In an earlier posting, I explained that during the three years I volunteered at the St. Paul-Ramsay Medical Center AIDS clinic I attended over thirty memorial services. Lon’s was particularly hard for me as he had become a good friend.
Two other men with AIDS also became steadfast friends. I spent time at their home, listened to Andrew play gospel music on the piano, and watched Robert repair plumbing under the sink. We ate together and walked in the cool of a summer evening around their perennial gardens.
Both of them attended the Minneapolis AIDS clinic where Joanne, the nun who had accepted me into the program, volunteered. While there one day, Robert and Andrew had spoken with her about the possibility of a monthly prayer meeting.
Joanne asked Mary and me if we’d facilitate a prayer group in a former classroom at a vacant school building used by the Roman Catholic diocese for gatherings. Our first meeting was in January 1991.
Robert and Andrew, Mary and I were the sum total of the group, which met for six months. We prayed not only in the traditional way but also in the sharing with and entrusting of our lives to one another. Both men were in their late thirties or early forties. Mary and I were in our fifties. Robert had served for a number of years in the navy. Afterward he found a job at the post office where he was still working in the spring of 1991.
Not able to make a living as an artist, Andrew had a series of jobs through the years. He used his artistic ability in the gardens he designed around their small home in one of the northern suburbs.
Andrew laughed often, throwing back his head so that his dark lank hair flopped on his broad forehead. Robert, on the other hand, had a wry sense of humor that came perhaps from his years in the navy and his more realistic, pragmatic approach to life. He’d tell a joke and then wait, a gleam in his eyes, for me to “get it.”
They were a good match, each encouraging the other to tell this story or that. They had planned, as Robert said, “to grow old together.” Andrew chimed in that they already argued "like an old married couple."
In June we decided to cease meeting because they could no longer easily drive at night across the Twin Cities. Instead, they both invited me to visit them.
That July, the Senate hearings began on the confirmation of Clarence Thomas whom President George H. W. Bush had nominated for the Supreme Court. In those hearings, Anita Hill alleged that Thomas had sexually harassed her when she worked as his subordinate at the Department of Education.
Early in October 1991, television brought those tense hearings into Robert and Andrew’s living room. The two of them, plus Andrew’s visiting parents, and I sat mesmerized by Clarence Thomas’ and Anita Hill’s testimony.
Wikipedia details the manner in which the “all male Senate Judiciary Committee challenged and dismissed Hill's accusations of sexual harassment.” Andrew and his father totally believed Thomas’ explanations and belittled Hill. They loudly faulted the woman, not the man.
This was a true learning experience for me. I’ve never gotten involved in the fight for the Equal Rights Amendment. But the sexism in that living room astounded me. (I was fifty-five at the time.)
Later, after Andrew’s parents left to return to their home in an eastern state, I learned that he really hadn’t believed Clarence Thomas.
“So why did you say all those things?”
“Because pa was sitting there.”
“I don’t understand.”
Robert, who’d remained silent while Andrew and his father denounced Anita Hill, explained: “Andrew’s still trying to please his dad.”
“By saying what he didn’t believe?”
“Lots of dads aren’t proud of who we are. This was a chance for Andrew to appear normal to his. Just like any other guy.”
My heart cried for them both. They had to live—in so many nooks and crannies of their lives—a lie others imposed on them.
(Continued on Saturday . . . )
Symbols from Wikipedia.