to me:  exquisitely beautiful. 

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Grateful to be Gay?

I have been thinking about the subject of this post for some time, and Thanksgiving seemed an appropriate time to commit my (current state of) thoughts to paper in the form of words and images.  (By the way, in case you’re wondering about the above picture, it is meant to be part of the Thanksgiving theme, evoking the image of Squanto, friend of the Pilgrims … What?  You don’t believe that?  Okay ...  Okay ...  So I liked the picture and couldn’t resist using it.  Satisfied?)

I was going to title this post “Grateful to be Gay?,” then had second thoughts, realizing that there are indications that there are many guys in the Church who experience same-sex attraction (SSA) but do not consider themselves “gay” or “homosexual” (or queer … “peculiar”, maybe, but not any of the foregoing).  I therefore chose to use the term SSA, in part out of consideration of these brothers, but also because this is a term that all of us have been subjected or exposed to.  But then, I had third thoughts, and changed the title back to “Grateful to be Gay?” (partly because of the alliteration).

When I first really and truly came out to myself and my sisters and my wife (was it only last month?) and started reading every blog I could find about being Mormon and gay, I occasionally ran across a comment such as this one, written here by Warren Cory: “I never thought I would reach a point in my life where I would thank God for SSA rather than seeing it as a curse. But I don't think it is a curse. I think it is a gift!

When I first read that, my initial response was:  How in the world could anyone, particularly an active Mormon serving in a bishopric, thank God for SSA?  And beyond that, how could anyone possibly think of it as a gift?!

I have pondered these sentences for weeks now.  And I am still at a loss.  Therefore, I have decided to throw the following questions out to anyone who reads this blog, and I would really, truly, genuinely, (desperately) appreciate your comments.

 Questions for discussion:

1.   Warren’s first statement presupposes that God “makes” some of his sons and daughters attracted to people of the same gender as they.  To paraphrase an infamous question recently posed in General Conference, “Why would Heavenly Father do that?”

2.    Warren’s second statement goes further, and presupposes that, not only does God “make” certain of his children gay, but that gayness is a “gift,” implying, as Warren so states, that SSA is not a curse, but rather a gift.  How does one come to make such a statement?

 3.    If one accepts the fact, which I do, that one is born gay, how does one (particularly he who is steeped in the Mormon faith and culture) come to celebrate his gayness rather than to feel shamed and cursed by it?  Specific instructions would be appreciated.

4.    Moving beyond question #3, how does one come to view it as a gift from God? 

5.    I am perplexed by Warren’s statements because he is an active member of the Church who currently serves in a bishopric.  (My intention is not to “pick” on Warren, but simply to use him and his statements as a basis of discussion.)  He “honors” his priesthood and lives his life as a heterosexual priesthood holder living “the plan of happiness.”           

Therefore, if gayness truly is something to be grateful for and a gift from God, how does he/one reconcile the dichotomy between living what one truly believes one to be by divine grace [Oxford: “the unmerited favor of God”] versus living the “priesthood path” (straight, married, father, church service, etc., etc.) as taught by the Church?

I’m going to be honest.  I know I was born hard-wired to be gay.  But I don’t know why God would do that, when most of his children are apparently hard-wired to be straight. 

I would like to be able to view my homosexuality as something that can be celebrated, but I frankly find that difficult to do, particularly living as I do in a mixed-orientation marriage. 

I would love to be able to view my gayness as a gift from God.  But I’m not there yet. 

Happy Thanksgiving everyone.  I hope yours is spent with those you love, and in between the traveling and the turkey and the movies and the football games, I'd really appreciate your comments about the questions I have posed in this post as we think about what we are grateful for.


Monday, November 22, 2010

Existential Exercise: 10 Favorite Movies

A while ago, I wrote here about how I had experienced an “existential moment” when someone asked me to list my ten favorite movies.  I couldn’t do it.  I started into the exercise, then almost immediately froze, realizing I had no idea what my ten favorite movies are. This realization helped me to see just how out of touch I was with myself.

I have spent the past 10 days thinking about this, watching some of the movies that are listed below, and thinking about why I ultimately chose each movie that is on my list.  I am now very pleased to say that I have successfully compiled a list of my ten favorite movies, and because this represents such an important step for me, I wanted to share that list.  They aren’t necessarily listed in order of how much I like them; they’re just there, on the list.

