Retreating into the Heart

25 10 2011

The word ‘retreat’ has always bothered me.

I don’t like the whole concept, really, as it puts one into a defeatist attitude. Nevertheless, I went on a retreat this weekend — deep into the North Florida woods — where a group of gay men gathered to talk about their past, present and clouded future.

Baggage was brought and left and I am much more enlightened for the experience.

The group was assembled across generational lines. I wasn’t the youngest there, but not nearly the oldest. Some of the men were accompanied by their significant other, partner, lover or husband. Whatever term you prefer.

Others came alone and it showed.

We were assigned cabins and received three meals a day inside a mess hall style kitchen that reminded me of my summer camp days as a happy go lucky youth. I was so care free then, unaware of the issues awaiting in grownup life. Now those issues were staring me in the face.

Each day of the retreat featured a ‘heart circle’ in which the participants would gather under one roof and talk about whatever came to mind. Sometimes, the confessions carried tears.

As legend has it, men are supposed to be strong, especially men of the wilderness, but, true is, we are all granted a few tender moments. As I listened intently to each man tell his story, I searched for empathy and, at times, it was difficult.  The last few years have hardened my heart and I wonder if I have lost the ability to grieve. Or maybe, I have grieved too much. Is this what a doctor experiences?

Death and mortality, subjects of popular discussion during the weekend, and yet I came away from the retreat feeling more alive and empowered than ever.

On the final night, we were asked to gathered around a fire pit. A cold front had sweep into the Florida Panhandle over the weekend making conditions unusually chilly this time of year. Such made the fire pit an even more welcome venue.

The facilitator asked each of us to write down something that we wanted to give up on a notecard and throw it into the fire. David had passed me his note just after dinner. He would not make it to the fire that night, but both of our notes went up and flames and, God willingly, we are both free of weighty problems.

All in all, despite a somber feel, this weekend was a good experience inside a valuable support group. I learned a lot, but above all, I learned that gay men face many battles throughout life and because of that, a retreat, however difficult, is required.

 

 

 

 

 

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2 responses

26 10 2011
david altermatt

Excelent account and my experiance as well.

26 10 2011
Don Harris

Glad you had a good time — also glad that Dave was there with you.

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