Day 30 – Believe

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I met Jason for coffee at Qualia in Petworth. Homey place. Good coffee. We sat outside and talked about church: how it’s changing, what it needs to adapt, and what part I might play. After an hour of brainstorming, I realized that he was encouraging me to see and to value the gifts I bring–as a teacher, a Hill staffer, a talker, a thinker. I came expecting to talk shop. He came to affirm me.

I don’t know where any of this leads in terms of future career. So far, I think it means becoming a priest. But I do believe he was right. All the experiences I’ve endured, the heart aches and triumphs, the skills and the doubts, could be drawn together in giving myself to something greater. I can take the next step in a direction not fully known, trusting that I have something to offer.

Later that night I met a group of friends at Compass Rose on 14th Street. What a madhouse that strip is now. Compass Rose, though, is delightful. The restaurant serves international street food in a renovated row house next to Saint Ex. Over a bottle of Georgian wine and khachapuri, we had a spirited conversation about travel, hymns, and sex. Mostly we talked sex. Imagine that, among a group of gay guys.

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I left buoyed by the conversation, not just the wine. It was a full day, full of the really good stuff that makes this world splendid sometimes: bread, wine, God, sex, laughter, friendship. I am grateful that people shared these last 30 days with me. And they shared more than the new coffee shop or restaurant. They shared a part of their story, and the things that make them tick, including the tragic and the sublime.

I come away from this month believing more. I believe that this city is full of tucked away places and unknown neighborhood spots. I believe that people have so much to offer just by sharing their thoughts and their fears. I believe that there is depth of spirit in everyday occurrences, waiting to be discovered if you’re willing to slow down, reflect, and maybe even write about what you have experienced.

This world is full of splendor and pain. All of it is worth savoring until it yields to that infinite, creative possibility that lies within it. Open your eyes, Jeremy. Think and feel. Taste and see that this world is good.

God, what a life you have given me.

 

Day 22 – Eat a Hot Dog, Reflect on Life

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At 11:30pm I started a late night bar crawl with Andrew. We met at Ivy & Coney, a dive bar in Shaw, that serves hotdogs, beer, and whiskey. That’s it. Over an IPA and a Chicago-style dog, we caught up on the last few years.

I’ve known Andrew just short of a decade, longer than anyone else in DC. It’s remarkable how much has happened and changed in that time period, and our friendship bears the marks like rings on a tree trunk.

We ended the night at the Gibson, a speakeasy serving craft cocktails. Two drinks in, we were reflecting wistfully on growing older, parents, relationships, and the frustrating seduction of living in this city. DC breaks your balls and gets under your skin, and yet you like it. It knows you, your best self you put forward and your worst self you try to hide. In that way, it’s like a marriage, if you’re willing to stick it out.

Anyway, at one point, the bartender approached Andrew with deference to ask a question about the computer system. Andrew is a general manager at the sister bar next door, and he rattled off the answer with authority in his voice. At the end of the night, we left the bar with a free shot and a nod of respect from the bartender. Managers drink on the house.

Ummm, what?! I remember Andrew as the 20 year old I first met, who lived in a dorm and shunned all oppressions and indignities like management. How did he become an almost-thirty-year-old telling people what to do? And how did I become that guy who reflects on the passage of time during a night out? I might as well have showed off some scars and reminisced about the war.

New places, new drinks, new places in life. Old friends, old stories, and despite the changes, still the same people in many ways. What a surreal combination of old and new for a Thursday night conversation over gin and rye, and a hot dog.

thegibsondoor Mixologist Jon Harris of The Gibson - Washington, DC

Day 16 – Eat Latin, Drink Russian

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Last night began downtown at an upscale Latin steakhouse. It ended uptown at a Latin drag show. In between, my favorite people in DC helped me celebrate my birthday. The night was full of good friends, good food, and good several drinks.

Toro Toro is a new-ish restaurant in McPherson Square, and it was my first time there. The food is South American, and the vibe is New York lounge. For dinner, three friends and I shared small plates — what else in DC? — and a bottle of Spanish red. The empanadas, the scallops, the short rib flatbread, and the grilled octopus were delicious. The ceviche was confusing, the guacamole disappointing. While the service was spotty (still working out kinks?), I left very satisfied. New place with old friends. That’s a great combination.

