Home > Life, Maybe there IS a God..., Spirituality/Religion > A Priest and a Nun Walk Into a Restaurant…

A Priest and a Nun Walk Into a Restaurant…

maybeWe sat there yesterday and talked about it all, my old friend Sean and I, early-comers to the Bahama Breeze.

He’d called me late the night before after alerting me to his overnight stay in Tampa between flights. I was in tears after an online conversation with another friend, a purging about past mistakes for me, and his call was like a beacon. Of course I would meet him for lunch.

The first order of business was to acknowledge the recent suicide of one of our fellow high school classmates, Shawn Balla, who ended his life in an epic jump off the Golden Gate bridge. Only conjecture can explain his actions since so many of us had lost touch with him over the years. What we did know was that he had battled addiction and that he was gay; a tough combination for a middle-aged man who’d grown up in farm country in New Hampshire.

Yet it’s that very background that brings Sean and me together. During Christmas break in 1983, he and I came out to each other. We also came out to a few trusted mutual friends from school. Some of them never spoke to us again.

Yesterday, Sean added to some of the stories he’d told me back then of his early experience coming out at the Ivy League college where he’d been awarded a full scholarship because of his exemplary high school career. The story I’d remembered of his dorm mates urinating under his door was followed up with tales of harassment, beatings, and of graffiti scrawled on the walls of his gay friends’ rooms by these intellectual elite.

I’d never experienced any of that and I told him that I have often been disturbed by the reported actions of gay men who can’t seem to put their flamboyance away for five minutes in order to see the bigger picture of what and whom their actions represent. Of course, my opinion reflects my own self interest and the grace that has kept me safe from harm. The rights I wish for all of us do not often take into account the primal response to the persecution that many of his friends have faced.

Eventually, as most of my conversations with people seem to do, we got around to the subject of God.

“Do you believe in God?” he cautiously asked me.

I thought for a moment and replied, “Someone asked me that recently and my answer was, I don’t believe in nor worship God, per se. Rather, I experience God. I have spent my lifetime trying to understand what “God” is, as I try to reconcile the many different ways we all are in the world and resolve the paradox that there can possibly be any one way to experience our divinity. I am fascinated by the spiritual journeys of others as much as my own.” I told him that I’ve actually heard myself say that if I had been raised Catholic, I would probably have become a nun.

He nodded. He’s not sure he believes in God, as so many gay people have been left to feel. As the oldest of seven children in a strong Irish Catholic family, he has been put in the position of being the leader of the family as his parents’ mental and physical health decline. He feels that he is being asked to assume responsibility for them because he has no family of his own and since he’s a flight attendant, he should be able to travel to be with them more easily. It feels to him as though his life is not as important.

But I see it differently.

Over the years, I have watched this man attend to the spiritual needs of others. I don’t think he even realizes he does it. Having been castigated by his peers early on after a popular high school career when he was voted most likely to succeed, the scars of that rejection still show behind his soulful eyes. He’s made many friends over the years in his pursuit of theater work and a lot of them are gone now, victims of their own self-abuse. He knows the profundity of their pain and has always done his best to help them through it, even when he knew his efforts would be in vain.

In his travels, he always makes it a point to connect with someone he knows, spends time in conversation with them, taking into account their joys and struggles even as he humbles himself by sharing his own.

But I am especially grateful that Sean has always kept up with those of us who knew him before he stepped into that fearsome world. We sit and recall the innocence of those days before we came to understand who we really were or what “God” was asking of us. There is great comfort in recalling that time for all of us, but for me it holds greater significance because of our common bond.

So there we were; the lesbian daughter of a Congregationalist minister and the gay son of devout Catholics wondering aloud about what God intended in making us this way and trying to reconcile the damaged world view of our old friend, Shawn.

If I didn’t know better, I’d say Sean became a priest somewhere along the way and just forgot to mention it to us. And maybe I’ve became a nun after all. Or maybe it’s the other way around…

  1. Sean OHearn
    September 3, 2009 at 8:56 pm

    WOW!! Incredible – and so well-written – thank you so much my friend – beautifully put Ellen – I TREASURE YOU TOO !! xoxo

  2. September 3, 2009 at 9:14 pm

    I’m appalled by how cruel people can be. If there isn’t acceptance, is tolerance to much to ask? I love you both… doesn’t matter to me if you’re gay, straight, or martian. We have a history and the present, and are making a future.

