01 December 2012


And this month the world comes crashing to an end. Or maybe not. But our nation is prone to doomsday fervor and our society does have a morbid fascination with fiery endings. How else to explain the traction the fictitious planet Nibiru has gained in some quarters? From what I read, this mystery planet supposedly will materialize (perhaps bolt out from behind the sun) and smash into the earth on December 21, a date that figures on the ancient Mayan calendar as the end of a long cycle of calendar time. Perhaps the end of time itself. Bye bye, birdie.

Such claims pique my interest much more than they poke my anxieties. I find people endlessly fascinating, and inexhaustible the number of things we get worked up about. (Please note, the things I get worked up about are no laughing matter: rigged voting machines, rabid raccoons, nylon socks.) Perhaps I can feel at peace facing the apocalypse for having already lived through my fair share of predicted doomsdays, and finding myself none the worse for wear.

Before I came out as a gay man, I regularly attended a local United Methodist Church whose pastor was quite convinced the end of the world was at hand. This I found unnerving. He had a fiery preaching style, worked himself into a sweat most Sunday mornings railing against abortion and homo-SEX-uality. 

He was certain the Judgment Day would arrive within the next year or two, before 1993, and he preached it. Listening to his sincere and heartfelt warnings week after week, repeated rapid-fire at about the same decibel level as a low-lying helicopter, I began to wonder if maybe he wasn't onto something. He sounded so sure of himself. At the time, sincerity and self-confidence carried a lot of pull with me. 

During the lengthy Sunday services my wife and I were using Cheerios, board books and little toy cars to keep our three young sons quiet. I began to wonder if I'd get to see them graduate high school before the end of all things.

That I should have been projecting so far into the future now seems poignant. High school graduation? As it turns out, I never saw them enter first grade.

The calendar turned once, twice, and our pastor scratched his head wondering aloud how he could have been mistaken. “I was so sure,” he said.

From outside the church came dire warnings about January 1, 2000. Remember those? According to some predictions, the Y2K computer glitch would have airplanes dropping like flies from the sky. Some folks dug in, built bunkers, stockpiled food and guns. Not me. I drove into town on the day before the chaos was to be unleashed, withdrew $20 and bought a four-pack of toilet paper. 

You see, by that time, the world had already ended for me. And I had learned the secret that in every ending there is a beginning. In 1995, in the middle of my life, I’d come out to myself and others as a gay man. This marked the end the world as I’d known it. End of my marriage. End of being counted father to my children. End of my job. End of friendships, family relationships, church membership. End of massive amounts of personal energy being funneled into repression, suppression and denial.

In this ending was a beginning. New life, a world of possibilities, different eyes through which to see. 

We lgbt people who have come out, who in so doing have rocked our worlds to their very core, who have lived to tell the tale, we have this message, this mystery, to offer the rest of society—or did some angel beat us to the punch?—“Fear not, neither be afraid. For I bring you glad tidings of great joy that shall be to all people.” Life is born in darkness. From the end of all things, the beginning of wonder.

This essay appeared in the December issue of The Community Letter. Photo courtesy WikkiCommons

01 November 2012


Soon as we step into the high-ceilinged red-carpeted lobby my pulse quickens, breathing goes shallow. I might have walked smack dab into a scene from a gay sexual fantasy. I want to stay and watch. I doubt I’m allowed. I don’t know what to do with myself, where to look, how to appear nonchalant. 

Loitering about the room are a dozen or more scantily clad sexy men. College-age. Lithe limber bodies, each bare-chested and barefoot, wearing only a skimpy pair of black boxer briefs. There are women, too, in gauzy black, but I hardly see them until one approaches my husband Dave and I where we stand stock-still in the entryway. 

“Don’t be shy, gentlemen.” She slides a finger down my arm. “Come join the pah-ty.”

Egads. That’s exactly what I want to do. Well, not exactly. What I want to do is carry off the blond with the dreamy eyes, hear him say “Sir, yes, Sir.” I want to lick the finely sculpted chest of the dark-haired man with the bright smile. I want to feast my eyes on each and every one of these men without appearing to do so. I want very much not to drool down the front of my blue sweater. I wish I felt more comfortable with myself.

Although it’s late, we’re early. Show time is 11:00 p.m., an anomaly for our sleepy midwestern burg. Decent folks are abed by then. Maybe that’s the point. This is a burlesque show, a one-night-only benefit performance for the civic theatre. All-volunteer cast. And what sexy volunteers.

