Touched by Grace
From Secrecy to New Life

Ann Showalter

Ann Showalter has written a book about "discoveries become episodes of biography, unpredictable as the new world the discoverers opened to us" (Daniel Boorstin, The Discoverers: A History of Man’s Search to Know His World and Himself, Random House, 1983, p. xv). "The discovery unpredictable" was that her husband was dying of AIDS, that he had wrestled with the sexual orientation of his person since youth, that he had actively participated in such relationships while married, and that his activity was unknown to Ann until weeks before her husband died. Retrospectively she could see the pattern in their marriage of a reluctant intimacy, of an avoidance latent in overwork and a diminishing spontaneity. These discoveries became episodes of biography (her husband) and of an autobiography (herself).

Ann’s book is neither journal nor diary, although it contains elements of both, especially journal entries. Her work is candid, capable of truthful, direct engagement with the discovered episodes of a life together that remained largely unnamed until shortly before her husband’s death. The telling of his story is neither voyeuristic nor exploitative, and always with the consent of the people involved: their children and the time the family assembled to hear a husband and father reveal history; the friends and community with which Ann’s husband had shared much of his life; the extended family; finally, the larger communities in which the Showalters had been participants.

The direct yet thorough manner in which Ann relates these encounters finds delicate description in the poignant phrasing of Emmanuel Levinas:

Alliterate (the "otherwise" of another) becomes proximity. Not distance, the shortest through space, but initial directness, which extends as unimpeachable approach in the call of the face of the other, in which there appears, as an order, an inscription, a prescription, an awakening (as if it were a "me"), responsibility—mine, for another human being. The face of the other, in its defenseless nakedness—is it not already (despite the countenance this baseness may put on) an asking. (Emmanuel Levinas, In the Time of the Nations, trans. Michael B. Smith, University of Indiana Press, 1994, p. 110; cf. p. 26)

Ann knows the power of the phrase "proximity to otherness"—husband, family of origin, nuclear family, extended family, church families—churches of origin and current participation. Each of the communities and special persons within them needed to be faced and told the news of her husband’s impending death and its precipitating causes. Levinas again: "The face of the other, in its defenseless nakedness—is it not already . . . an asking?" Repeated settings and narrative, each with a nuanced change in the telling, allowed the story to grow into a more complete form. As Levinas says, the evocative phenomenon is owed to "the call of the face of the other," "in its defenseless nakedness" yet with vulnerability receptive to a directness of speech accompanied by devotion interchanged between speaker and listener.

As for Ann, discoveries continued to become episodes of biography and autobiography. Like letting gifts for ministry mature by means of a theological education. Like letting Clinical Pastoral Education serve as both critical and caring experiences. Like permitting herself to tell her story in grief recovery groups. Like letting herself be introduced to the world of gay men and lesbian women, to hear stories of deep hurt, of alienation from families and religious communities—to experience the defenseless nakedness of the face.

Ann looked long and intensely into these faces and felt a claim from them and a call from God. She took up a ministry in the AIDS Pastoral Care Network and found herself in the Lord’s vineyard of AIDS education and a ministry to the terminally ill and the bereaved. The story of Abraham, leaving everything familiar and facing everything unfamiliar, became her companion in her effort to be at home in a country not of her choosing but of her calling. She embraced it the same way Abraham did, by faith.

Along the way, Ann lets the reader overhear her own conversations and prayers about matters that are complicated, vexed, painful, and controversial. She invites our company, not necessarily our consent. It’s a very good company to be in because when any reader comes face to face with "discoveries become episodes of biography" Ann’s itinerary will help in spotting the landmarks.

—John Weborg
Twenty-Fourth Week of Pentecost

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Copyright 2005 by Cascadia Publishing House