Dead Poets Society

This is definitely one of my favorite movies, if not at the top.  I have written elsewhere of my love for this movie and my wish that I had had a John Keating in my life as a youth.  Keating calls to the boys to discover who they are, to reject convention and conformity, to live deliberately, instead of in quiet desperation.  Their slumbering spirits awake for a brief time, until one boy flew too close to the sun and plummeted to the earth.  This film evokes in me a desire to be alive to my self

August Rush

I love this film because it is a story about rising above one’s apparent assigned existence, having faith that destiny has called you somewhere else, and then having faith to go seek out and meet that destiny, believing all the while that others are called to meet you on your path and that they will come.  It features great music and wonderful performances by, among others, Jonathan Rhys Meyers and Robin Williams.


What can I say?  A movie directed by Clint Eastwood about Nelson Mandela, South Africa, rugby and my favorite poem, featuring a truly inspiring (true) story with an amazing performance by Morgan Freeman.  And did I mention that Matt Damon plays the captain of the Rugby team?  Definitely a favorite.

Ordinary People

Ordinary People is a 1980 American drama that tells the story of the disintegration of an upper-middle class family in Lake Forest, Illinois (wealthy suburb north of Chicago), following the death of the older son in a boating accident.  The film won that year's Academy Award for Best Picture, and Robert Redford (Best Director) and Timothy Hutton (Best Supporting Actor) also won Oscars.

I loved this movie when I first saw it, and I was wondering how I would feel about it upon watching it again.  Once I got past the hair-styles and the very dated cars used in the movie, I found the message of the movie to be as timeless as it was when it first came out in 1980. It addresses the conventions of (upper-) middle-class families; the lack of genuine communication and of authentic relationships; the absolute need to keep up appearances and never, ever go below the placid surface of a family life that is, at whatever cost, to be maintained.

Timothy Hutton plays the role of the son (Conrad) who survived a boating accident; his older brother did not.  The movie explores what happened to Conrad in the wake of the accident, as well as what happened to his parents.  Conrad goes to see a psychiatrist, Dr. Berger (Judd Hirsh), who helps Conrad work through his trauma. 

Some quotable lines from Dr. Berger:  “It takes more energy to hold things in than it does to let them out.”  “Let me give you a little advice about feeling:  don’t expect it to always tickle.”  “Feelings are scary and sometimes they’re painful.  But if you can’t feel pain, then you can’t feel anything else, either.” 

Like I said, this film deals with issues and asks questions that resonate with me as much or more today as they did when I first saw the film years ago.  Particularly relevant was the depiction of the chain of events that ultimately led to Conrad’s father (Donald Sutherland) deciding he could not go on living a false existence with his wife.

It’s a Wonderful Life

I believe any man who has sacrificed all or a part of himself for the good of his family and/or for the good of others, while at the same time feeling like life’s parade has passed him by, can strongly relate to this movie.  Even though it was made over 50 years ago and depicts events going back to soon after the turn of the last century, it is timeless in its message. 

I am not at all sure that I had seen this movie before my mission.  One of my missionary companions said it was his all-time favorite movie, and I was embarrassed that I couldn’t recall ever seeing it.  This was remedied upon my return, and I now faithfully watch it every December, preferably on a dark and snowy night.  I annually work through the catharsis with Jimmy Stewart from that of hopeful youth, to (overly) responsible young man, to lost dreamer, to responsible married man, to resentful cynic, to – ultimately – a man who sees as he is seen, who is blessed with the rare and wonderful gift of understanding that his life has truly made a difference.  What can I say?  It makes me tear up just thinking about it.


This is my favorite sports movie that goes far beyond being just a sports movie.  It tells the remarkable true story of the 1980 U.S. Men’s Olympic Hockey Team.  Inspirational, exciting, and nostalgic, capturing the mood of the country and the sense of the times.  Ordinary people – amateur hockey players – achieved something truly heroic and helped Americans renew their belief in themselves and in their nation.


This French film released in 2007 has become my favorite comedy.  It imagines what happened in a period that is undocumented in the famous French playwright Moliere's own biography: the years between his release from prison in 1645 at age 22 (because his theatre company went bankrupt and he could not pay his debts) and his return to Paris 13 years later after a triumphant career as a travelling playwright and actor.