Probably I’m gawking. I do that sort of thing. Dave quietly suggests we go in and sit down. I follow his lead. At least my sweater will stay dry. 

We find seats before the auditorium fills. As I scan the largely college-age crowd, Dave leans my way and says, "What strikes me is how comfortable they are with themselves. With their bodies. And at their age. Can you imagine? Maybe we could just forget our pasts."

His words land like a hypodermic needle, slip in under my skin. I’ll think about them for days to come. At the moment, I nod. "Maybe we could. And why not? After all, I'm the one who lugs my past around with me. Who else in the whole world really cares that I drag it along? What if we created new histories for ourselves?"

The lights dim, the show begins. Song, dance, show tunes, strip tease. Most of the performers are university students.  

If I were to fashion a new history for myself, it would be like those I imagine I see unfolding on stage. Young people at home in their own skins, able and willing to cut loose, have a good time for a good cause. 

That would be me with the new past I envision for myself. In this new history, I grew up embracing my sexual orientation, affirmed and supported in being myself. I now fully inhabit my body, celebrate my sexual self.

This new me walks taller, feels more confident, more self-assured, welcome in the world. Is more decisive, focused, more of service to others. More healthy in myriad ways. 

Imagination is a wonderful thing. 

And I’ll count it wonderful if today’s lgbt youth grow up accepting themselves, live into a world that values diversity. It’ll make a big difference for us all. 

We’re not there yet.

I’m surprised that tonight’s show includes so few overtly gay-themed routines. Surely the performers chose which acts they wanted to audition. Yet most selected numbers that reenforce traditional heterosexual mores. Maybe I give these young people more credit for being self-accepting, self-celebrating than they are. More to the point, I can work on these issues myself, not shunt them onto others. If I can’t redress my past, I can start reshaping my present and future self. It’s time to take off.

This essay appeared in the November edition of The Community Letter

01 October 2012


Garage sale the other day. My husband buys a lime green T-shirt emblazoned with black letters. Looks like a rock band shirt, fits him like a muscle-T. “I like the name on it,” he says. He wears it the next day with tight jeans and cowboy boots. Up and down the aisles of the antique mall people can see us coming. Can tell I’m with a member of The Outsiders.

The Outsiders. I get that. I’ve felt like one all my life. Never quite fit in. No place I really belonged. Have long felt an affinity for others who share outsider status. Like the little girl with dark curly hair in my kindergarten class. Every day she scratched herself with her fingernails, left long white streaks down her arms. My classmates gave her a wide berth. I befriended her, shared chalk, crayons, toys. Even so, I shuddered when she walked me home from school one day. I didn’t want to be that good of friends.

I started kindergarten in Gary, Indiana, the day the city’s public schools were integrated in 1964. Policemen patrolled the halls, alert to the possibility of trouble. Looking at my class photograph years later, I learned my teacher Miss Tate was African American. Made me no never you mind. I’d already seen my share of change by age five, not the least of which was our family’s move from northern Minnesota. 

Which was meant to be temporary. We’d stay only until the iron mines were hiring again. Which should be any day now. If you believed the hype. Which you did if you’d been living on hope and not much else. I was my parents’ third child. Arrived soon after my dad helped cart out the last of the rich iron ore from the world’s largest open pit mine in Hibbing. Jobs ran out same time the high-grade ore did. Thousands laid off.

How to support a wife and growing family? My father did seasonal work at a chick hatchery, gathered pine cones and balsam boughs for holiday wreaths. Cut timber with his father. Completed a six-month training course in auto body repair shortly before his fourth child was born. Moved his family across the state, chasing jobs and rumored jobs. Kept waiting for the mines to reopen. Everybody said it would happen. Soon. Efforts afoot in the state legislature. Special tax breaks for companies to mine low-grade ore. Required a special amendment to the constitution. Such things take time. Meanwhile, kid number five arrived.

U.S. Steel offered work in the steel mills of Gary, Indiana. “We’re going,” my dad said, and we went. I was only five, but I knew Indiana wasn’t our home. Home is where the heart lives, not where the body goes to sleep at night. Home is where your dead lay buried. I had yet to learn a new place can become home as you bury parts of yourself there. 

