Robert A. Rees, Ph.D.
I returned after midnight on Monday night, February 28, to find a message on my answering machine that my friend, Stuart Matis, had taken his life. It took me a long time to get to sleep and then I slept fitfully. The next morning, heavy of heart, I drove to a meeting in Monterey, about forty miles down the coast from Santa Cruz, where I live. To try and find some solace from the dolorous news of the night before, I listened to Beethoven’s “Missa Solemnis” and Brahms’ “German Requiem.” Beethoven’s mass for the dead begins with a quartet of solo voices singing “kyrie eleison,” “God have mercy.” Out of that quartet, a single tenor voice repeats the kyrie with such piercing clarity and beauty that it sounds like the voice of an angel singing over the broken world itself. That voice became my prayer, not only for Stuart Matis, but also for all of us who make up a world in which such senseless deaths as his occur.
I had been in Salt Lake City the Sunday before addressing a gathering of gay and lesbian Latter-day Saints and their families and friends. In my remarks, I referred to Stuart, although by the pseudonym “David.” I had been counseling with Stuart over the past several months and was both impressed with him and worried about him. I said, Stuart “is one of the finest Latter-day Saints I have ever met, a person of great integrity who has struggled with the issues of faith and same-sex attraction for the entirety of his adult life.” I spoke about our association and my attempts to convince him of God’s love for him. I said, “I worry about this man, and I pray for him, and for the countless others like him who suffer unspeakably because, for reasons none of us understands, they love their own gender.”
Part of what it means to be a Christian is that through the grace of Christ we have the capacity to imagine what it is like to suffer as another person suffers. It is impossible to do this if we have anger, hate or revulsion for the other. Such imaginative projection is possible only within the context of love. Thus, those who revile and persecute homosexuals, who treat them as if they have some kind of sinister agenda, cannot possibly take on their suffering, cannot possibly hope to feel what they feel. But those of us whose compassion is inspired by Christ, can feel, at least to some degree, what it must be like to be anathema to society. We can imagine what it must feel like to hate our own bodies, to be condemned for feeling what we naturally feel, to be denied normal fellowship within Christ’s kingdom, and to want to blot out our deep soul suffering through suicide.
Stuart’s last communications are filled, not with imagined feelings of depression, self-loathing and despair, but with their overwhelming reality. In a letter to the BYU student newspaper, he wrote, “for . . . two decades I traveled down a tortuous path of internalized homophobia, immense self-hatred, depression and suicidal thoughts.” In a letter written to his family the night before he took his life, he wrote, “As you know, I have been suicidal for years, and in the past year, I have been vocal about my feelings. After a year of expressing my grief to you, I’ve realized that there is nothing that any of you could do to attenuate my pain. . . . I simply could not live another day choking on my own feelings of inferiority.”
It is startling to realize that a person of such brightness, goodness, and integrity could, through the ignorance, insensitivity, and intense hatred of others, be reduced to such a state, and yet who among us has the strength to hold on to our sense of self in the face of a continuous maelstrom of negative feedback? We all need validation; we need the mirrors of other people’s faces and voices, those of loved ones as well as strangers, to position ourselves in the palpable world.
The saddest thing I heard about Stuart was the revelation by his mother at a memorial service held the Wednesday following his death. She quoted Stuart as saying, “I have never told you that I loved you because I was holding my feelings of love so tightly inside that I couldn’t risk expressing them to anyone.” Even repeating these words here fills me with profound sadness. I feel Stuart had both a great need for love and a great capacity for love. This was evidenced by the concern he had for young Latter-day Saint homosexuals. He spoke often of the teenage boys and girls who were beginning to face their homosexuality. He anguished over their loneliness. He despaired over the realization that many of them would go through the same cycle he had gone through. He wanted to save them from experiencing the darkness of soul he had suffered.
Stuart intended that the ultimate act of his life would somehow help these young people. In his letter to his family quoted above, he wrote, “Perhaps my death . . . might become the catalyst for much good. I’m sure that you will now be strengthened in your resolve to teach the members and the leaders regarding the true nature of homosexuality. My life was actually killed many years ago. Your actions might help to save many young people’s lives.”
Driving back from Monterey the morning after I had heard of Stuart’s death, I was comforted by the words of one of the choruses of Brahms’ Requiem: “How lovely is thy dwelling place, O Lord of hosts! My soul longeth, yea, even fainteth for the courts of the Lord.” The concluding chorus of the Requiem expressed the feelings of my heart:
Blessed are the dead
which die in the Lord
yea, saith the Spirit,
that they rest from their labours;
and their works do follow them.
I miss Stuart and I mourn for the joy he might have experienced in this life and the love he might have received from and given to others. In his famous meditation on death, John Donne wrote, “Who can remove from that bell [for the dying] which is passing a piece of himself out of this world? No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. . . . Any man’s death diminishes me, . . . and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.” The bell that tolls for Stuart Matis tolls for us all, for somehow we are all diminished by the passing of so good a human being.
Robert A. Rees, Ph.D., a former bishop in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, currently serves Director of Education and Humanities for the Institute of HeartMath.