Afterward we went to Nine, where several others joined for drinks. I was late, of course. Contrast that with my punctual friend Ben, who texted me this gentle prod, “So are you coming to your own party?” He cracks me up. For me, birthday gatherings are a gift, because it is rare for all my friends to be together in one place. It was a parade of favorite hits. I am fortunate to have good people in my life.

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A few Stoli sodas into the evening, just a few hearty souls remain. Joe, Clayton, and I decide to cab to Diego, a Mexican restaurant just north of U Street. They host a gay party on Friday nights, and none of us have been. We arrive in the middle of a show, which appeared to be a mix of drag and a random guy lip syncing. Some people were watching, some were dancing, and some were just drinking. It was like a big living room party, way more laid back and informal than the stand-and-yell-to-hear feel of other bars.

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Now after several Stoli sodas, it was time to head home. As I walked up the hill to my house, I was nothing more and nothing less than content. Just happy.

Today, as I look back on the night, I am struck by a few things…

  • My friends are generous.
  • My friends are an interesting assortment, who don’t really form a group but came together for me.
  • My friends, especially after the death of my parents, are “presence,” and they orient my life in ways I don’t always recognize.
  • My friends are people I have to invest in. Friendships don’t just happen anymore.

Now I’m off to a friend’s birthday cookout. We’re swapping parties this weekend. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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Day 15 – Say Hello and Goodbye

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I caught up with Patrick at the Royal Pig, a gastropub in downtown Fort Lauderdale. The place was new to me. He picked it for the buffalo shrimp. I was skeptical. And I was wrong. Blue cheese and ranch dressing have a way of enhancing shrimp fried in buffalo sauce. Then there was the bacon mac and cheese and honey buttered corn bread. Comfort food was a great way to reconnect with an old friend and to pass the extra night in Florida. Thanks, stormy weather, for the flight change and unexpected chance to say hello.

It was also the chance to say goodbye. Patrick is moving to L.A. in a few weeks. Sadly, another friend is leaving the area, taking with him good memories and one more connection to this part of the world. Yet, the move seems like a really good one for him. He’s been here 19 years, and as he put it, it’s time to get out and try something different. Indeed.

Funny, Patrick and I could have easily never become friends and never had this dinner. We met in passing at the wine bar where I worked, and only hung out a few times before I moved away. We never got the chance to know each other that well. Yet, there we were, years later, hanging out as friends bonded over some pretty serious life events we have in common. Like the loss of our moms, or leaving a city and people we love. From such a random beginning came my dinner date, ride to the airport, and new place to crash in L.A. And from it came some fond memories of a little bit of life shared.

I am grateful for the people who have come in and out of my life. I am grateful for what has been given me, what has been taken away, and what has been left behind. And I am grateful for buffalo shrimp on a rainy night at the beach.

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Day 14 – Hold a Baby, Learn from a Mom

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My friend and former co-worker had a baby boy in December. It was her first, and my first close friend to have a child. So I was pretty excited to meet him yesterday.

The baby is cute, of course. He makes adorable noises. He breaks into a mouth-wide-open grin when you tickle him, or sing the “Fuzzy Caterpillar” song. He likes to stare at the coffee maker and take baths.

I smiled at how happy my friend is. She is staying home with him full-time, and she tells me she couldn’t imagine it any other way. She tells me this several times, and it feels true, as if coming from the deepest part of her. She also described the emotional roller coaster of the first few months, the world turned upside down in ways you never imagined.

I admit that kind of change scares me, even more than the fear of growing old without family or passing something on. Yet, when she sings the caterpillar song to calm him, I see this flash in her eyes and a glow on her face. It’s like she has experienced something so profound that its beauty makes any pain worthwhile. The joy outweighs the difficulty, or maybe accepts it and takes it in, letting it become something greater.

Now I’m projecting my metaphysics onto the situation. But seeing a new mom with her child makes me think of the way people find meaning beyond heartbreak, even when their world is turned upside down. And I hope I have (or can nurture) this strength that allows you to say in the midst of the whirlwind, “I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

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