Mormon Youth and Drugs

ThereIsAWayBackPearsonA long time ago I read a book that profoundly influenced my life. It seems I start a lot of my blog posts this way, but it’s true. Reading can do that for you. This one was by Gerald Neils Pearson. You may recognize the name. He was the husband of Carol Lynn Pearson. Gerald was gay and died of aids in 1984. Carol wrote about him in her 1986 autobiography, Goodbye, I Love You.

The book was published in 1970. I picked it up at my California LDS Bookstore, Ellsworth’s Stationers back when they had a store in Baldwin Park CA, probably in early 1974. The year 1973 was not a good one for me. I got involved in drugs for about six months (mostly marijuana and LSD once or twice), was kicked out of High School and got badly beat up by my best friend.

I got religion big time in 1974, meaning I tried to do everything I had been taught I was supposed to do as I was growing up in the Mormon Church. It’s not that I was a bad kid when I was young, I just didn’t “get it.” That all changed with my, shall we say, “unfortunate” experiences of 1973. There’s no doubt about it. I made some bad choices, regretted them then and have ever since.

The Value of One Good Book

One good thing that came out of that recovery period was my reading of Gerald’s book. It’s out of print now and has been for many years so I doubt you can find it except in the depths of a rare and used book store somewhere along the Wasatch Front. I lost my original copy somewhere in one of my many moves over the years but I felt so strongly about it that I searched for another.

I found it in the basement of either Sam Weller’s or Confetti Books. Those have always been two of my favorite places to visit when we go to Utah, besides the DI. You can get all kinds of used LDS books at the DI for just a dollar or two. Sometimes I find real gems to add to my library. I’m glad I have a copy of Gerald’s book again. It’s my way of honoring what he did for me.

Someday I may do a full review of the book, but it wouldn’t do anybody any good because you can’t get it anymore. Let’s just say the book has tremendous sentimental value for me because it saved my life. I read it at a time when I needed to learn things that Gerald put in there in a way that touched my soul. It caused me to think twice about what I had done and what I needed to do.

There is a Way Back

If a copy of this post ever gets to Carol Pearson, or if any of my readers know Carol, maybe she might be interested in knowing what I’m about to share. Since Carol is my friend on Facebook I suppose I could tell her myself but I don’t want to impose. We’ve never met even though we’re Facebook friends. Interesting how social media works that way, isn’t it? We have mutual friends.

I wrote in my journal at the time, “I picked up Covey’s and Lund’s latest books. But for some reason, I saw a book that intrigued me because it had a painting of a young man with long hair on the cover. I had long hair at the time and so I picked it up. I was even more intrigued when I read the title and the subtitle: There Is a Way Back – The Story of Mormon Youth and Drugs.

“I opened it and read a few pages there in the store and knew I had to have the book. I went home and devoured it that night. I was so fascinated with what I had read that I did something I had never done before. I wrote a letter to the author expressing my gratitude for the book and how it had blessed my life and gave me hope.” There’s more in the journal I’ll leave unshared.

A Letter to an Author

Now, you’ve got to remember this was 1974. I was only seventeen. It was much more difficult for a fan letter to get to an author back then. The letter was probably two or three handwritten pages. In it I thanked him for writing and sharing the book in such a way that touched my heart and gave me a desire to know more about the gospel of Jesus Christ and how I could repent.

I don’t think I asked him for anything personal. I just wanted to share. I don’t know if I expected an answer back. I didn’t receive one. That bothered me for a while until I learned how difficult it is for authors to answer every letter they receive. It would be like a movie or TV star receiving fan mail. Sometimes they have a full staff to answer their letters. I’m sure he was very busy then.

I later learned that Gerald was going through his own struggles. I sympathized with what Carol shared and felt her pain. I also felt his pain. He was searching for something that he couldn’t seem to find – a feeling of brotherhood, love and acceptance that eluded him for the rest of his life. Gerald’s struggles with his feelings did not change my respect for him and what he wrote.

A Return to the Faith

I gained something special from Gerald’s book that sometimes makes me feel it was written especially for me. He describes the process of returning from the unreal world of drugs. His insights were especially helpful for me in dealing with the reality of paranoia caused by LSD and marijuana. It doesn’t happen to everyone, but it happened to me and it affected me profoundly.

