Reflection-Catherine Irwin

Catherine Irwin
October 28, 2012


Psalm 34

Here are a few lines:

I will bless the Lord at all times, a song of praise will I sing.

My soul speaks to the Beloved continually, let all who suffer hear and be glad. O, open your hearts friends that your pain and loneliness be turned to Love and then we shall rejoice in the Beloved together.

Note that the Psalm begins with “I will bless the Lord at all times”.

And how will I bless the Lord, which to me is how will I recognize the Lord in my life?  How will I thank the Lord and be grateful? Perhaps most importantly how will I sign a song of praise? 

As I have been reflecting on this psalm over the last few weeks I happen to pick up Mary Oliver’s new book of poetry, THIRST, and began reading. ` The very first poem, which has just been read, knocks me out.  I would like to read one part of the poem to you again.

Are my boots old? Is my coat torn? Am I no longer young, and still not half perfect? Let me keep my mind on what matters, which is my work, which is mostly standing still and learning to be astonished

In the early 1980s I became a volunteer in a new program with of the Montgomery County Health Department in Rockville.  It was a program designed to offer volunteer Buddies to men living with AIDS.  I say men because at that time all the people in the program were gay men.  I became a Buddy and was matched with a man named Roger, who had expressed an interest in theater, which I had put down on my application as well.  We were both pretty happy to have been put together based on our obvious shared interest.  This seemed important because, at a minimum, we would be getting together one evening every week.  And so we began our relationship.

But much to my surprise we were actually quite opposite from each other.  I was a flaming feminist activist; he was an extreme solid conservative.  He was a Mormon; I was a Christian, farther apart than you might think. 

Our shared interest in theater turned out to be way off base  he was devoted to light, religious musicals which he had performed when going to school in   Salt Lake City. I was/am a lover of dark, intense drama.

But the biggest challenge was our views on gay rights.  My gay brother had died of a heart attack only a few years earlier, but not before coming out to our family and lovingly introducing us to his partner and friends.  Roger on the other hand had renounced the gay life and taken steps to cleanse himself of that part of who he was.  He believed that it was sinful to be gay. How in the world could I become a friend and helper to this man?

And yet, God’s quiet grace was with us.  We met weekly with a group made up of people living with AIDS and their Buddies, building friendship, knowledge and support. Quickly Roger and I started sharing theater experiences, one serious play, one comedy at a time.  Roger told me all about his religious beliefs and I listened.  He took me to the Mormon temple in Bethesda at Christmas when it’s open to the public.  We saw marvelous holiday trees, all covered with what seems to be thousands of beautiful lights.  Roger took us into the temple, showing us the dioramas telling the story and beliefs of the Mormon Church. 

I told him about my dear brother Chuck’s life and he listened with respect and kindness. 

We had dinner with Roger and his parents at their home, he came to our house often for dinner.  My late husband Richard and I took him on trips to the beach to join other Buddies and men in the program. Those were trips we all so enjoyed.

While Roger had had many AIDS related health problems during the first months of our relationship, after about a year we finally had to begin dealing with the truly horrific s aspects of AIDS as he became sicker and sicker.  He was in and out of the hospital, suffering greatly.  As he began the final journey of his life I sat by his bed and listened to him talk about how he was feeling physically as well as emotionally. Then I just sat with him. By that time we were very close, so much so that we realized that we deeply loved each other.

A month or so before he died Roger told me two things.  First he said that when he died he would take on the job in heaven of finding my brother to teach him how to cleanse himself of being gay.  I smiled at Roger and said, “I wish I could be there because Chuck will surely give you a run for your money!”

The second thing he told me was that another of his job would be to become my guardian angel. He said he would be there for me. He meant that with all of his heart and believed it to be a simple fact. I believed it too and some 30 years later I know it’s true.  How lovely it’s been to know he’s looking after me.

By the grace of God two very opposite people came together to help each other and learned that, given half a chance, they would come together in a bond of love.  Yes, I am learning to be astonished.

I will bless the Lord and I will strive to sing songs of praise and gratitude, at all times.