“In Honolulu, Hawaii, there is a walled city guarded by grimacing gods and surrounded by palm trees. It is called the City of Refuge, and it dates back to the twelfth century. If you were declared an outlaw for political or religious reasons, or if you had been defeated in battle, you were condemned to death, but you were given one chance to survive: If you made it to the City of Refuge alive, you were allowed to live within its walls. You were given a running head start, but you had to swim the last part of the journey.
In order to survive, you would have to be strong, but you would also have been traumatized. To survive, you might have to unite with the other outcasts, even though you might be coming from warring camps. You would have to use your wits and strength to outrun your pursuers, but you might lose your sense of humanity in the process of the chase. Once within the walls of the city, if you made it alive, you would have to become whole, perhaps for the first time. You would have to devise a way to love each other, which would be difficult because most of you would arrive broken. To lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, San Francisco is the City of Refuge”.
– – Family Values, Two Moms and their Son, Phyllis Burke, Random House
I will tell you a part of my story about how I came to San Francisco. Years ago I was a young, naive and lost in this strange place I now call home. A while later when my son Jesse was born, I was proud that he would be a native San Franciscan because the Bay Area was much more accepting than anywhere else I had lived. It was then that Jesse’s other mother, Phyllis began to write a book about our family because even in San Francisco it was difficult for families headed by same-gender parents to be legally recognized as the parents of their own children. Since then, much has changed here, but in many places in this country and in the rest of the world, perfectly good individuals and families are treated like social, political and religious outlaws, and so it is that this city continues to be a City of Refuge.
Although the details of my story may be different from yours, your story is related to mine. Every person has a story about where they came from and how it was when they got here – a story about being unwilling to sacrifice our capacity for love and intimacy simply to please others. Yet this experience alone is not enough. Change and rebirth are not just an initiation we go through once, making further growth unnecessary. Once found, we face change, loss and rebirth throughout our lives.
Although our lives may be a banquet to which we are invited every day, it can be easy to just not show up. A new menu each dawn can be scary, a bit overwhelming or even painful. But by the end of the day we will have known just two types of pain – the pain of being present for ourselves or the pain of regret. So when you listen to yourself today, what do you hear? How do you know whether the path you are on is leading you to success and wholeness or apathy and despair? Finding the company of others who care about such questions can be invaluable in helping you to find your own answers.
Talk to someone today. Tell another person who you are and what you need. It will increase your own capacity to be human. Making time for others and letting others really see us can help to show us the outline of our own souls. It can help us to cross the sea of life on an ocean liner instead of a row boat. And this is so important because it takes a lifetime to become wholly ourselves, over and over again.