By James Morris
I’ve had more than my share of Calistoga for this lifetime. That humble beverage of carbonated water tastes slightly more exciting when you ask the bartender to put a lime in it, but back in the 80’s, when I was first deciding to dive headlong into the gay scene there were few other choices. That is, if you were avoiding alcohol and sugar. And for meeting gay men there seemed to be few other places than bars. Bars–dark, smoked-filled, loud, crowded and sometimes populated with inebriates not half as entertaining as they thought they were. OK, not my ideal location for finding Mr. Right. But, as I sipped my fizzy water, I had plenty of time to think about which values from my Mormon background I would keep packed for my new journey and which were unnecessary baggage.
For me, holding onto the ideals expressed in the Word of Wisdom was never really called into question. I could see no reason to take on addictions and habits that were to me unappealing, potentially costly, and injurious to my health. I liked the simplicity of it. It’s easy to know what things you are taking into your body, not so simple to know if you are being fair and honest with your fellow beings. It’s one thing to control what you consume, another to control your temper. And also knowing I had no power over my chromosomal composition, it was comforting to know that at least I might be able to avert certain ailments or even dire health consequences with the right diet. One uncle (that I was aware of) had succumbed to alcoholism, and diabetics were part of the family profile.
I know as a child that somehow the very nature of certain things got played up as evil, as if just being in proximity to them could mean impending doom. I’m sure I was cautioned to avoid all people who violated the health code we held sacred. But now these people were no longer fearsome strangers but friends. Many I knew to be good people. And it was important for me to now underscore the positive instead of the negative. It wasn’t about harping on the evils of drugs, tobacco, alcohol, coffee, and tea, or fretting about the quantity of caffeine in chocolate; it was about eating and drinking things that would nourish me. It was about doing it with “prudence and thanksgiving.” It was about celebrating my physicality and those things that sustain it. And if I’ll have health in my navel and marrow in my bones and “the destroying angel shall pass” over me, so much the better.
So, while I may no longer hang out in bars drinking mineral water these days, I’m glad there are fragments of my Mormon heritage that have continued meaning in my life. I’m glad that the Word of Wisdom is something I can still believe in.