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November 22nd, 2011

(Not exactly) Like a Prayer

Soon, as many families take a seat at their Thanksgiving table, after the food is set but just before the feasting begins, a paralyzing moment will occur. What now? They’ll wonder, glancing left and right. Should we pray? Uncomfortable seconds will tick by. Finally, someone will ask to be passed something and people will dig in, grateful to get on with it.

Thanks girlWe used to pray, when I was little, when the family was young and the occasion was important and we were forced into this odd intimacy, with the mystical tones of something like church but at home. As a child the ritual was like a magic show, waiting spellbound as the secretive words were spoken.

My oldest brother Hal would pray at the dinner table with his head weighed heavily in his hands, as if he had a massive migraine or was avoiding the paparazzi. Maybe he was just embarrassed, since the act seemed so foreign and mortifying, like peeing in front of one another.

Once, Mom asked Dad to recite the Lord’s Prayer at the Thanksgiving table. He started strong and then the words came more slowly, until his memory of the prayer – recited every Sunday in church services he wouldn’t attend – failed him. Everyone just sat there in awkward silence, staring at our dad the heathen, until my mother finally prompted him, utilizing a Nancy Reagan whisper into his shirtsleeve.

It was about that time that prayer was discontinued at our dinner table. For a few Thanksgivings someone would suggest we all say what we were thankful for, but the practice faded. It seemed like some sort of consolation anyway. All the magic had long since been revealed.

PrayerManToday, my recovery from being a drug addict includes many suggestions about prayer. It’s encouraged, primarily for me to exercise enough humility to acknowledge there are powers greater than myself. After years of selfish using and living on my wits alone, it’s an important reminder. But that doesn’t mean I do it. Pray, that is.

I’ve been getting by with the claim that I meditate. Just the word “meditation” has less of the religious baggage than “prayer.” It feels less embarrassing, more reasonable. Maybe I’m remembering Hal, with his head buried in his hands.

I do believe that an awesome power, a god out there somewhere, is responsible for my existence and good fortune. I’m just not in the habit of chatting him up to express my appreciation or even for a passing hello. Which means, if I believe something created me, I must be a pretty ungrateful fellow.

Interesting. I’ll have to meditate about this.

(This posting originally appeared on my blog on November 11, 2010. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! — Mark)
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PLUS…

Robert StillGet ready for the inspiring, entertaining, and delightfully theatrical story of Robert Darrow (right) of Shreveport, Louisiana. Robert and I were once theater munchkins together, performing in community theater productions when we were youngsters (we tap danced together as newsboys in a production of “Gypsy” in… 1973). After a stint in New York City, Robert returned to Shreveport to become the artistic director of the very theater where we once performed. So it was a delight for me to produce this brief video of Robert for TheBody.com’s “Day in the Life” video series, which highlights people living with HIV and how they maintain their regimen of medications. The inspiration is in watching a man who once believed he had six months to live become an activist and AIDS community leader in a mid-sized city that desperately needed one. Curtain up!

POZ 100 grabGuess what ridiculous blogger was listed as #61 in the POZ 100, Poz Magazine’s annual list of people and ideas they love about HIV? And just above Larry Kramer! I give the credit to supportive visitors like you, who spur me on to new levels of frivolity and insight. But hey, who am I to argue with Poz Magazine? “We admire his ability to tell his personal story with honesty and grace,” says POZ, “and for giving us license to laugh at AIDS.”

Comments

comments

10 Responses to “(Not exactly) Like a Prayer”

  1. Scott Mickley Says:

    November 22nd, 2011 at 11:29 am

    Congrats Mark! You certainly deserve this inclusion and recognition. Thanks for always finding the heart and the humor and sharing it with all of us.

    Scott

  2. Bill K Says:

    November 22nd, 2011 at 1:26 pm

    Mark,

    I wonder if this has changed for you in the year since you wrote it?

    I have never been in a 12-step fellowship with primarily gay folks, so I don’t know if there’s a general negative feeling about prayer in such a fellowship. Where I’m at, prayer is a huge part of the recovery process, both because of what you say about humility, but also because it’s pretty hard to be unhappy when we live a life of gratitude. It’s a way of having a more positive attitude. I struggle with it occasionally, but I’m working on it.

    As someone who grew up extremely non-religious, it took me a while to get used to the idea of prayer and of talking about higher power and God. But now it feels like an important part of me. Today, the whole “gay people don’t pray or believe in God” thing seems a little shortsighted to me. I mean, organized religion, sure. Why wouldn’t we be a little (or a lot) leery? But believing in something greater than ourselves and being thankful for the things we have just seems like a good way to live!

