Continuum line A to B

by Carolyn Sowinski
December 12, 2014

Have you ever had a situation in your life which changed how you look at life? Or learned compassion for others because of how they experience life?  In the fall of 1979, I had that moment when my eyes opened beyond my small world and I learned the importance of trust. And I still get teary-eyed when I remember the person and his story.

It was my senior year in college at St. Olaf College in Northfield, MN. I had all of my required coursework done and could take classes not in my major (History).  From other students I had heard about a class in the Home Economics Department, called “Human Sexuality”.  And these students raved about the instructor, Professor George Holt. So I signed up for the class. Each week we had lectures and discussions; we also had small group discussions.  Our group of about 8 people stayed the same throughout the semester. As the semester and our discussions progressed, our small group learned more about each other.  One get-together stands out in my memory because of how it affected me.

“Dave”, one of the men in our group, started to talk about himself and as I look back, our group must have presented an atmosphere of trust and safety because of what he felt comfortable sharing. Dave talked about his bi-sexuality and how he lived in two different worlds, but yet not totally in either world.  He had wishes and desires from both and at that point in his life he thought he needed to choose one over the other.  This was a man who wanted to marry and have children, but if he honored the other part of his identity, that wouldn’t be possible.  He would have to give up a dream.  Remember that this was 1979 when gay marriage, surrogate mothers and gay adoption were not in our society’s vocabulary. We have come a long way in 35 years–at least in some of our more progressive cities and states.

There were tears in his eyes, in my eyes, and those of our group members.  We cared about Dave and hearing about his struggles touched each of us. First, I realized how trusting he felt to have shared a part of his identity with us. One of the guidelines for the class was not to gossip.  Personal stories that we heard in the discussions or in our small groups–stayed in that group. But reality does not always match the guidelines.  I like to believe that in our small group we honored confidentiality.  Certainly Dave must have felt it because he shared from his heart.

Second, from Dave and others in the group, I learned that life is not ‘black or white”–we live in a gray world.  Our sexuality, our politics, our values, our experiences are on a continuum–and each of us finds ourselves somewhere on that continuum line.  And that our location on the line changes over time.

Third, I learned what it means to listen–to truly listen when someone shares about life’s difficulties.  To let the person speak, without interruption.  To ask questions, when and if appropriate.

Fourth, I learned more about caring–for someone outside of my family and friends.  To care about someone whom I probably would not have met, except in this class.  To realize that other people have life stories to which I am not directly affected and may not understand, but it doesn’t negate or devalue what they experience.

We didn’t solve his problem–it wasn’t our problem to solve. Dave didn’t ask us to fix it. But listening and caring helped him and each of us in our small group on the road of understanding.

Listening and caring are traits that I like to think have been a part of my adult life.  And maybe that is why I am drawn to Gifts of Hope–its work, ministry, and mission.  Gifts of Hope is a network of 17 organizations, most of them are social service agencies.  We care, we listen, we help and we give hope; we provide opportunities for others to give hope.

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During this Advent and Christmas season, you can give hope to others, locally and globally.  Go to our Gifts of Hope website and select from our 39 gifts.  Take 10 minutes today and make a difference tomorrow.