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A Limited Offer

A Limited Offer


I recently visited friends on vacation and was fortunate enough to lie on a beach while trying to enjoy the waning moments of summer and unwind. Over the years I have noticed that a curious thing happens when I unwind: what has been hidden from view in my daily life suddenly reveals itself as something quite obvious. During my recent visit, this 'something' related to clues to the origins of both a vague sense of dissatisfaction in my personal relationships as well as my self-destructive behavior. When I stop to connect with myself and what matters, my emotional sediment is stirred, but as it settles, I achieve some clarity. Inevitably, the catalyst is an image--in this case that of a severely disabled boy, probably 10 or 12, playing on the beach not too far from where I myself was sitting. Unable to walk, he crouched on his knees and made audible grunts of joy as he felt the coarseness of the sand running through his fingers and the water lapping at his knees. His father stood close by, looking haggard but devoted. I was instantly moved. When I shared my reaction with my friend, he added that nearly every day the father takes the boy to the beach. I was moved even more. Seeing people facing enormous challenges stirs deep emotion within me. Always has. But this hit something deeper. In the recognition of the father's love for his child I recognized my own father's love for me. Compounding this further, my mother drove disabled children to school. She spoke with obvious affection for them as well as deep gratitude that her children were healthy. I felt the love they both have for me as I watched this scene unfold before me. My eyes were filled with tears. Don't get me wrong; we have significant differences. Politically we reside at opposite sides of the spectrum. Hearing them talk about politics is like taking a cheese grater to my eardrum. And given their sociopolitical leanings, my coming-out was received poorly--at best, tolerance mixed with an 'I never want to hear about this ever again' attitude; at worst, a mixture of passive-aggressive guilt, shame, and utter lack of acceptance. And so I have resided in a place of limbo much of my life, attempting to resolve the conflict between feeling love, on the one hand, and a certain tepid indifference and shame on the other. This is a confusing message to be sure: how to accept deeply imperfect, or conflicted, love? Why do I write about this here? Well, I think, because this has much to do with my history of self- destructive behavior ultimately leading to my contracting HIV. You see, if I saw their love alongside their lack of acceptance, where did this leave me? Typically, either that they were wrong or that I was wrong. The former leads to resentment, the latter to self-hatred. Good versus Bad. Right versus Wrong. Perfect versus Imperfect. This drama that I experienced emotionally--I acted it out physically. I recently read Wally Lamb's She's Come Undone, whose main character, toward the end of the novel, admonishes, 'Accept the love that's offered.' I was moved by those words. Of course, it is easier said than done, inevitably involving a fair amount of soul searching and grieving for the basic human needs of acceptance and validation that weren't provided. However, if I heed these words--accept the love that's offered--I know that my relationships will be more fulfilling, and I will lead a happier--and certainly less destructive--life. Fransen is a licensed clinical social worker who runs a private therapy practice in Chicago. E-mail him at

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