Saturday, November 27, 2010


Today we're celebrating Göran's forty-sixth birthday in the city of his birth, Memphis, Tennessee. While driving across Memphis with Göran's Aunt Dottie, she mentioned that John Gaston Hospital, the hospital where Göran was born, was a "black hospital" at the time, reminding us that the America that Göran and I were born into was an America torn in half by segregation. Only a year before, I had been born in Provo, Utah, on the edge of a nearly all-white Mormon University campus, and was blessed by priesthood holders in a church that refused to ordain blacks. Who at that time would have predicted that a black child born in segregated Memphis and a white child born in Utah, in the bosom of one of the whitest churches in America, could some day pledge their lives to each other on the headwaters of the Mississippi?

This morning, as I was reflecting on what his life has meant to me -- how his love for me has transformed my life -- I also reflected on the battles fought and the sacrifices made, to make our life and our love possible. Rosa Parks refusing to move to the back of the bus in Montgomery, black school children walking the gauntlet between rows of hateful, jeering white adults to attend school in Birmingham, Dr. King dying of gunshot wounds in the Lorraine Motel in Memphis. But also: drag queens standing up and fighting at the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village, Harvey Milk running for public office in San Francisco, California. And always, ordinary people making quiet decisions to live their lives in harmony with a kind of love and a vision of justice that the powers that be and most of their contemporaries denied.

There were other, stranger contingencies that brought the stream of his life together with mine. My father's mission call in the late 1950s to Finland; my mother's conversion, and the correspondence that brought them together in the early sixties; my Finnish-American heritage which brought me back to Helsinki, Finland in 1986; so that when I decided to leave BYU and the Mormon Church after almost committing suicide that summer, there was a Midwest Finnish-American community connection that brought me first to Upper Michigan and then to Minneapolis. When Göran's mother decided to run away from Memphis with him and his younger sister, his father, his aunt, his grandmother and the rest of his family in Memphis were grief-stricken. He grew up in Iowa without knowing any of his family; and when he confronted his mother about their past, her refusal to answer his questions was a factor in his decision to leave Iowa, change his name, and follow his then-boyfriend to Minneapolis in 1987. Shortly after their arrival in the Flour City, he and his boyfriend broke up, but he stayed. In the early 1990s, Göran and I both used to go dancing at The Gay '90s, a popular gay bar in downtown Minneapolis, and one night he asked me to dance.

Life is strange and amazing and beautiful!


Holly said...

Wow. This is a wonderful story. Thanks for sharing it.

MoHoHawaii said...

All these connections are serendipitous. It's an amazing thread of causality, if you can even call it that.

My father was part of the U.S. Army that occupied part of Japan (Okinawa) during WWII. My boyfriend's grandfather served in the Japanese army. For all I know they could have been on opposite sides of the same barbed wire fence. Now the son and grandson of those two utterly different men are in each other's arms. Who would have thought?

J G-W said...

Hey, Holly! Thanks!

MoHoHawaii - We're all interconnected in these incredible ways. There is always a fine line between enmity and friendship, something to keep in mind through the conflicts that rage today.

Beck said...

You can call it "contingencies" or even "an amazing thread of causality", but I choose to call these string of connections as "tender mercies" from one who knows all of us better than ourselves.

J G-W said...

Beck - I see aspects of divine providence providence in this as well. That fact that I survived long enough to meet Göran is a sign of one great, tender mercy.

We live in a world and a culture with so much darkness, hate and misunderstanding. And yet, the divine spark deep inside each of us fights for something better, something brighter and more meaningful. So all of this becomes a process by which we progressively tear away facades, and recognize our truest, deepest identities; come to see our resemblance to Heavenly Parents and claim our birthrights of love, peace and hope.

So yes, at the deepest level this is God's grace at work in us, in the world!

Bravone said...

Beautiful story. It is also interesting to me that we would serve missions across the French Alps from one another at the same time, become friends, and have my MTC teacher comment on the same blog. I love the 'contingencies' that made all this possible.

calibosmom said...

Absolutley amazing!

J G-W said...

It is pretty wild, isn't it? :)