With the squish of sweat, suffering can be relieved
by JAY VANASCO
The sweat lodge was stuffy
when 1 entered, crawling
clockwise around on my
hands and knees. I followed
the Ojibway sweat leader
and 12 others followed me,
the women hiking up their
long skirls slightly lo keep
them from the mud.
By the time we were all in
the circle, our bodies
squished against each other, sweat was already dribbling between my breasts and under my arms. The
leader, Pete, explained thai the sweat would happen
in four rounds: first, a prayer round calling the spirits and ancestors, then a healing round, then a third
prayer round thanking the spirits and ancestors,
then an intermission wilh the passing of the prayer
pipe, and finally, a silent prayer round.
I was there for the healing.
The "fireman" shoveled seven hot, glowing stones
lhe size of cat's heads into the lodge one by one. We
could hear the crackle of the fire outside. "Ho." Pete
said, greeting each one and lifting il into lhe center
stone circle with a pair of deer antlers. He placed a
bit of cedar leaf on lop of every stone, saying prayers
for our ancestors, our health, our journey.
Then the fireman joined us, and the lodge blanket
closed, sealing us in a dark, hot circle. Pete tossed
some water on the stones and steam rose, hissing, lo
fill the spaces our bodies left open.
'This is lhe womb ofyour mother." Pete said, and
it could have been. Those who were NaMve American
took lurns singing spirit calling songs, and lhe heal
and the steam and ihe closeness buzzed around my
head, making ibetr voices tremble and arch, as if I
were hearing (hem throtigh water, or amniotic fluid.
] Wan comforted by the darkness.
The steam kepi rising, pressing against our faces.
a hot. wet towel. Some around me moaned or
screamed in panic, in agony. "Offer your pain up to
the Creator." ['etc said, For now. I was silent.
By the beginning of Ihe second round, sweal was
thick as skin. A prayer for healing traveled around
the circle. We could pray only for others, not for ourselves. A friend prayed for me, for the safe removal of
the cyst that grows like a baby in my abdomen. She
prayed for the skill of the doctorsand the reduction
of my anxiety. I sobbed next to her, gripping her
The week before, I had been diagnosed with
endometreosis, and told that a cyst the size of a 16-
week-old fetus was swelled around my right ovary. I
am scheduled for major abdominal surgery in late
June. Probably I would be fertile when I woke from
the anesthetic, my doctor said. If there isn't endometreosis on my other ovary, too. If they could leave one
"It's better than cancer," thoughtless people told
me. a-Vid of course il is, but so are most of the traumas that wrack our bodies or our minds. My panic
felt like a lead bar stretched across my back, weighing down my shoulders. I couldn't eat or sleep.
I didn't want to wake up changed. For most of us,
change may be exciting, but it is frightening, too. We
want the new experiences without the losses. We are
afraid of the unexpected, the unknown, the journey
wc take by ourselves. I see this in the eyes of the
seniors graduating from the university where I work,
the mothers I know who wil! be sending their children to kindergarten for the first lime in the fall, the
men and women who call me in whispery panic",
afraid they might be gay or lesbian, afraid how that
elemental fact mighl twist and ruin their lives.
But in the sweat lodge, htiddlcd in the painful
steam, the searing heat, something in me opened
and relaxed. "We cannot sacrifice a goat to the
Creator." Pete said. "We cannot offer money, our
house, our car. because everything belongs lo him.
.All we can offer is ourselves. All we can offer is our
own pain and suffering.'' Those words come from the
heart of a people who have suffered much and found
purpose in thai suffering. They are comforting
because they mean lhat our pain isn'l meaningless,
lhat it doesn't drop inlo the ocean of human
ephemera and disappear. Instead, it is transformed
as something lhat helps the people it is directed
toward. The focus turns away from our own menial
The steam kept rising,
pressing against our faces,
a hot, wet towel.
Some around me moaned
or screamed in panic,
in agony. 'Offer your pain
up to the Creator,' Pete said.
For now, I was silent
anguish and toward the healing of others.
No matter how we as gay and lesbian individuals
may feel about a Creator, aboul God. the fact is that
we are also a suffering people. We suffer from AIDS,
from homophobia, from breast cancer, from alienation and isolation. Perhaps thc next time each of us
feels pain, we should offer it up as a sacrifice for the
good of all of our people. Perhaps we should turn
away from the agony within ourselves and focus it on
the heating of those we love and cherish.
