You know how it is when you meet someone in a group of people and you just know you’re meant to know one another? You hear, “And this is Jane, and John, and Joel, and Jenny, and this is Toni, and Terry and Timothy and Tessa,” and there’s something about Toni that stops you silent inside yourself?
That’s what my first encounter with Toni Amato produced in me.
We met in a theatrical setting, working on a reading for that delicious group of comedic renegades, Queer Soup. Toni was playing the role of Papa. In the midst of this crowd, we both looked around any- and everyone in the room and locked eyes in instant recognition.
Toni is a liberal Catholic priest. I am a pagan Christian-trained Goddess worshipper. A match made in Heaven, right?
He is without question the brother I wish I’d had for my whole life. He, like St. Francis, has been known, both mockingly and sincerely, to call me Sister.
In our first conversation we did the theological tango quite well. He was less conservative than I’d feared. I was less “out there” than he’d presumed. We understood one another—and laughed a lot. Soon enough it came out that I write novels. Toni is an editor par excellence—and … I trusted him with my very person so it followed that I’d be able to trust him with my prose.
You need to know that, at that point, I’d been writing fiction for eight years. My books were not published for myriad reasons. I sent him the first one of five that were completed. We met and we met and we met again. He demanded that I clarify the levels of discourse in my books.
I write spiritual mystery novels in the first person. My protagonista, and I mean what I say, is a high femme named Mexicali Rose Stone who names claims herself an intuitive investigator. Right there, you find two levels of discourse: what Mex herself knows from the facts and can report on, and her inner voice, Spirit, knows and can report on which sometimes has diddly to do with the facts as anyone who has a connection to Spirit knows. There’s also a third voice which we call the VOG (Voice of God) or God Transcendent; this is the expression of omniscience—far more than Mex or Spirit ever know. This doesn’t even begin to address when I start to write from other people’s points of view.
Toni unraveled the random and snarly knots in my narrative. Not only that, but he challenged me over and over again on bad writing habits not to mention political correctness (where I do not excel), so much so that I now have a list of things to eliminate BEFORE I even send him a draft. He’s edited seven of the novels to date and he meets me on the frontline in every other form of my writing as well. Toni has looked at starts of novels, book proposals, really any- and everything I write that I need help to send out into the world. Toni shows up.
In fact, it’s because Toni shows up that I’m even writing this post.
He’s shown up for me as a brother.
He’s shown up for me as an editor.
He’s also shown up for me as clergy.
Today is my seventh wedding anniversary. Sixth, if you want to count it from the actual licensing. We jumped the broom with a beloved teacher of my sweetie’s in 2004. In 2005, it became clear that I had a health condition that needed immediate attention. We needed to get legally married so I would become (I kid you not) a “qualifying event” for my darling’s health insurance company.
We decided to get married on Samhain—Halloween, and, in the witch’s tradition, only for a year and a day at a time. We asked Toni to officiate for us on October 31.
The health thing was an issue steadily growing bigger and bigger though so we went and got our marriage license (God bless you, Massachusetts) on October 13th, took it to Toni and he signed it so we could file it with the insurance wizards. I called it a Dyslexic’s Halloween.
We went and got him on the 31st and on our back porch on a stunning autumn day, he spoke the words that celebrated our union. Pure magic. He sends us an email of congratulation every year.
Toni has worked with me through a couple more novels.
We know one another better.
If I’m in emotional or spiritual trouble, I know I can call on him and he’ll make time to speak to or see me as needed.
What a guy.
So what happened?
The tables turned.
Toni had some severe health crises from which he didn’t/couldn’t recover. Why? Because he was showing up … and he kept showing up … for other people. Other people like me. Who need him and his ministry.
One day he called me after what had to have been a deep, deep breath, and said he needed my help. I heard what he said, but I also heard what he didn’t say. My intuitive brain instantly understood the words that weren’t spoken. Toni needed an extended, healing time-out. I pounced, there’s no other word for it.
A chance to show up for my beloved, chosen brother? Was I going to miss it? Not for love or money. We made a date. I went to see him. It was really clear.
We’d been talking off and on about his work, which is really a ministry, for a long, long time. What were the best ways to create support for this ministry? Was there a form that would work? A form that would make it fail? How could he ask for support—both financial and otherwise—when he wasn’t affiliated with a formal denomination?
I met his every question with one of my own. How can you NOT ask for support? How can you expect yourself to sustain all the pro bono work that you do? How can you think we couldn’t/wouldn’t support your ministry after all you’ve done for all of us?! (See that interrobang? I’m a redhead, I can be sort of, um, fierce.)
Anyway, a long, process-orientated story short, he fell further into crisis. Bad, scary, mean abyss crisis and finally he let go. Funny how the Divine Mother works … and this committee rose up full-blown out of the collective for whom Toni has been showing up for decades.
Team Toni knows that this needs to be an ongoing effort to sustain the large part of Toni’s work that is and will remain pro bono, but first we needed to pay the bills so he could have a break for three months and really, thoroughly heal. It’s happening. Slowly but surely.
Above his desk in Toni’s workroom is an Amish-plain sampler. It reads: Bless the Freaks.
Toni is a blessing of self-acceptance to me and every freak he meets.
Won’t you join us in supporting this vitally-needed ministry?
For spiritual nourishment, please visit www.susancorso.com