Tina Henry died on September 15, 2012. She lived in Borger, Texas, which is near Amarillo. Her liver finally failed her but her heart and spirit never flagged. I never met Tina in person. I couldn't pick her out of a one-person lineup, yet her passing has filled me with profound sadness. I am lucky and proud to have known her.
When I was sentenced, the judge (the famously closeted gay Vaughn Walker) agreed I should be sent to Lompoc to serve my time. Instead, I was put on an airplane and flown to Oklahoma City and then taken on a 14-hour bus ride, (cuffed and shackled with no food) to Beaumont, Texas. The Beaumont complex is infamous in the federal system and was known as "bloody" Beaumont. Despite a policy of keeping inmates within 500 miles of their home, I was 90 miles from Houston and light years from my family. I knew I would never get a visit in Texas. I was depressed, disoriented and lonely. I was also scared out of my mind.
No one in Beaumont knew anything about San Francisco or the Bay Area except it was the "fag" capital of the world and populated by liberal queers and commies intent on destroying this country. (I wish I were kidding) I went to my first meeting with my so-called case manager and he looked at me askance asking if I was from San Francisco? I said yes and he wanted to know how I ended up in Beaumont. I had no answer and he chimed in, "...well you must have really pissed someone off to end up here because they want to make this as tough as possible on you." He told me to get out of Beaumont as soon as possible. "...it's not good for you here."
Into this psychological morass came some letters. People, listeners, wrote and expressed support. One of those letters came from Tina Henry. Tina had lived in the Bay Area for some time, but I think she had to move back to her family in Texas for health reasons. She missed the City and the culture of the Bay Area. She didn't like Texas very much. She loved to talk about the Giants and A's and the Forty Niners. (She loved it when the Dallas Cowboys would get beat). She would update me on the comings and goings of the various teams. She was a committed progressive. She opposed Bush and Iraq and loved to watch Countdown with Keith Olberman. She would write and give me a blow by blow of Olberman's latest rants and she would listen to the regressive echo machine which is talk radio, and would laugh or be incredulous at the latest from Hanbaugh and company and would pass all of that on to me. We wrote back and forth about weather. Most of the time in Texas it's just hot and humid. It's weather which sucks your soul out through your pores. When it isn't hot and humid, it's freezing. We got 3 inches of snow in January one year. Tina longed for the weather of the Bay Area, as did I. Our letters were chatty as I told her about everything from my son's cancer diagnosis to my daughter's graduation from law school. I knew she was having health concerns with her liver and that she was hoping the docs at Texas A&M might figure something out. They didn't.
To Tina, I was a disembodied voice she used to listen to on the radio. We never met. In that sense she didn't know me from Adam. However, she found out I was in Texas, and she sat down and decided to write to me. I was a stranger, for all intents and purposes, and yet she reached out to let me know I wasn't alone. I wasn't in Texas by myself. I had a kindred soul in Borges. Hang in there!
I can't begin to understand the loss her mother and family must endure with her passing. She was funny and smart and compassionate enough to reach out to a stranger and throw him a lifeline. To her immediate family and friends she must have been a source of life and love and happiness I'm sure.
Where does such empathy come from? Sitting in Borges, Texas, with serious health concerns of her own, Tina decided to write to me...to reach out to me...to touch another person with her kindness knowing we would probably never meet. In a world of email, texting, Facebook, iPhones and iPads...a world becoming less personal and more faceless...a world where we "like" lots of persons and things, but extend love and kindness to very few...Tina Henry put pen to paper and would write to me frequently, hoping to cheer me up and give me hope I could survive Texas, all the while knowing she might not. She maybe knew I would one day get to go home to a place she so wanted to return and yet never would. Yet, she wrote to keep that place alive for me ...to remind me about all the wonderful attributes of the Bay Area...to encourage and remind me I would see it again eventually.
Matthew 25 lays out the criteria for how to achieve redemption, salvation, and a close intimate relationship with God. Tina Henry took it seriously and reached out to a prisoner, a stranger, a criminal and fed and clothed me in her caring and support. She was moved by God's grace, a grace which must have flowed through her to everyone she touched, to strike up a relationship with someone accused of the worst of the worst...a true leper in many people's eyes, (including many of my "closest" friends who have abandoned me completely) and all she saw was someone probably scared, alone, disconsolate and in need of a kind word and gesture. Tina is an example of exactly what Jesus was referring to in that passage in Matthew.
I know one thing for sure. Death is not the final answer. What the resurrection has taught me is we go ON! While I don't know the specifics, I do know the way we love now...the way we live now...the way we treat strangers and the least of our brothers and sisters now, will determine the depth of our loving relationship with God.
On September 15, 2012, Tina Henry was welcomed by the angels and martyrs into the golden city, the New Jerusalem. She walked into God's open, loving arms and she heard Her say, " ...welcome Tina my good and faithful servant."
Eternal rest grant unto her O Lord, let perpetual light shine upon her. May her soul, and all the souls of the faithful departed rest in peace......AMEN