By the middle of the fourth round. I had begun to
swoon. The heal built up against my eyes and ears.
and before (be silent prayers began, before I had the
chance to pray for myself. 1 crawled clockwise
around the lodge, exiling. I lay down, stretching oul
on thc grass beside the lodge, listening to the bubble
of lhe river beside me. the whisper of the trees above
and the murmur of prayers within. 1 took a deep
breath, then another. Tlie lead bar had meked. I felt
Jay Vanasco is ajreelance writer in Chicago.
Welcome the Pain
How to survive being single all over again
by RANDY SIEGEL
■After 14 years. I was single again. Earlier lhat day.
I had moved from a 3.500 square loot thickhead
house into a Midtown apartment so tiny lhat il could
barely fit my new, six-fool Storehouse couch.
Whatever the apartment's modest size, it was
.sacred. It was a sanctuary, and it was mine. It would
become a place ol Introspection, healing and leam
Within five hours of moving. I was settled, bul nol
single. While physically separated. 1 still felt joined
together by my marriage vows. A good Episcopalian.
I knew a ritual had created those vows, and a ritual
would remove them. I removed my wedding band,
said a prayer and put it away in a special place. Wilh
that simple act, I became a single man. Yet. nothing
could have prepared me for what was ahead.
That night, sleep did nol come easy. It was hard
sleeping alone, and as I snuggled closed to my body
pillow, the memories, doubls and fears came rushing in. When all the activity subsided, my mind had
lime to think. I could nol hide from myself in my
My brother called the next morning lo check on
me. I talked of the pain. He understood, for seven
years ago he had divorced.
There's nothing you can do about the pain." he
told me. "You have to walk Ihrough it. but there is
light at the end of tunnel." Over the next couple ol
veins. I caught glimpses of that light."
For lhe first couple oi months. I was numb. A
robot al work and dull at play, life seemed devoid of
pleasure. I wondered if I would ever be happy again.
Sundays were particularly hard. One Sunday. Bit-
ling on thc Qoor of mv apartment 1 began to cry.
Tens Streaming down my lace. I yelled oul, "Even a
had relaiionship is better lhan this."
In ,in effort lo snap out mv depression, I grabbed
a piece of paper and stalled lisling lhe good Ihings
that were waiting for me as a result of being single
"Increased intimacy, higher creativity, sell knowledge." Within minules. lhe list included close to 25
items. Folding thc sheet of paper, I put it away.
Months later, revisiting thai list, the tears came
once again. Almost all of the 25 items had come to
Some days were better than others. On the off
days, I learned to love and minister lo myself. This
was a time to be kind to myself. 1 would get frequent
massages (it was nice to be touched). 1 would go to a
movie on weekends. I would take long walks in the
park. I treated myself like a lover, and in the process
became my own best friend.
Even so. I was lonely. The worse part of being sin-
tile again was the empiiness. My soul had a hole,
and I wanted to fill it with a replacement relation
ship. A new relaiionship would lessen the pain, and
pain — I believed at the time — was to be avoided at
all costs. But, that was not to be. Try as I might —
and 1 did try — I scared off most potential suitors,
and with good reason. 1 was too needy. I learned I
needed time to end one relationship before beginning another.
A friend told me to cotint on one month of grieving
for every three years of the relationship. If there is
one thing I learned during this time, it's that there is
no set formula. Everyone is different, and everyone
must handle ihings as besl as they can. at the time.
Today, almosl three years to the day afler I moved
out. I am almost through the tunnel. And I see the
A dear friend of mine is now going through a
painful separation. After nine years, he is suddenly
single. We often talk Into the nighl aboul whai he's
going through, ,uu\ jusi like how my brother was
To jar myself out of
depression, I started listing
the good things that were
waiting for me as
a result of being single
again. Months later, almost
all of the items had
come to pass.
there for me. 1 am there for him.
And. while everyone is different, here is the advice
I have to give:
Realize becoming single again is a process, and as
a process it cannot be rushed. It will be over, but in
its own time. Each relationship builds on the last.
Our job is simply to learn what it is we have to learn
and move on applying those lessons to the next relationship.
Take time to process what has happened. Activity
may mask the pain, bul it will remain and return.
Welcome the pain. It is during painful limes we
learn the most.
Hope is the most important thing to remember.
There is light at the end of the tunnel, and wonderful ihings wailing on the olher side.
1 now know life is about growth, and sometimes
relationships grow wilh us. and someiimes they do
not. If we find ourselves Single again, wc will survive.
And. one day soon we will walk into the light.
Randy Siegel is a public relations consultant living m
Atlanta, lie can be reached through this publication.