[Continued from Part I]
A Lot of Teachers Along the Way
At the end of the day on which I began my 67th orbit around the sun, I found myself awake late that night. As I lay in my bed surrounded by the soft snoring of Andy, my beloved life partner of 46 years, Oscar, our dachshund and Saidy, our beagle, I found myself looking across my room at the family tree bearing photos that looms above the family altar I have assembled below. It includes family of birth as well as family of choice. And in all honesty, I ran out of wall before I could include all the faces that I’d love to place there.
I have been blessed with a wide range of friends all of my
life. Some came into my life for a season and then departed. Sadly, not all of
those departures were on good terms. I still feel the pain of them and I fear
some of them may as well. I regret that.
Others I have known and loved since first grade in that elementary school in Bushnell and our friendships continue until this day. And then there are my non-human companions without whom my life would have been incomplete. And finally, I have had loving relationships with several people in my life, male and female, all of them leaving an impact on my life.
I treasure them all.
What occurred to me as I began to drift off to sleep was what a rich life I have been privileged to live. And here I wish to express my gratitude for that richness.
Through no merit on my own, I was born into a very bright, thoughtful and loving family matrix. I grew up under the guidance of two college educated parents who would travel the world, literally, before they died, and encourage their children to do the same. I have two siblings who are equally bright, thoughtful and educated. A black nanny, Henrietta, was also an essential part of our family. Her love and wisdom shaped me amidst a segregated, bigoted society. And I was the beneficiary of a tight knit family that extended to grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins who played major roles in my life.
For my family of birth, I am grateful.
Like my parents, I, too, have been able to travel the world, now to four continents (still missing Australia, Africa and Antarctica) and all 48 continental states (still missing Alaska and Hawaii). It has been a vital part of a life-long love of learning and I have been fortunate to be able to pursue the education I have always cherished all of my life.
That began with a stellar two years at Lake-Sumter State College in nearby Leesburg – a great relief after the time I labored in a high school dominated by future farmers, football and hunting where kids like me had no place. That was followed by an undergraduate degree in history, secondary education with minors in political science and journalism at the University of Florida.
Those areas of study foreshadowed the shape my life would take. There would be a brief career as a public school teacher. Many of my students would be poor kids in special ed programs. That would be followed by a law degree again at UF and several years of practice, mostly with poor people.
Then there would be a divinity degree for which I’d cross the country to study at an Episcopal seminary in Berkeley that allowed me to become an ordained Episcopal priest (I still have a hard time believing this sometimes). I would also begin a long period of visiting Latin America and engaging liberation theology as a result.
All of that would come together in my doctorate in Religion, Law and Society at Florida State University. The fact I was able to get admitted to all these schools and to find funding for them, most of which I paid back in the form of loans, also speaks to my good fortune if not my privilege. I have had wonderful teachers in all of the schools I have attended. I am grateful to them all.
But the school of life experience has also been at least as important as the formal education in which I have spent most of my life as either student or teacher. A child of the 1960s I watched rockets blast off to the moon from just across the state and lived through the desegregation of schools. My work history began in the pepper fields of Central Florida and would extend to serving as a consultant for nationally published college textbooks. I have served in the halls of Congress as an LBJ intern and as an international election monitor in war-torn El Salvador.
The Buddha is purported to have said that “When the student is ready, the teacher appears.” Apparently I have been ready to learn all of my life. And I have had a wonderful assemblage of teachers.
But I also am in the debt of teachers who bore no credentials but who had wisdom to impart to me simply by sharing their daily lives. I learned much about the value of hard work and the gratitude we owe the working poor who ensure that we all have our daily bread from those I labored among in the agricultural fields of Sumter County.
I owe much to my students at every level who may well not have known that they taught me as much I taught them along the way. I often called my college students at Valencia and UCF my Jedis. I still believe they will change the world. It is one of my life’s greatest pleasures to watch their lives as adults as they make their own impacts upon the world.
I learned much as a public defender from my impoverished clients who opened my eyes to the life of the working poor and my own privilege. And I will always be indebted to the village of Las Guabitas in the middle of the Panamanian countryside where I lived for a summer. It was a life changing experience that taught me about generosity, community and the value of the human person in the context of deep poverty, war and societal deprecation.
Perhaps most importantly, I have learned from a series of difficult lessons from the suffering I have endured in my life, some of it unmerited, some of it self-inflicted.
My parents had always encouraged me to dream boldly. But the doors did not always open for me to say the least. A dogged but hopeful persistence arose from that reality.
