The previous night, he and I had sat across from one another at Brasa. I’d met him there. I found him charming, and smart, and caring. At that point, I longed to be heard.
I remember that he seemed almost angry with my unhappiness. I had told him that, while I believed in the Church and had come back to it after a long atheist depression stemming from the rejection of an old friend and lover, I wasn’t happy. And I didn’t expect happiness.
I stayed in the Church because I believed Catholicism was TrueTM. But I felt that, as a gay Catholic, the most that I could expect was an unhappy life, where I lived within the confines of Church teaching and found some consolation in living in The Truth, but where I could expect nothing more than moderate happiness–which is to say, moderate unhappiness.
He would not accept it. In his Christianity, the truth brought freedom, and freedom brought happiness, and God would condemn no one to unhappiness. Such a world was contrary to the Gospel. For him, the Christian life was meant to be lived, not tolerated. You endure because you love, not because you’re right.
But that wasn’t where I was then.
The next day, I was playing piano when my doorbell rang. I opened it and discovered him on my front porch, holding a paper grocery bag in each hand and a broom tucked under one arm. “Hey,” he said as he walked in to the house. I hadn’t realized he would be coming over.
Once inside, he explained, “I’m going to clean your house.”
“I’m going to clean your house. I was thinking about our conversation last night. And I’m going to clean your house. So go back to doing whatever you were doing.” I just looked at him. “No, really,” he said. “Go back to doing what you were doing.”
It was the strangest thing that had happened to me in a long time. I did as he said. I went back into my room, plugged my headphones into the electric keyboard, and continued playing. From my doorway, I could see him moving in the other room. I would peek out and see him bobbing about, dusting and sweeping and wiping things, with black headbuds in his ears.
Later on, he explained. He couldn’t fix the problems in my life. But he could do something. And that’s what he was doing.
And that was the beginning of something new in me, part of a path that would push me to rethink the thoughts that had fit me into unhappiness. I’m so grateful for that now. You can’t repay someone for that sort of thing, that incomprehensible kindness. You can only receive it and then do it for others.
I think about that from time to time. I’m reaching a point in my life where I have more friends with heartbreak. Friends are losing family and loved ones. I know single mothers and people plagued by horrible pasts. In the end, I can’t set them free from their inner demons. That will be a hard work for them to do in their own time. I can’t fix their problems, no matter how much I might want to.
But I can clean their house, or invite them over for dinner. I can buy a coffee or a book. That’s something I learned from him, and that I want to share with you. You can’t fix those problems. But you can do something. So do it.
Chris Damian is a writer, attorney, and business professional living in the Twin Cities. He received his B.A. in Philosophy from the University of Notre Dame and his J.D. and M.A. in Catholic Studies from the University of St. Thomas. He is the author of “I Desired You: Intellectual Journals on Faith and (Homo)sexuality” (volumes I and II). He is also the co-founder of YArespond, a group of Catholic young adults seeking informed and holistic responses to the clergy abuse crisis. In his free time, he enjoys hosting dinner parties and creative writing workshops.