Dear Me, Love Mark

written on 16 April 2021 by Mark Ehrenstein

Art by Erin Iwata

Trigger Warning: This piece mentions suicide. Although there is no description of events, please read cautiously.

Below is a letter I wrote to my younger self. A difficult letter to write, but one I wish I could have received the night before my 21st birthday. 40 years have passed since I turned 21! Looking back at my life is a wonderful opportunity to see the Grace of God, and the significance of God’s love, protection, and healing power throughout my life. So, this really is a love letter to myself. May the words give hope to anyone who feels lost, hopeless, or fearful.


Dear Mark:

You don’t know me, but I know you very well. You probably would never recognize me now, but your sweet, innocent spirit still dwells deep inside of me. I have an amazing journey to share with you, a story that, if you believe, might give you hope and a feeling of overwhelming gratitude! You don’t feel it tonight, but you are loved, and being watched over more than you could ever imagine! Tomorrow is your passage into adulthood, your 21st birthday! There is so much I want to share with you tonight, so… as Betty Davis once said, “Fasten your seatbelts, it’s going to be a bumpy night!” The quote’s a gay thing. I know you’ll get it!

I know this past year has been filled with searching, loss, doubt and perhaps more than anything, fear. Coming out as a gay man to your church, your friends, and your family has left you feeling alone, abandoned, and bruised! I know tonight, you don’t feel much like celebrating a so called “big birthday.” I know you feel the love and support of your family that, at this moment, is the only thing keeping you from taking your own life. Sorry to say, but things will get harder before they get better, but they will get better! In a very short time, you will lose your friend Jeremy, one of your first openly gay young friends. Boy, you helped each other survive.  Remember, you called each other “life saviors.” You and  Jeremy didn’t know each other very long, but you developed a deep bond quickly. Jeremy’s life was cut terribly short. His suicide at 20 was unfair, unjust, and rightly will make you question if there really is a God. Who would let Jeremy take his own life, simply because of who Jeremy could love? You will question what you could have said or done to change Jeremy’s choices. Your tears will not stop flowing, and you will have a huge hole in your heart. Sadly, you will face this loss in silence, and never really get to say goodbye and mourn appropriately. Jeremy’s family will steal your opportunity to grieve by denying you and other “friends” presence at his funeral. You won’t tell your own family about Jeremy, fearing they may think that Jeremy’s fate could be your destiny as well. You will succumb to this terrible loss in painful solitude. Trust me when I say, Jeremy knows you loved him and has become a host of guardian angels protecting you for the rest of your life! The loss of your friend Jeremy will plummet your world into unspeakable darkness, but please, hold on Mark. Fear Not!

Perhaps losing Jeremy was preparing you for the difficult days that would lie ahead. In a very short time, a horrible pandemic will come upon your community and the entire world. This plague will be called AIDS, and it will truly test and alter your entire world. Sadly, when you are barely an adult yourself, you will lose many young friends. Names flood my mind of those young, beautiful souls, not yet in the prime of their own lives, lost to this horrific pandemic. Gordon, Steven, Paul, Terry, Gary, and Craig to name just a few. Young and virile men ravaged with a disease, that within months would destroy their bodies beyond recognition. No person at your tender age should be going to so many funerals, often alone! I can still taste your fear and sadness. It’s bitter and hard to swallow. Yet within you, Mark, beats the heart of hope, in the depths of hopelessness! Listen to that voice telling you to “Fear not!” and keep moving forward, even when you feel paralyzed with unspeakable grief and anxiety.

Mark this date on your calendar: March 30th, 1982. It will be a day that will change your life forever. I know you cannot fathom this now, but God knows your longing heart, your need for companionship. God is good and will bring you that person who will complete and strengthen you. Your life partner will be smart; an educated man. He will believe in you, far beyond your ability to believe in yourself! He will be cute too! John will walk into your life when you least expect it, as blessings often do! When you meet John, you will literally feel like you are Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, going from the cold world of black and white into the warmth of glorious technicolor. Another gay thing. I know you’ll get it! Don’t get me wrong, you are so young, so naïve, so unprepared to experience adult love! You will have many doubts when you meet John, and at times truly believe you don’t deserve this predestined partnership. Sadly, you will at times even try to sabotage this new relationship, feeling you are not worthy or caple of love! But John is nothing if not patient and kind. When you are with John, you will feel safe and begin to believe that inner voice telling you to “Fear Not!”