  3. Roy Warner Says:

    November 22nd, 2011 at 1:44 pm

    Growing up catholic left us with getting stabbed with a fork trying to do the sign of the cross at the thanxgiving table. The lucky non-catholics were always amused. Today in our home (22 yrs married) we simply remind everyone that they surely have something to be thankful for. If you feel the need to let others see you in prayer, then do so with your mouthful & chewing, only if you don’t choke. Choking is not allowed. If you are stuck with family memebers present, you’ll need all your energy to avoid flying objects & multiple personality disorders. Otherwise consider serving the homeless & others less fortunate.

  4. Rob Toth Says:

    November 22nd, 2011 at 1:46 pm

    I was raised Irish Roman Catholic. Pretty strict. No issues w/ recovery. Yet, my father and 2 siblings are alcoholic. I seemed to have dodged that bullet. Living with AIDS for 23 years tho, I admit to being more spiritual than religious.
    Having outlived most of my contemporaries, as most long-term survivors do – I have to wonder “Why am I still here?!” The answer is not ‘blowin’ in the wind’ or anywhere that easy to find. I try to be patient, kind and, well, christian. Treat others as I would like to be treated. Granted, somedays I succeed better than others. I do pray. To no one person/thing in particular. I ‘pray’ for personal peace. I do believe that ‘positive directed thought’ has some transformative action.

  5. Marna Says:

    November 22nd, 2011 at 2:26 pm

    I remember this piece from last year, Mark. Loved it then; still do. Among other things, it’s a great family snapshot. I’m hit with a fresh wave of missing your brother when I see his name in your writings, but this also makes me smile — I can so easily picture the scene you described. You Kings have always seemed very Norman Rockwellian to me. Happy Thanksgiving!

  6. Lepena Says:

    November 22nd, 2011 at 3:50 pm

    My life could not be happening with out a wing & a prayer…Always Say A Prayer ( ASAP )
    This is my most favorite day of celebration !
    Contraz # 61 your thoughts inspire !

  7. Garry Says:

    November 23rd, 2011 at 6:55 am

    Mark,
    having been raised in a very Evangelical family (Southern Baptist) we always have prayed before each meal. Even in restaurants. As I “became of age” I changed to Methodist as they are much more tolerant. I do try to pray, but more often than not I forget, except of course in church. Thanksgiving Day my family will once again gather at table and one of my nephews will be asked to “say grace” before a fork touches anything. It will be a long and awkward moment as the chosen one tries to express everything he is thankful for. My objection to such a lengthy exercise? The food gets cold. What am I going to silently pray for? That ADAP will remain funded so that those of us dependent on it will live to see another awkward holiday season. Whether one prays, meditates, or just eats I hope all have a Happy Thanksgiving!

  8. Sam Says:

    November 23rd, 2011 at 7:26 am

    Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday. No pressure to bring gifts and lots of food to eat, and, if you’re lucky, a pie or a plate of cookies to take home.
    Kudos on being #61 on Poz’s list. You deserve it.

  9. Donna Gore Says:

    November 23rd, 2011 at 8:20 pm

    I don’t mind if others pray – whatever floats your boat. As long as they don’t expect me to participate in their magical thinking. I haven’t had an invisible friend since I was ten years old!

    I had a co worker who always said grace when we’d go out to lunch. She said it silently and I just waited with my hands folded in my lap. Then we ate and it was no big deal.

    Jesus himself advocated private prayer (see Matthew 6:6).

  10. Mommie Dammit Says:

    November 26th, 2011 at 10:56 am

    Being the only Pagan in a family full of Baptists, Lutherans, Methodists and Fundamentalists gives me a bit of sympathy for your situation, Mark. It took years for me – let alone the rest of my family – to gain some measure of comfort with our situation, but I was never asked to lead the Thanksgiving prayer again.

    Later, when I’d moved out on my own and had begun having “drag children”, I began a tradition of my own. It was called Mommie Dammit’s Orphans and Waifs Din-Din. I spent two days baking and cooking to prepare a feast of love and “family” for those of my friends who either couldn’t or weren’t allowed to share the holidays with their birth-family. I provided all the food, coffee, milk, and tea – my “kids” brought any other “libations” they desired… lots of them.

    I set, and enforced, only two conditions on the day:
    1. No bitching, whining, or snarkiness – violators will be eaten.
    2. No gifts exchanged. We spent the day playing board games and gin rummy, watching Charlie Brown Thanksgiving/Christmas and all the other silly Holiday movies from our childhood. Then eating until we burst, and collapsed on whatever surface was handy until the Turkey wore off.

    The other, unspoken condition was that there were no prayers. The M.D.O.W.D.D. was, in itself, a prayer. We were grateful for each other, for our love and friendship. Whether you believed in a higher power or not didn’t matter – our “family” did.

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