passion   pas'shən
  1. suffering or agony.
  2. the agony and sufferings of Jesus during the period following the Last Supper.
  3. any or all of these emotions: hate, grief, love, fear, joy, etc.
  4. extreme, compelling emotion; intense emotional drive or excitement; specifically (a) great anger; rage; fury; (b) enthusiasm or fondness, as for music; (c) strong love or affection; (d) sexual drive or desire; lust
  5. the object of any strong desire or fondness

passion play: a medieval mystery play representing the Passion of Jesus; especially, the drama still presented every tenth year at Oberammergau, Bavaria. It was first given in 1634, in fulfillment of a vow made in thanksgiving for salvation from a plague.

Syn.—feeling, emotion, ardor, excitement, rapture, transport, vehemence, zeal, pathos, affection, love, devotion, tender emotion, attachment, anger, fury, indignation, wrath

In 1996, when the AIDS Memorial Quilt was going to be displayed in full in Washington, DC, for the last time for a long time to come, I decided to go and see it. In addition to the Quilt, there was a large tent where the names of those who had died from AIDS were being constantly recited. People would line up to read a single page of names from a large notebook, and oftentimes—at the end of the page—the reader would add the name of someone dear to him or her who had also died from the disease. I noticed one woman who looked out of place in the line. She was short, and older than most of the others there. She resembled some of the ladies from the Southern Baptist Church of my childhood. She was even dressed like them. It had been an emotional morning for me looking at the Quilt, so I decided to pause there for a moment and listen to the names being read. The older woman finally made her way to the front of the line, and I listened as she read. At the end of her page, she added, “And for my beloved grandson, Tim, who I miss every single day.” Her voice choked a little as she said that. I watched as she walked out of the tent, and made her way to her car as humbly as she’d likely come. She got in her car and drove home, I imagined. I also imagined that without anyone else in her family or circle of friends knowing it, she had found out about the weekend and had decided to come all by herself— regardless of how out of her realm of experience this trip to the Quilt had to be. And yet, her grandson had meant so much to her, and her love for her grandson was so great that she felt she had to come and declare that love in front of others like him. I was moved by the courage it had taken for her to travel so far outside of her comfort zone to profess her feelings for her beloved grandson. She gets it, I thought. She gets the big picture.

I also had friends who died from complications from AIDS. One of them, Jay, grew up in a small town in Virginia. He had sweet, salt-of-the-earth parents who came to the hospital in New York City when his health began to fail and he was not expected to pull through. They arrived and stayed until he died. When that happened, they were so distraught and numb with grief, they got in their car and drove back home to Virginia. I don’t think it had ever crossed their minds that they would be traveling here to watch their thirty-two-year-old son die. At a gay men’s prayer group I was part of at the time, I got very emotional as I told them that his parents hadn’t even stopped by his apartment to take some memento of his New York City life home with them. I felt they were missing so much; that, for them, it was as if his life here hadn’t happened. I wasn’t faulting them, because I could only imagine their grief, and I knew they had to be doing the best they could under the circumstances. But I wanted them to know what a beautiful man their son was—how I, and others who crossed his path, could never come away from being with him without feeling uplifted and affirmed by him. I wanted them to see the extraordinary artwork he had created and decorated his home with. I wanted them to see the photographs of the many friends who loved him. I wanted them to know how much he touched the lives of his friends here; how much he mattered to so many of us; and how the world had been a better place for his presence in it.

I decided to write this play when—after news reports of the beating of Matthew Shepard, who later died after having been tied to a fence on a Laramie, Wyoming hillside, the victim of a hate crime—a young college girl was being asked her response. She was crying and said, “This has to stop. People cannot be brutalized for being who they are.” I thought—wow, she’s the generation after me, and she gets the big picture too. The news showed candlelight vigils in major cities across the country, filled with lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender people and others galvanized by the senseless beating of this young gay man, who could be anyone of us.

I was moved by the compassionate response of Jeff Lutes, Executive Director of Soulforce (an organization working for freedom for LGBT people from religious and political oppression through the practice of relentless nonviolent resistance), to the Rev. Ted Haggard, who had been dismissed by New Life Church and had resigned as President of the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE). Soulforce gets the big picture too.

This past Friday night, December 1st (World AIDS day), I watched as an audience at a Matthew Shepard Foundation fundraiser sat in rapt attention to a staged reading of Moises Kaufman’s wonderful, The Laramie Project. Judy Shepard, Matthew’s mother, has transformed the grief over losing her son into tireless advocacy for human rights. She devotes her life to “erasing hate” and to creating a legacy of goodness in the wake of her son’s violent death. She also gets it.

Life is an amazing gift, and we, too, have the chance to leave a legacy of goodness to those who come after us. And so,
to the grandmother and her grandson I never knew—and to others like them,
to the memory of my friend, Jay, and to his parents,
to the memory of my friend, Tony,
to the memory of my mother whose unconditional love anchors me still,
to moving outside of our comfort zones because of love,
and to you,
this play is dedicated.

Phil Hall
December 15th , 2006

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