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Open Your Arms

Open Your Arms

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Blake once said we are here to learn how to endure the beams of God's love. Upon reading this for the first time, I became tearful. Not so much because I am a religious person but because of the beauty and hope it offers, asserting with confidence that there exists in life an overabundance of love so intense that it requires a lifetime to accept it. In rare moments I have caught glimpses of this love's possibility. It's clearly easier said than done. Blake knew, because he felt it himself, that our limitations -- and frankly our self loathing -- question whether in fact such goodness exists, and if so, whether we are deserving of such love. One of the most painful challenges is one's refusal to accept the love of others. Throughout my life, the love of which Blake speaks has spoken as a whisper, since I have had to strain my ears in order to hear it above those inner voices questioning my goodness or screaming for acceptance. Such voices also question whether I am deserving of the good things in life, the warmth and friendship of others. As you read this, I will have turned 40 years old. This is significant because it has taken half a lifetime to note the possibility that Blake's version of love exists. It will no doubt be my task to continue listening to that still and quiet voice of acceptance and celebration -- and to confront as lies those voices that say differently. I have not experienced the moments of love at a church or during a sermon. Nor have I experienced it in a book or lecture. I learned it after experiencing homophobia and AIDS phobia. I learned it after struggling with the uncertainty of living with this illness. I experienced this after the church in which I was raised categorically judged and damned who I am. I experienced this after getting the clarity that comes with putting down the drugs and alcohol and being open to my feelings from time to time. Such challenges contain the potential of transformation as we struggle and wrestle with the pain and injustices we suffer. Like the namesake of this column -- the phoenix -- we have the potential to rise from the ashes of our suffering to new beginnings. The fact is that love does exist in the world, and it comes from a sense of community and connection with others. For those of us with HIV and other emotional issues this sense of no longer being isolated from others magically dissipates. And ironically, this love, in contrast to the backbreaking sense of being alone in the world, feels unbearable because it's so different from what we've known. Lately something has happened to me. Longstanding defenses, at least in moments, have broken down, and I have been able to choose those people in my life that provide the support and love that I need. I no longer need those toxic forces that have held me captive in a self-imposed prison that nearly destroyed my life. Hundreds of years ago the poet Rumi asked the question, 'Why stay imprisoned when the doors are wide open?" This powerful quote held me captive from the moment I read it, creating the same possibility that Blake's words also offered me. HIV support groups offer the same hope that Blake's words convey. So do 12-step groups. They offer the very real possibility that we are not alone in the world. In fact, once we embrace our entire experience, we discover that we are lovable. What a remarkable gift. Fransen is a licensed psychotherapist in practice in Chicago. He can be reached at stillpoint4003@yahoo.com.

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