  3. September 3, 2009 at 9:36 pm

    Betts, you’re MY favorite martian and I will always defend you against anyone that gives you crap for it! 😀

  4. Cheryl
    September 4, 2009 at 3:21 am

    Ummmm…I’m pretty sure you’re not a nun……

  5. September 5, 2009 at 4:52 am

    I’m a little slow catching up to all the posts on FaceBook so I am just now reading your blog. Wow Ellen. I was so touched reading this. You have such a beautiful way of sharing experience, painting a picture so that I feel like I am there.

    Thank you Ellen for sharing this. There is someone very near and dear to me that I love and thankfully when she came out there was not the cruelty that you shared. There was a time where the relationship she shared was closeted because her partner’s family was not supportive and that was painful for her to feel not a part of, to hide, and the same was true of their shared workplace in the early days of their relationship.

    These days both are freely open and it is really wonderful to see both of them being themselves.

    Thank You . . .

  6. September 18, 2009 at 10:56 am

    Hey good stuff…keep up the good work! I read a lot of blogs on a daily basis and for the most part, people lack substance but, I just wanted to make a quick comment to say I’m glad I found your blog. Thanks,)

    A definite great read…:)


  7. Kurt Huttar
    September 30, 2010 at 6:34 pm

    Ellen that was beautiful! I felt like giving you both big hugs. You writing is wonderful, and I think you should consider writing as a career. It’s clear that your artistic nature runs throughout all you do. Tell Sean Hi next time you see him.

  8. September 30, 2010 at 6:54 pm

    Yes, there is a God, and she/he put you and your friend on this planet as much as any heterosexual. God is all encompassing love, and for any church to preach otherwise makes them non-representative of the true Spirit of God. This planet is so full of primitive, barbaric people who think that hatred and killing is a way to spiritual perfection. Yep, lots of “religious” people need a lot of evolving to do. Thank god for reincarnation, eh?

  9. September 30, 2010 at 7:00 pm

    Laurie, if indeed there is such a thing as reincarnation, I hope I’ve already gotten my bullying lives out of the way. I’m a Pisces, after all. Technically, I should be OUTTA HERE after this lifetime!

  10. Syrene Porter
    September 30, 2010 at 7:12 pm

    Ellen, A beautiful written article, I have never been able to understand why people judge the gay and lesbian community, I think the #1 reason is religious beliefs, another reason is because of things their families have told them, it seems folks come up with many reason to dislike gays and lesbians, like it’s a disease, not a good thing, socially harmful and disgusting…I have always found it amazing that it’s ok to be heterosexual…just not gay…I think it’s hypocrisy in it’s purest form! I can only hope we’ll stop seeing people for who they love and start seeing people for who they are. What a wonderful world it will be.
    (I heard this morning of a collage kid filming his roomate and found out he was with another male…..put it over the college internet, sadly one of them committed suicide 😦

  11. Anonymous
    September 30, 2010 at 11:42 pm

    very well written and moving ellen. bless u

  12. Lauri Thompson
    July 28, 2013 at 11:36 am

    I just found out about the passing of my classmate, Shawn Balla, yesterday at our class of 1983 reunion. I am so sad to learn that events in his life brought him to such an end. I pray he’s enveloped in God’s love and has the peace each of us deserves. Rest well, Shawn.

  13. Cheryl
    June 24, 2016 at 1:56 am

    I love you both!!!

  14. mgrooters
    June 25, 2016 at 4:54 pm

    A first read for me. Only know you and Nancy– and cannot go back in time as you have written about– This needs to go into the book Ellen– really– while I am still sentient. But as I contemplate Gay Pride Week in Traverse City MI today (see the fb post) and the fact that we are attending an Episcopal Church – right now pastored by an interim gay priest who with his partner Don are leading that church– I am thnking about the arc of change, the ice melting and other such stuff. I wonder what your 2016 self would write in response to this– ild s there a rest of the story? For you? For Sean??? You are still serving the other– “nunning” — but now you could call it “priesting” – a different kind of liberation…. Thank you for your artestry.

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