The next summer I turned six. Started first grade in Gary that fall. Changed schools in October when we moved to the country, little white house leaning into a grove of pine trees. Our new temporary quarters. Then December 24. A late night phone call: Mrs. Marlow, there’s been an accident at work. Your husband’s in the hospital. It’s his foot. He won’t be home for Christmas.

The mines did start hiring again, and the wave of reverse migration rolled right on past us. No job driving big truck for a man with only one foot. No, you’re stuck in Indiana. 

And so I grew up in exile. Every summer, every long-awaited summer, we’d go home. Go back to Grandpa and Grandma’s house, to the little white church in Cohasset, to our friends and extended family—aunts, uncles, countless cousins. Where we were insiders once again. Padding pine needled trails, listening to loon’s crazy laughter, swatting at mosquitoes. Catching bullheads, picking berries, chasing dreams. In the woods, the north woods, the place we’d once belonged, where we had been happy, where Dad—and all of us—had been whole.

This essay appeared in the October issue of The Community Letter.

01 September 2012


Whump. Thump. Clonk.

This time of year the tall black walnut trees around our place drop large round projectiles at random. They hit hard enough I want to wear a helmet when stepping outside. As I don’t own one, I sometimes I hold my hand over my head as I cross the yard. The thing about walnuts is I can’t see them coming.
This is so true of much in my life. For 34 years I didn’t see foresee my coming out as a gay man. Neither did my parents, family, church family, children nor wife.
Maybe we see only what we want to see. Nothing in my world or worldview had prepared me for the concept that one could be both gay and Christian. As a child, I’d sworn allegiance to the Christian flag (“and to the Savior, for whose kingdom it stands”) every Sunday in junior church. Like their co-conspirators the Communists, homosexuals were fearful, dark shadowy figures whose presence in the world boded no good for the cause of Christ or country. I could no sooner see myself as one than the other.

But maybe I’ve trained myself not to see. My husband Dave gets bothered that I seldom use the headlights’ high beams when driving at night. He turns to me from the passenger’s seat and asks, 

“Don’t you want to see what’s up ahead?”
Guess not.
I keep out of the office gossip loop at my workplace. I figure if something’s coming down the pike, I’ll hear about it in due time. No sense getting worked up about rumors that may never pan out.
Maybe I should have seen this coming, but I didn’t: the month my twin sons turned 14 they were of legal age to obtain a restraining order to stop our weekly visitation time; they did so. We’d spent time together regularly for 10 years. They told the judge they were uncomfortable with what they’d seen of my homosexual lifestyle.

How best to see anyway? When I was a boy I thought eyeglasses were cool. Not everybody wore them. They set people apart in a socially acceptable way. I thought if I wore glasses I’d fit in. If people noted I was different from them, they’d think it was the glasses. Doesn’t make sense to me now, but children make their own accounting of the world.

I was 13 the autumn day my dad drove me home, my first-ever pair of glasses on my face. The corn stubble in the fields we passed amazed me, the way each stalk stood out in sharp relief from its neighbor. With enhanced vision, what did I see? Ruin and decay.

Good training, perhaps, for what was to come. When I came out as a gay man in mid-life, I lost wife, children, family support, church connection, friends, court cases, career, and more. I learned that loss sometimes sharpens one’s ability to see. Unable to rely on others for support, I learned to look within, follow my own internal vision for the future. I wish this were always, everywhere true.

A writer-teacher friend advocates writing haiku as an exercise in focus and editing. Start with five syllables about some natural object, she says. Use the seven syllables in the second line to describe its essence. Dig deep. In the third and final line, use five syllables. Open up to some broader, more universal observation.

Finding a subject for my latest haiku was easy. I picked up one of last year’s bombshells and held it in my hand. Imagine if you will a cracked walnut shell. Half-globe. The one side, a dry, black, rounded ridged shell. On the other, a flat heart shape punctuated with two elongated dark holes—chambers once filled with nutmeat, since consumed by insects. From this side, the walnut looks for all the world like a miniature owl. I hope what I say of it is true for all of us who sustain loss, experience emptiness:

Cracked walnut, wee owl;
Your insides were eaten out,
granting you vision.

This essay appeared in the September 2012 issue of The Community Letter

01 August 2012


"We think we know everything; we don't know shit." 

