Good-bye, I Love You
Gold Leaf Press (Carson City, Nevada), 1995.
(I will acknowledge that another review of this book is already in thearchive. I found my observations were a little different from thoseexpressed in that fine review.)
Let me say at the outset that I know nothing about poetry. I've triedto read poems of all kinds. Robert Frost is okay; Walt Whitmanconfuses me. As did any good flower child of the 60's, I sat andlistened to the poems of Ginsburg and the like, nodding my agreementat the deep thoughts, delighted that I was hearing things that I couldnot possibly understand, but knew, if I stayed the course, would oneday become clear.
The worst of the lot, in my opinion, were the religious poems.Honestly, I've tried. Helen Steiner Rice left me drowsy. Carol LynnPearson's poems were, well, uninteresting. Yes, I know folks justdrooled over the thought of a new book of Pearson poetry. But I'mjust not built to understand poetry. Even when it rhymes, it doesn'tmuch appeal to me.
And so, while you will likely never see me review a book of Mormonpoems, I was intrigued at the thought of reading a book about a Mormonpoet. I was particularly intrigued by the blurb on the cover of thebook: "The True Story of a Wife, Her Homosexual Husband and a LoveHonored for Time and All Eternity." Whew.
The first surprise about the relationship between Carol Lynn and herhusband Gerald was that Carol Lynn knew of Gerald's homosexualimpulses before they were married. This would likely have been adeal-breaker in a normal Mormon relationship. But Gerald assuredCarol Lynn that he was "cured," and all was well. This would soonprove to be untrue.
By now the couple has three children, with one more to follow. Howwould they resolve the difficulty of a loyal Mormon wife (and a ReliefSociety President, too!) living with a man who now acknowledges thathe cannot control his homosexual feelings? A move from Utah toCalifornia offers some release, but they ultimately divorce whileremaining friendly. Carol Lynn continues to support Gerald, and iswith him when he succumbs to the ravages of AIDS.
Carol Lynn's devotion to Gerald, and his affection for her, are neverin doubt. Throughout the ordeal, there are arguments andrecriminations, but they are always overcome by their love for eachother. Even as Gerald pursues various gay relationships, Carol Lynncontinues to support him, meeting his lovers and attending eventssponsored by the gay community. (They live near San Francisco, sothere are ample opportunities.)
One interesting undercurrent bears reporting here. Throughout thebook, Pearson reflects on the rule the Church played in her trials.At one point, she is told to read "The Miracle of Forgiveness" bySpencer W. Kimball. Kimball's harsh rhetoric sends her into an evendeeper despair. "Degenerate!" "Revolting!" "Abominable!" These arethe words Kimball uses to describe homosexuality. But this, shemuses, is not the man she married. Yes, he's involved in a lifestylecontrary to the standards of the Church. But none of these wordsdescribes Gerald.
She comes to believe that she will have to go outside the"organization" of the Church to find any kind of redemption. Sheexplores alternative metaphysics while maintaining her presence in theChurch.
Reading between the lines, one cannot help but see the conclusion shecomes to: the institutional Church may not be able to help her, butthe people who populate that institution will come to their aid whenneeded. Several horrific episodes of "institutional" involvement arerecounted: a bishop who tells a gay man that, if he can't change, hemight just as well be drowned in the Great Salt Lake. That young manwent out and killed himself. And then the story of a gay man who wassubjected to "aversion therapy" at BYU, where electrodes were attachedto his body while he viewed gay videos. Upon being aroused, theywould send an electric current through his body. He finally abandonedthe effort, with nothing to show from it except burn marks on hisskin.
(I'm accepting that these stories are true, although I've not verifiedas much.)
Near the end, when Pearson gets to the point where she needs help fromher church family, she spots several ward members weeding her yard, athankless job in the hot sun. She reflects:
I felt tears stinging at my eyes. Well, of course, that's what they would do. People who won't even drink coffee have a hard time understanding homosexuality and AIDS, but they don't have a hard time understanding suffering and need. (218)
And that's the rub -- the people of the Church embraced Carol Lynn andGerald, loving both them and their challenges. They brought themfood, changed Gerald's dirty diapers when he couldn't tend to himself,mowed their lawn and tended their children. But, in Carol Lynn'sview, the institutional Church did nothing to help them. There theycould only find condemnation.
What Carol Lynn seems to have missed is the fact that it was this veryinstitution that gave its members the values the Pearsons so deeplyadmired. The Church strongly teaches the importance of selflessservice and a deep caring for the neighbor.
I have mixed feelings about this book. One cannot help but admirePearson in that she tells her story frankly and openly, hiding none ofher feelings, self-doubts and self-recriminations. I wondered how shehad the strength to go through the ordeals she relates. The finalscenes, tending her husband through the death process with a sense ofpeace and finality, nearly moved me to tears.
But alongside all this, I had this strange sense that Pearson wasindulging herself in a steady supply of self-congratulation. Shenever misses an opportunity to explain to us how wonderful her poemsare, how much in demand she is, and how admired she was by those whoknew her during this period. With each verbal pat-on-the-back, I wasmore uncomfortable. And from the outset of the story, there was thissense that she saw herself as a "fixer" -- someone who could "fix"whatever was wrong with Gerald. She ultimately came to one of twoconclusions -- a) she really could not fix the problem; or b)there never was a problem, that homosexuality is not a choice,but an integral part of some people, and we ought not to be about thebusiness of trying to fix them. I'm not clear which conclusionreflects Carol Lynn's thoughts.
So why did she write this book? Perhaps it was a synthesis -- acelebration of the life of her beloved Gerald, a diary of thedifficult times they shared, an attempt to reinforce feelings ofself-worth and value. I will not attempt to judge her motives, onlyto understand what her motivation was.
Estrangement in a religious setting is often defined by the mores ofthe group. When the beliefs and practices of a group are violated,the offender can be driven away by institutional rigidity. This iswhat happened to Gerald. Toward the end, he refused a priesthoodblessing. His anger toward the Church was evident. Carol Lynnexpressed her anger by exploring "New Age" ideas -- in particular,ideas about healing and self-development that are outside the scope ofnormative Mormon teaching.
Reading this book taught me lessons in how harsh rhetoric can inflictreal injury on people who are hurting. It reminded me that rules andstandards are designed more to instruct than to soothe, and that, attimes, the righteous holding up of those standards can block the raysof God's love and forgiveness.
The challenge facing the Church today is in somehow balancing the needfor certain standards with a compassion that reaches out and embraceseven the worst of us.
-- Jeff Needle firstname.lastname@example.org
© 2002 Jeff Needle < email@example.com >