Just because I'm your bestie; it doesn't mean you my bestie and that's okay.
Platonic Intimacy and other Friends
by Jack Elliott
This essay corresponds to Episode 8 on the Remember When...? Podcast.
“Why won’t you help me! I thought we were friends! Take me home with you! I would do it for you!”
Seeing an elderly person cry is wrenching for any witness. When it is a beloved friend, it is especially painful. You realize that you are helpless to alleviate their pain. Their longing eyes, and their pleas for help as they wallow in their own despair, render you to be no more than a witness to their hopelessness – you are powerless. The elder person I was facing was my dear friend Chuck. A heart attack immediately followed by a stroke left him paralyzed.
Chuck was a great guy. The absolute best cheerleader I ever had when it came to my friends and family supporting my ministry. When speaking about Chuck, I would call him a beloved friend, rather than referring to him as one of my best friends. No shade intended; that just wasn’t my truth. This was challenging, because for him – I was his best friend and he would profess that to the world. Chuck and I had a mutual friend, Gary. Over time this too presented a challenge for our relationship.
I met Lee and another friend Glen, when they joined the staff at the bank where I worked as the HR Manager. We had such fun together during new employee orientation, that Lee invited me to his house that very evening for a dinner party. He and his partner Gary had just relocated to San Francisco from Portland and they were hosting a dinner party for many of their Bay Area friends. At this party, I was introduced to Gary. There was an immediate connection between Gary and me. It was as if we’d known each other for years. It was at this very same dinner party where I met Chuck. He was an acquaintance of both Lee and Gary. Gary, Glenn, and Lee all became close friends of mine. However, while I liked Chuck, I still saw him as a friend of my friends. Over time Chuck and I’s friendship did grow, however, Gary’s and my bond grew deeper, faster.
My bond with Chuck simply wasn’t on the same trajectory as Gary and I’s friendship. What I was not mature enough to see was while Gary was my “ride and die” buddy, Chuck remained in my “chosen family and friends circle as an acquaintance. .” Yes, Chuck was welcomed to every birthday party, holiday dinner and milestone event in my life. And, I was often the beneficiary of his loyalty and wisdom. I simply never had a mountain top conversation with him, like I did with Gary. Here’s how Gary and my friendship evolved:
In February of 1982 Gary and I attended a gathering at the Marin Civic Center. The guest speaker was Terry Cole-Whittaker. It was the first time I ever heard the words: “If you want to change your life, you must first change your mind.” Terry went on to say, that if we took her class called “Mastery in Lving” we’d learn once and for all: “How to get from where we are to where we wanted to be.” Gary and I were mesmerized by her lecture. We had often mused that if ever there was a “church” that brought theology, spirituality, and science, together, we’d be disciples. That Sunday, Terry did just that when she introduced us to Dr. Ernest Holmes and the Science of Mind (SOM). The SOM is a philosophy, faith, and a way of living that compliments whatever spiritual practice you hold dear. I was ready to sign up.
As we made our way out of the auditorium, Gary pulled me back. He looked into my eyes and said: “I want to do this. I want to take this class and I want you to do it with me. I don’t want to grow spiritually or intellectually, without you.” No one had ever asked me to join them in something in such a special way. It made up for all those times I was the last to be chosen for any team activity in my adolescence. We registered and proceeded down a new fork in the road. Yes, Chuck would join us along the way, but for Gary and I, we were now self-proclaimed God brothers. Our friendship solidified one Sunday when we were baptized as God Brothers on the top of mount Tam.
In the LGBTQ community, sex can either compliment, confuse or wreck friendships. The boundaries are often murky. Gary told me: “Boyfriends come and go; Jack, I want you in my life forever.” I understood. Instead of choosing to become partners, we chose a path of platonic intimacy. As God brothers, we vowed to carry one another’s deepest secrets to our grave. Never did a 3 a.m. call from one another go unanswered between us. For over ten years, Chuck was a witness to the bond Gary, and I shared. He wanted what we had and did everything within his power to create the same bond between Gary and himself and then in later years, between myself and him. It just didn’t manifest in that way.
Christmas Eve, 1991 was the day Gary and I walked through a new portal together. He had AIDS and we both knew this would be our last Christmas together. For the next six months, I would be his caretaker and the companion walking beside him as he traversed his hospice journey. It was a sacred journey. I was thankful that I was capable of doing all that was required of me. Chuck knew of how I cared for Gary, but was not a witness to all that it in tailed. Thus, twelve years later, when he had a massive stroke, he didn’t understand why I didn’t care for him in the same way that I cared for Gary. It hurt him so much.
His longing was similar to that of a child being dropped off somewhere they didn’t want to be. He felt abandoned.
For months following his stroke, I visited Chuck several times a week at the skill nursing facility. Each time I came to visit the story was the same. he would greet me with sobs of “how can you leave me here.” For me, caring for Chuck meant making sure that he was cared for. Chuck was coping with his new reality and I was coping with doubt. Had I done enough?
One day, a nurse pulled me aside and told me that Chuck no longer had a sense of “time.” She went on to tell me that if I were to leave for a few hours, and then come back; to Chuck, it would be the same as if I had been gone for days. She told me that the care he required was both acute and cognitive and that the level of care that they offered was far superior than the care he would receive if I were to try to care for him myself.
“Go home.” she said. “Come when you feel called to visit your friend; but don’t come because you’re feeling guilty. That helps no one.” I understood what she was telling me. I also began to trust that I had been guided to do what was best for Chuck, and his new reality.
All relationships are sacred. All are a gift from the divine. As Iyanla VanZant reminds us; people come into our life for a reason, a season, and sometimes a lifetime. Whatever is the reason for them showing up, is a sacred reason. Gary died in 1992. Chuck died twenty hears later. Both are my spiritual traveling companions – for my lifetime. With Gary as my forever God brother and Chuck as a beloved friend, I am truly blest. I stand on the shoulders of two very courageous men. While the reasons they came into my life may differ, and the seasons of life we shared were also different, the sacredness of our journey together is my blessing that surrounds me for a lifetime.
Note: Below are some slides that may assist you in understanding the sacred levels of friendships that exsist in our "cirle of Friends."
Note: This essay and the slides correspond to Episode 8 of the Remember When...? Podcast. Our podcast is available on Spotify or wherever your get your favorite podcasts. Your comments are welcomed below. (c) 2023 ElderPride Incorporated and Rev. Jack elliott