Eighteen years ago a drag queen used this line in a play I attended. She might well have been speaking for me. I'd recently come out as a gay man and come out of a right-wing fundamentalist Christian worldview, one in which I'd thought I pretty much knew everything. I'd come to understand I didn't know shit.

I still don't. And life keeps reminding me of this. 

A few weeks back at a weekend writer's retreat I wrote a haiku poem. I was pleased with my effort:

Green pine cones stay closed.
Brown ones open like roses.
Dying, we blossom.

The retreat leader had outlined the basic structure of haiku. It consists of three lines with five syllables in the first line, seven in the second, and five again in the third line. "It's good editing practice for writers," she said. "You have to pare down your message to 17 syllables."

Traditionally, haiku poetry deals with nature. We were instructed to focus on a particular object in the natural world, asked to describe it in two lines. By the time we reached the last line, we were to broaden our vision and address some universal aspect.

I wrote about a pine cone, yes, but really I was writing about my process of coming out as a gay man. The years I spent with my eyes shut tight, my emotions shut down, anger brewing underneath. The process of coming out to myself and others in my mid-30s. The way my marriage withered, as did many relationships, as did my roles as father, son and brother. At the same time, the way something inside me uncurled, unfurled; I came alive, began to breathe. 

Dying, we blossom. I like how these five syllables capture my coming out experience. I like how they speak hope into the mystery of the Beyond. Maybe our great, gray, gay poet Walt Whitman has it right, "Death is far different than we imagine. And luckier."

Maybe. Or maybe both he and I are full of shit.

This past weekend our aged black lab Maddie was severely injured when a car hit her on the county lane in front of our house. Earlier this summer she'd taken to sleeping out of doors at night, not caring to navigate the four stairs up and into the house. When Dave called her to breakfast Friday morning she didn't show. She'd been doing that, too—refusing food for up to three days at a stretch.  Dave called again. He heard a yelping from out by the roadside, saw something black. Maddie. 

She relaxed as soon as she saw him. He called for me. What could we do? Nothing. Nothing but be present to her even as we waited for the veterinarian to arrive to euthanize her. 

We sat with her for three hours. She seemed relatively free of pain, relaxed, alert, aware. We talked to her, stroked her gently. She raised her left front paw and pressed it against us, her customary way of returning affection. 

We told her thank you. We reminisced about our 13 years as a family, how much she was a part of it. How she'd slept at our bedside, howled when we made love, followed us about the yard as we did chores, for several years accompanied me to the office, was a familiar and welcome sight at the design agency where I work. She'd been a gentle soul, tolerant of chickens and grandchildren. While she'd bark at raccoons, she'd learned to give deer a wide berth. 

The vet arrived with death in a syringe. We gave Maddie the best release we knew to give. 

I'd watched her carefully in those closing hours of her life. If she blossomed in death, I missed it. Yet so recently I'd prated on about us blooming as we let go of everything. As tears welled in my eyes, I realized again I don't know shit. 

I'm working on putting that into 17 syllables:

      Car-struck, our dog dies.
  The world rushes by, dammit.
  These are empty words.

An earlier version of this essay appeared in the August issue of The Community Letter.

01 July 2012


Typical. Iʼm off contemplating the world 's navel while my wife "Janis" is back home being productive. I sigh, then breathe deep, stretch out on the bank of a small stream, gaze up at the pink and blue sky, the setting sun. Nearby, a robin twitters. A jay screeches. I roll over to look for a four-leaf clover. If I find one, Iʼll give it to Janis, proof I was doing something useful. I was thinking of her.

The path home leads through a woods, over two fences and across three fields. We live at the end of a long lane, down a dirt road, a ways out from town. Our rented farmhouse is small, old and white. Our landlady and her now-ailing husband raised a passel of daughters here. They used the closed-in front porch for extra sitting space; my wife has it filled with ferns, spider plants and cacti. With no babies to nurture, Janis mothers houseplants. Houseplants and herbs. 

This spring, where I cleared the remains of a tumbled-down hog barn, she fashioned an herb garden. Under her care, the plants have taken off like rockets. Gardening is Janisʼ way of working through her deep disappointment over our inability to conceive a child.

More than anything, she wants to be a mother. And Iʼm ready to be a dad. We often imagine ourselves as parents, even as grandparents. What we donʼt imagine is me walking out on her, leaving her as a single parent to care for our young children. What we donʼt imagine is the particular set of circumstances that will lead to this.