Gerald focused on the fact that we are all unique; that each one of us has special and individual talents that nobody else shares. Oh, sure, there are plenty of people who sing, who draw, who paint, who act or who write, but there is nobody who can express themselves in quite the way you can. Your gifts and talents are one of a kind because of the way in which you were made.

I know you can read that elsewhere. In fact, you can read a lot of what Gerald wrote in his book in plenty of other LDS books and perhaps in a better or more readable style. But for me at that time in my life, Gerald Neils Pearson reached out and touched my soul and saved me from some terrible feelings the adversary had placed in my heart that I was worthless because of my sins.

A Tribute from a Grateful Reader

I will always be grateful for that. I hope to meet Gerald someday. I hope to be his friend. I want to tell him what he did for me. Yes, I know he is in the spirit world now but I will be there soon enough. We will all be there. I know Gerald loved to sing. I also love to sing. There’s nothing I enjoy more than singing in a male chorus and hearing the power of voices raised in sacred praise.

In the intervening years since I read Gerald’s book, I have read thousands of others who have encouraged me on my way. I have read books of General Authorities, apostles and prophets. I have read books by extremely intelligent and talented writers and researchers. All have added to my knowledge and helped me understand just a little bit better this Mormon world that we share.

But I will never read a book that saved my life like Gerald’s book did at that time when I needed it most. Yes, I know if I had focused on the scriptures I surely could have felt the same message of love and acceptance I felt from There is a Way Back. But I was struggling with the scriptures back then and didn’t feel that message until Gerald told me what to look for and how to hear it.

Blogging is an Open Dialog

Do you think it inappropriate to write a tribute and express gratitude and praise for a man who chose to live a gay lifestyle and eventually died of AIDS? I don’t. I want to remember and honor a man who blessed my life. I want his family to know that I appreciate what he did for me, so long ago, even if it was such a small thing – the writing and publishing of an LDS-themed book.

Today when I receive private emails from my readers, I always try to respond to every one. It may take me a week or two or sometimes a month to get around to replying. The reason I always want to respond is because of what I learned from Gerald Pearson. We are each unique. I may write something that helps you. You may write something that helps me. We can help each other.

So to all my readers who take the time to write me privately, I thank you. We have had some wonderful dialogs, haven’t we? You have taught me things and caused me to consider things that I would not have otherwise seen. And for those who have the courage to share their comments in public, I thank you and promise you a kind, considerate and thoughtful reply no matter what.

Perhaps I could end this little post with one of Carol’s poems that Gerald shared in the book:

THE SOURCE

If God is love,
The source,
The spring,
Should not the lover
Pilgrimage there—
Reverently Seeking supply?—
That the cup he gives
Will not be dry.

Comments

Hi, Tim. One of your readers sent me to your blog. So happy to read your story of how Gerald blessed your life those many years ago. He would (and does) feel a great deal of satisfaction to know this. Gerald was/is a very thoughtful, probing, generous man, and I know the work that he did for the kids in "The Group" (as we then called it) was deeply important to many. I am going to print out your story and put in in one of the boxes of Gerald's "archives" that I have created along with the "archives" of my own work. I will also send this on to Gerald's children. I just checked and found that "There is a Way Back" is available as a used book on Amazon. http://www.amazon.com/There-Is-A-Way-Back/dp/B000F7H3C6/ref=sr_sp-btf_title_1_5?ie=UTF8&qid=1370290764&sr=8-5&keywords=There+is+a+Way+Back
Many blessings to you, Tim, and to all your readers. We are walking together a most rich and interesting path.
Carol Lynn Pearson
tmalonemcse said…
Hi Carol. I'm so glad you were able to read my thoughts about Gerald. The world has changed so much in the many years since that book was published but the need for loving human kindness remains the same. Gerald taught me about hope, something I needed desperately in my life then and still do today. I love how you described him in the present tense. Thank you for that and for your kind response to my post. God bless you and your family for the legacy and indelible impression you have left on the Mormon community.

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