Though in French (with English subtitles) and set in the middle of the 17th century, the film to me is very accessible, truly funny and extremely entertaining.  The story begins upon Molière’s release from debtor's prison by Monsieur Jourdain, a wealthy commoner with social pretensions, who agrees to pay the young actor's debts if Molière teaches him to act.  Jourdain, already a married man with two daughters, hopes to use this talent to ingratiate himself with Célimène, a recently widowed beauty with whom he has become obsessed, by performing a short play he has written for the occasion.

Molière, however, who has been presented to the family and staff of Monsieur Jourdain as Tartuffe, a priest who is supposedly to serve as tutor for the Jourdains' younger daughter (even though Jourdain is clearly Protestant), proceeds to fall in love with Jourdain's neglected wife, Elmire. The threads of the plot weave in and out, featuring true comedy and terrific acting. Many scenes follow actual scenes and text in Molière's plays (including Tartuffe and Le Misanthrope), and Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme, whose principal character is also named Jourdain), in a manner that implies that these "actual" events in his life inspired the plays of his maturity.

Romeo and Juliet (Zeffirelli)

This film, when it first came out in 1968, revolutionized the way Shakespeare’s play was taught in high schools across the country.  A beautiful Italian and English production, it depicted the star-crossed lovers as they actually would have been – teenagers – and beautiful ones at that.  The exquisite costumes and cast, together with the haunting soundtrack (and, of course, Shakespeare’s play), make this one of my favorite movies, even though it was made over 40 years ago.  It won Academy Awards for Best Cinematography and Best Costume Design and was also nominated for Best Director and Best Picture.  It holds special meaning to me because of what my freshman English class and teacher meant to me.

The Sound of Music

I started to write that nothing needs to be said about this movie.  But then, I thought I wanted to say this:  Apart from the wonderful music, apart from the themes of love, exploration of self, and resistance to tides of change – above all this for me is the story of ordinary people who did something extraordinary; who faced evil and chose to gamble everything on an opportunity to live free.  This is true courage, and this is ultimately why I love this movie.

Fiddler on the Roof

I selected this last choice because of the music and the story behind this musical.  Dealing as it does with being a people apart, endeavoring to maintain tradition and to find meaning in that tradition in the face of changing times.  Being swept up and carried away by changing times.  Attempting to love one’s children while at the same time feeling the pull of tradition, of belief.  Choosing between children and belief.  Loving.  Laughing.  Living. All between the gates of sunrise and sunset.  It may be brief, but it is our human experience – and I love movies that explore the meaning of that experience and celebrate it.

Honorable Mentions

I also love the Harry Potter movies, the Chronicles of Narnia movies and the Lord of the Rings trilogy.  I consider them in a class by themselves.

A new favorite is The Pianist – another one of those R-rated movies I never watched and have only recently seen.  (The only reason this movie has an R rating, by the way, is because of graphic brutality to humans, which one might expect in a movie about the Holocaust.) 

This movie is based on the autobiography of Polish (Jewish) pianist, Władysław Szpilman, and recounts what happened to him from the time of the German invasion to shortly after the liberation of Warsaw.  There is much in this film to write about, including the lovely music, and I hope to a post in the future about some of the aspects of this film that both touched and troubled me.  The film won Academy Awards for Best Director, Best Actor and Best Adapted Screenplay and was nominated for Best Film, Best Cinematography, Best Costume Design and Film Editing.  The film also won Palme d'Or at the 2002 Cannes Film Festival and seven French Césars including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actor for Adrien Brody (who became and remains the only American actor to win one).

I also really liked the movie Defiance, based on the true story of Jews who went into hiding in the forests of Belarus during the Second World War, shielding women and children while carrying out guerilla attacks on German soldiers.  Of the same, but different, genre was Valkyrie.  This was a thriller, again based on a true story of German military men who tried to stand up to Hitler.

I haven’t seen enough gay-themed cinema yet to comment on this genre.  I loved Shelter.  I found A Single Man thought-provoking and interesting. 

Were the World Mine was whimsical and fun.  Next on my list are Latter Days, Brokeback Mountain (no I still haven’t seen that) and Milk.   Thanks to those who have offered their suggestions regarding this genre.


The result of this exercise:  I think, I feel, I AM.