The struggle to conceive consumes us. Doctorʼs visits, specialists, tests, procedures, charts, surgeries. More tests, more money. Are we trying to buy hope?

Why canʼt we have children? It seems so unfair. Weʼd make ideal parents. We often fantasize about how it might happen—through conception, adoption or (in our wilder moments) kidnapping. Weʼre doing all we can and can afford, but these barren years have convinced us the outcome is in Godʼs hands. Our prayers assail the gates of heaven. 

As of yet, I have not begun to ask the questions that will unravel our marriage, shake loose my faith in religion. Janis and I are still on speaking terms and if our children will have nothing to do with me, that is now because they are not yet born. So much has not yet happened: my coming out, leaving the house, being turned over to Satan and out of the church, lawyers, the restraining order, meeting Dave.

Unable to see the future, I instead look for a four-leaf clover, find none. However, the mosquitoes have found me. I rise to go, straddle fence, cross fields, wend woods.

Rounding the last bend I see Janis in the twilight exactly as I want to remember her now. Aglow in her herb garden, dirt under her fingernails, concentration upon her face. All about her, gray-green. Basil and oregano gone wild. Chives and marjoram run rampant. Towering wormwood and all the thyme one could want. A tall handsome woman with chiseled features, sandy brown hair, face flushed with exertion and summer heat. Working out her own salvation, healing herself. Finding her way through.

We turn together toward an empty house. We believe love will keep us together come what may; infertility, if it doesnʼt kill us, will make us stronger; prayer changes things. 

As the sky darkens, stars wink into view. We open windows, hoping for a cross-breeze. No luck. We lay down together but apart. Itʼs too hot and too sticky to touch each other. We fall asleep, unaware a judge will one day seal the distance between us; if after that we ever we touch again, it will be only in memory. Weʼll wonder how it happened, how anything ever happens as it does. And weʼll keep on going—and growing—as best we know.

An earlier version of this essay appeared in the July issue of The Community Letter.

01 June 2012


"Dance of the Mayflies"
Artwork by Indiana artist Rod Crossman
(used by permission)

“The grass is green fire,” I say aloud. Iʼm lying in clover and bluestem, looking into the darkening sky. “I am fire, too.ˮ

My husband Dave glances my way, makes no move to find a garden hose or fire extinguisher. In 16 years, heʼs heard me offer plenty of out-of-context remarks. Itʼs how I ask for his attention. He knows Iʼll explain soon enough. We are resting, having spaded our part of a community garden at my workplace near the Mississinewa River.

I point upwards.

The sun sinks low in a Neapolitan ice cream sky among layers of blue raspberry, peach and vanilla. Itʼs a gorgeous backdrop for the aeronautics show overhead. “Mayflies,” I say. “Can you see them? Look. Itʼs as if the grass is on fire and theyʼre the ashes whirling upwards. The hot air lifts them up; they drift back down, only to get caught in another updraft.”

I watch, mesmerized. Each delicate mothlike creature measures an inch, maybe two inches long from its pointy outstretched front legs to the tips of its twin tails. They rise a yard, two yards in the air, then float downwards only to lift again, sometimes whirling up and off to one side. There are a hundred or more. Rising, falling. Rising, falling. The intricate dance of the doomed.
Mayflies famously live only a few hours after they take to the skies. They mate. The female lays her eggs in water—a pond, lake, or river. The adults die. The eggs hatch. Wingless nymphs emerge. They live underwater, feed on algae and dead plant material. Many fall prey to fish, dragonfly larvae and other predators. Survivors burrow in the mud, hide under rocks or aquatic plants. Over the course of the next several months they regularly molt, shedding the old skin theyʼve outgrown. Pads develop on their backs. These are their future wings.

Creatures of a day, Aristotle called them, ephémeron. There are over 2000 species of Ephemeridae. Those along the Mississinewa River hatch in early May. As if on cue, they rise en masse to the surface of the water, wait for their skins to crack open. They crawl forth, spread newfound wings and fly to dry land where they molt one last time. They now have no mouths, no way to feed themselves. No need. All that is necessary is within. They are called to the dance. An aerial ballet. A dance of fire.

And dance they do. Big-eyed long-legged males, smaller-eyed shorter-limbed females, rising, falling, rising. Lace-like wings, long thin bodies. “Lifelong dancers of a day,” the poet Richard Wilbur calls them.

