I’ve been thinking about my brother Dave lately. He was less than two years older than me and died, too young, in a tragic accident several years ago.
Dave and I were constant companions when we were very young. He was the very personification of the term “mischievous”: he got me into all sorts of trouble and, like most brothers close in age, we quarreled – and even fought – quite a bit. As we got older, we sort of came to a fork in the boyhood road, and he turned one way with his group of friends, and I turned the other with my group of friends. That’s the way it is supposed to be, I guess.
Dave, though talented athletically, never did very well in school. Unfortunately, he received no end of grief from my mother about this as well as his “antics.” As he got older, he started to get into more serious trouble, which involved alcohol and then drugs. He eventually married, but that didn’t last too long. He was an attractive man, and with his big brown eyes – what my fraternity brothers would have jokingly called “bedroom eyes” – and his long eyelashes that he could bat at just the right moments as required, he charmed many women.
Unfortunately, Dave always seemed to pick the wrong kind of girl. To use a common phrase, he looked for love in all the wrong places, inevitably getting hurt after he had been used time and time again. I could see what was happening: he was trying to fill a gigantic hole in his heart that had been created when he was just a boy. He turned to alcohol to fill the void; he turned to drugs; he turned to women who took advantage of his giving nature then left him. His hole was never filled, and he died as the indirect result of the way he had lived his life, still looking for the love that had eluded him all his life.
At his funeral, a song was sung that poignantly reflected the tragedy of Dave’s life. I have been thinking about that song lately, and that made me think about Dave. The words to the song have for years both haunted and inspired me. Inevitably, they made me think of Dave. The song: “The Rose,” by Bette Midler. Here are the lyrics:
Some say love, it is a river
that drowns the tender reed.
Some say love, it is a razor
that leaves your soul to bleed.
Some say love, it is a hunger,
an endless aching need.
I say love, it is a flower,
and you its only seed.
It's the heart afraid of breaking
that never learns to dance.
It's the dream afraid of waking
that never takes the chance.
It's the one who won't be taken,
who cannot seem to give,
and the soul afraid of dyin'
that never learns to live.
When the night has been too lonely
and the road has been to long,
and you think that love is only
for the lucky and the strong,
just remember in the winter
far beneath the bitter snows
lies the seed that with the sun's love
in the spring becomes the rose.
For Dave, love had definitely been a razor which left his soul to bleed – a hunger, an endless aching need that was never filled in mortality. I spoke at Dave’s funeral and, while feeling his presence near, I felt sure that, though he had passed through many bitter snows in this life, in the springtime of eternity, the seed of love within him would blossom as the rose.
I cannot think of that experience or listen to this song without becoming emotional. Yet, in recent weeks, this plaintive ballad has taken on deep, rich additional meaning to me – all the more so because this meaning came to me as though a message from “out there.”
One morning, a couple of weeks ago, I was out for my morning run. It was dark and cold and I was listening to my iPod as I trudged along. “The Rose” came on. It had been my habit, on many occasions when that song came up, to skip over it because I just didn’t feel like dealing with the emotions that invariably accompanied listening to it. On that morning, however, I resisted that temptation and let the music continue.
As I listened, a realization gradually dawned on me as the morning sun casts its light over a waiting landscape. The insight was stunning and caused me to stop in my tracks. I listened to the words of the second verse: “It's the heart afraid of breaking that never learns to dance. It's the dream afraid of waking that never takes the chance. It's the one who won't be taken, who cannot seem to give, and the soul afraid of dyin' that never learns to live.” I began to sob right there on the street as I realized that these words described the coming out process that I had been going through the past several months. My dreams had so long been afraid of waking, I had been afraid of being taken, afraid of dying, afraid of learning to live. But all that had changed when I decided, after another message from “out there,” that I could no longer live the way I wasn’t.
I started to run again, but then the words of the third verse filled my soul with new and unlooked-for meaning: “When the night has been too lonely, and the road has been to long, and you think that love is only for the lucky and the strong, just remember in the winter, far beneath the bitter snows, lies the seed that with the sun's love in the spring becomes the rose.”
For me, the bitter snows had for so long symbolized the abuse I had suffered as a child and the affects of that abuse that had blanketed my inner core as with ice for so much of my life. But on that dark winter morning, the new meaning that came to me, that changed me forever, was that these words described perfectly the inner yearnings I had experienced for most of my life to be loved and to love as I was made to love – as a gay man.
As this realization came to me and I again stopped, sobs arising unbidden, I was totally overcome as I contemplated the concluding words and realized that my coming out represents the sun’s love, and that – at long last – the seed that has been buried within me can blossom in the springtime.
But this was not all. Accompanying these realizations was a tangible feeling of love, both from “out there” as well as arising from within, and a feeling of total and complete acceptance – and peace. For perhaps the only time in my life, I felt “at one” as these feelings from without reached out and joined with the feelings that arose from within me, uniting, harmonizing, healing. And just at that moment, for a whisper of a second, I sensed Dave near, smiling, and I realized that he was the source of at least part of the love I was feeling at that moment.
Here, then, is Bette Midler performing this song that has affected me so deeply for so long.