I didn’t get accepted to law school my first application and I had to take one part of the Bar Exam twice. I had substantial rewrites required of me during my comprehensives in my doctoral program. And my path to ordination as an Episcopal priest was long, harrowing and the result was never a given right up to the very end.
With each disappointment – and there were many - I picked my hurting soul up, dusted it off, and began working for the next round of challenges. I learned early on that what was worth attaining required perseverance.
I learned a lot about “good ole boy” politics along the way and the values of the white professional middle class, a place within which my educational attainment had secured for me even as I found that lifestyle to be largely alien to my deepest values. I learned first-hand the dehumanizing impact of homophobia. Dealing with the irrational prejudices of others would be a constant throughout my life starting with the bullying I endured in public schools. I also learned the costs of pointing out the elephant in the room, speaking out about racial and class injustices. The costs of that outspokenness would be extracted from my very soul in my darker days lived out in places with names like Inverness and the Orange County Juvenile Justice System.
In the process, I have endured a lot of self-inflicted harm, suffered through a lot of hangovers, periodically teetered on the edge of taking my life and more than once finding myself in situations in which I barely escaped with my life.
And yet, I am here to tell about it, all of it.
I am a believer in the miracle of grace. And I am a case study in the power of redemption in virtually every sense of that term. For that I am deeply grateful and I am very clear I was never entitled to any of it. I also have a sense that the squad of guardian angels that has protected me for all these years is going to want to have a little talk with me when I arrive at the Pearly Gates.
I recently had a chance to see The Greatest Showman on Earth on HBO. When the Grammy Winning song “This is Me” was performed, I sat up in my chair, electrified by what I was hearing. As I watched the parade of human beings demonized as “circus freaks” striding down the street undaunted by the gauntlet of angry, frightened townspeople through which they passed, I heard a chorus of my own life story being sung there:
“I am brave, I am bruised
I am who I'm meant to be, this is me”
It has taken me all of my life to own all of who I really am. Loving who I am is still a work in progress. But I am a lot closer to it than I’ve ever been. For that I am profoundly grateful.
Deepest Gratitude for a Rich Life
At the end of the day September 1, as I was about to drift off to sleep, a couple of thoughts occurred to me. First, while I’m not totally sure what my soul desired in coming to this life, if it was life lessons that would allow my soul to grow, I think I’ve done a pretty good job of finding those opportunities. While my life has never been devoted to amassing of material riches or power, I have had a very rich life nonetheless.
And that led to the second realization. Should I die today, I would have lived a very full and purposeful life. It has been an unusual life, unpredictable and unorthodox from the start. It has never been free of pain. But always rich. I could die tomorrow without regrets.
That said, I should hasten to say that I am in no hurry to die just yet. I love retirement. I have no obligations to anyone or anything that I cannot ultimately say no to. Retirement gives me time to tend to my beloved jungle, read the hundreds of stacked up books I’ve promised I’d finally read, and I even find some time to write. I am happy I finally have a chance to function part-time as priest in my parish. And the myriad of projects I attend to from commemorating the Ocoee race massacre to engaging in Jungian depth psychology keep my mind stimulated. For all of that I am grateful.
But I feel I still have some things to attend to before taking my leave. Indeed, I sense that all of the life I have led up to now has been preparing me for something yet to present itself. I recently heard a quote from Carl Jung that seems to sum this up:
“To this day God is the name by which I designate all things which cross my willful path violently and recklessly, all things which upset my subjective views, plans and intentions and change the course of my life for better or worse.”
Whatever that G-d might have in mind, as I begin this 67th year of a very rich life, I await it.
For now, as I begin this 67th revolution around Brother Sun, I simply need to express my gratitude for the rich life I have lived and for the many people who have played a role in it. I pray that I will prove ready for what may come next. And I thank those who have taken the time and trouble to read my reflections herein.
I understand that a saying popular among 12 Steppers is “More will be revealed.” Of that, I have no doubt.
* The solar return chart is an astrology chart that's calculated for the exact moment the Sun returns to its "natal" or birth position.
Harry Scott Coverston
If the unexamined life is not worth living, surely an unexamined belief system, be it religious or political, is not worth holding. Most things worth considering do not come in sound bites.
Those who believe religion and politics aren't connected don't understand either. – Mahatma Gandhi
For what does G-d require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your G-d? - Micah 6:8, Hebrew Scriptures
Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world's grief. Do justly, now. Love mercy, now. Walk humbly now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it. - Rabbi Rami Shapiro, Wisdom of the Jewish Sages (1993)
© Harry Coverston, 2020