Dave and I watch for mating behavior, donʼt see any coupling for some while. (Reading up on them later, I learn males take to the air first, await the femalesʼ arrival. Must have been a lot of mayfly testosterone up there.) Eventually we spot some insects coupling as they float by. Males use their longer front legs to reach back over their heads, hold onto to their female partners. Or male partners, perhaps. Several ménage à trois waft by. Ménage à quatre, as well. And ménage à sept, huit, maybe even neuf. This latter makes a rapid descent, weighed down by the number of passengers.

Rise, fall; lift, drift. I could lay here for hours watching. Except that Dave has the keys to the truck and itʼs a long walk home. I rise to go.

Come morning, when I return to work, I find a heap of dead mayflies beneath the security light. Mostly males, I assume. No need to return to the river to lay eggs. They died drawn to the shining. 
Are these but creatures of a day? Dare I discount the lifetime they spent as inhabitants of a different world? I sympathize with them, I who came out in midlife, waited until late to crack open my shell, find my wings.

For all of us life is short; the end is sure. Everything in its time. When our call comes, may we dance as if thereʼs no tomorrow.

01 May 2012


His college roommate finds him, I assume. Finds him dead in their shared dormitory room. Same dorm I lived in when I attended school there. He died at 21. Young and full of promise--"going places," a friend blogs. Loved and respected by those who knew him as genuine, loving, caring, funny, authentic and polite. Active in Christian ministry groups, played trumpet in a jazz ensemble. And now dead.

Local news media report, "College student found dead in his dorm room at age 21." Authorities are quoted: suicide has been ruled out; his death was accidental. A memorial service will be held. The college is evangelical Christian in nature; the school's spokesperson (a former colleague of mine) requests prayers for the family. He notes a scholarship will be set up in memory of the deceased.

A week later a friend of mine emails to ask if I've heard the latest developments. No, I missed the whole story. I tune in, learn the coroner has released the cause of death. Newspapers, radio and television stations noise it about. 

And so I come to grieve the death of a young man I never met. Brad, I'll call him. Almost I could call him Rab; I see much of myself in him. Brad was a third-year student at my alma mater, a small Christian college with a large reputation among the conservative evangelical Christian crowd. Same school I was working for when I came out to myself and others as gay man. Same school that turned me out in short order; no room for a gay man on their administrative staff. They had the college's reputation to consider.

Brad came from a loving and supportive family environment, as did I. We both called Minnesota home. Like me, he majored in communications at college, demonstrated an artistic bent, participated in campus ministry groups. Like me, he harbored a sexual secret. It proved his undoing.

The coroner reported Brad died of auto-erotic asphyxia (AEA), a dangerous sexual practice that involves reducing the oxygen supply to the brain while masturbating to achieve a heightened orgasm. In this instance, something went awry and a 21-year-old college student ended up dead.

In 2009, the unexplained death of actor David Carrodine in a Thai hotel room focused media attention on AEA. Circumstantial evidence fueled speculation that the 72-year-old actor had died in the course of AEA activity. Often done in secret and shrouded in shame, the practice is particularly dangerous because no one is around to help if something goes wrong. 

I wish our society set up fewer barriers to communication when it comes to sex. We label so much territory as off-limits, taboo. Whom is one to talk to, where to find support? 

While in college I wrestled with what I believed to be a sinful attraction to other men. In this I felt very alone. I carried same-sex desire with me, in me, as a dark secret. My senior year I braved the college counseling center, divulged my struggle to the center director. He referred me to his wife, also a counselor. 

"You have plenty of other issues to deal with," he told me. "I suggest you work through some of those with my wife. Then if this thing still bothers you, come back and see me." What I heard: your sexual desires are too sick, too far out to be addressed.

Did Brad ever seek a listening ear? What if he had turned to me? To you? 

As a gay man living in rural Indiana, I am ever on the lookout for safe persons. I listen closely to words, note actions, expressions and attitudes. I look for people who are non-judgmental, accepting and kind. Who keep confidences, show respect, offer mutual support. I watch for people who are honest, trustworthy, confident, secure. In my own actions and advocacy, I signal to others my willingness to listen. 

We need each other. There is a role for professional counselors, sure. Yet we can serve as lifelines to each other, offer support, acceptance and care. Will we?