August 7, 2022
In high school, I had only one good, best friend. The reason for this was probably the way I saw myself and the fact that I frequently tried to hide, not wanting to call attention to myself. When you were a fat, gay teenage boy, in the late 1970s living in the suburbs there were not many opportunities to be proud of who you were. Of course, I knew that my parents loved me, although my father constantly commented on my weight, but it was not the same as having a true friend, one in whom I could confide, sharing my thoughts and dreams. Finally, late in my junior year, I told my best friend that I was gay. Although not attracted to him at all, I did hope that there was a slight possibility, that he was gay as well. The reaction that I got from him was utterly devastating. He told me that homosexuals were horrible people, and then he threatened to tell my parents my deepest secret, which I thought would be safe with my best friend. I was instantly terrified. The idea of my parents finding out my secret was devastating to me. I was especially worried about what my father would say, or worse, do to me. Perhaps my guardian angel came to me, helping me immediately, giving me an out. I told my “best friend” that I was joking, that I heard from other kids in school, that he was gay, and I was trying to trick him into admitting to me, that he was gay. I am not sure he ever truly believed me, but it did buy me a reprieve from whatever my parents would have said or done to me. We were not as close during that last year of high school and never saw each other after graduation. How surprised I was when decades later, I received a letter from his father, who had read my father’s obituary and wanted to express his condolences. He told me that his son, my high school best friend, had died. He shared his son’s obituary, in which along with his educational and professional accomplishments, the notice listed the fact that he left behind his grieving husband of some twenty years.
What sadness. What a shame. What a missed opportunity for two friends, who were most likely going through the same tribulations to be a confidant and comfort for each other. We were so afraid of being judged by each other, by our parents, by our school-mates, and by society, that we could not even be honest friends to each other. And so neither of us had a good friend during our last year of high school. Recently I was reading about one of the modern saints of the Orthodox Church, St. Nikolai Velimirovich, who wrote about friendships. And my recollections about my friend, and the lost opportunity, came to mind.
St. Nikolai Velimirovich wrote: “Concern yourself only that you have God for a friend and do not be afraid of anything. Behold, He is your only friend Who loves you without change.”
St. Nikolai (Nikolaj) is a twentieth-century saint who was a bishop of the Serbian Orthodox Church. Aside from being known as a “new St. John Chrysostom” for his gift of preaching, he was imprisoned in the Dachau Nazi concentration camp during the German occupation of Yugoslavia. He lived his final years in the United States and was canonized a saint in 2003.
It is my sincere prayer and hope that anyone, especially the lonely, forgotten, displaced, or marginalized, which certainly would include my brothers and sisters, LGBTQ Orthodox Christians, that we always remember that God is our friend. He is our constant companion and confidant, “Who loves us without change.”