Some good news in this story! Your hunger for a relationship with GOD will not be forever crushed and abandoned! You will return to a church! Yes, an actual Church, with an amazing pastor named Dr. Nancy Wilson. To keep you reading this letter, I’ll even let you know the year: 1986! The church will be a Metropolitan Community Church in downtown Los Angeles. As fate (God) would have it, you knew of this “gay affirming” church because your parents owned a restaurant right next door to the church when you were just a boy! You remember it! Yes, the church that loved gay people! Crazy, right? You will return to this church as a young man filled with so much anxiety and doubt concerning life and your place in it. You will arrive at MCC completely broken. This church will bring you purpose, hope, renewal, positive spirituality, and most of all, HEALING! On a Sunday, after a service, you and John will exchange rings and vows at that church in front of your mom and dad, a supporting congregation, and God! Do you remember when you were just a boy, being afraid that if someone from that “gay” church saw you, they would know the thoughts you secretly harbored, and that soon everyone would know your hidden truth! Even then as a young boy something told you, “Fear Not!”

More good news! Most of this journey is filled with such blessings and excitement! You would never believe all the adventures that lie ahead of you, Mark! You and John will literally travel the world, seeing and experiencing more places, people, and cultures than any one person truly deserves to experience in a lifetime! You will taste interesting foods, drink fine wines, and dance in Paris along the River Seine! You will hold hands with John in places like Red Square, Russia and Tinmen Square, China, just to show people that your love does exist! You will literally march for Civil rights, Gay rights, the Right to Marry, and Immigrants’ rights. You will participate in civil disobedience, and even be detained supporting causes you believe in, including women’s rights, gun safety rights, and “Black Lives Matter”! You will experience many steps forward and far too many steps backward on the road towards equality! You and John will come to the realization that you each have lived your life with undeserved privileges, by simply being born of a certain race and gender! You will regularly question authority. You will often need to ask for forgiveness! You will love your family and friends and cherish your nieces and nephews. You will laugh ‘til you cry, and cry until you laugh! Most importantly, you will slowly come to learn many important life lessons. I know it may seem impossible to believe tonight as you read this letter, but you will come to love life and learn the importance of gratitude. You will climb so many peaks, and yes, tumble down into more than a few valleys, but again, “Fear Not!”

Lastly, I must end on a note of sadness. One of life’s hardest hurdles is the loss of family members. You will be blessed to have held some of their hands when they took their final breaths, and literally feel their spirit depart. Many times, John and you will have to tearfully kiss pets goodbye on cold veterinarians’ tables. Time will teach you that nothing is certain and everything is a gift! As I end this letter to you, Mark, we have just endured another horrible pandemic. So far, there have been more than fourteen months of self-isolation, mask wearing, and so many deaths. In a throwback to your first pandemic, there will be deep-rooted mistrust and even anger between people and political parties. Faith will be tested, and families torn apart! I guess you are thinking, here he goes again with another “Fear not!” But it has not been me that has spoken “Fear not” throughout this journey, it has been God! Always remember you have a purpose; a hope that was given to you by your creator. In the end, perhaps your greatest attribute is, you never let other people define your relationship with God. I can’t tell you where that quality or stubbornness came from, but I can assure you, that gift has steadied your faith and kept you surviving, no, thriving all these years! So, if you take anything from this letter, please remember this: Have hope in the future, believe in your worthiness, and know that God is real and is with you each and every day! There is absolutely nothing ahead of you to fear!

“Fear not, for I am with you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you; I will help you; I will uphold you with my righteous hand.”  (Isaiah 41:10)

With all my love,
PS … Remember: The best is yet to come! ☺