11 October 2009

Where I Am

Once again, and for the last time for a while, stone arches soar above my head. Jeweled tapestries of stained glass shimmer all around me, the waning autumn sunlight making them glow with a cool serenity, the arches, columns, crossbeams and vaults of the cathedral walls & ceiling slowly slipping into shadows of pale and darker greys as the outside light gradually fades. The huge sanctuary is reverent, quiet, with only a handful of worshipers sitting silently in the pews here and there, reflecting, meditating, seeking their Creator. People just like me.

It is my last Sunday at Grace Cathedral. It's also National Coming Out Day, and a good time to reflect on the question "Where am I?"

Coming out just a little over a year ago was one of the most momentous events of my life. It changed everything: my sense of self, my every waking mood, my circle of friends, my relationship with my kids, my faith, my hopes and desires and goals for the rest of my life. It gave me courage and confidence I didn't know I had, since it was something that for a long time I never dared do.

It made me into more of the Christian that I had always claimed to be but really wasn't. I no longer pretended to be a tolerant, non-judgmental person while still privately condemning those whose choices I would not have made myself. Suddenly I found it was easy to befriend, treat kindly, and learn to love without reservation many whom I might before have avoided and judged harshly. The Savior said "by their fruits ye shall know them," and for this reason alone coming out has been a good thing, because it gave me a greater capacity for the pure love of Christ.

Having always pretended to be straight, and growing up in a traditional secure, conservative, white, upper middle class Mormon home, I had never really known what it was to be part of a minority that was systematically discriminated against, harassed, misunderstood, condemned, targeted by punitive legislation, stereotyped, catcalled, ostracized, bullied, beaten up, and sometimes put at risk of life. Honesty with myself and with my Creator has now put me into that category, where I'll stay for as long as I live. I am now pledged to spend the rest of my life fighting against all such injustice. I would rather live honestly and with integrity as a gay man, facing all of that, than perpetuate the charade, the facade that hid my former cowardice and the furious duel inside myself which has now ended, overtaken with sweeter peace of mind than I ever thought possible. That peace of mind, that honesty and integrity will help see me through any challenges I may face as a result of being truthful.

T. S. Eliot, one of the wisest men of the 20th Century, wrote while sitting in a deserted chapel's pale winter failing light that "history is a pattern of timeless moments". And here I sit too, in the waning, almost-winter light of a vast, almost deserted cathedral, thinking of the timeless moments I've experienced here and during the past year. Because the assignment that brought me to this city began only a few months after I came out, I have spent the majority of my post-coming out life in and near the place where more of God's gay children have gathered than just about anywhere else in the country. I have seen and learned much, lofty and grim, ennobling and unnerving, inspirational and disheartening. It has been a matchless growing experience.

So what have I learned, and where am I now? What have been the timeless moments of learning and realization?

I've learned that my faith and testimony are truly my own responsibility. That I can't trust or depend on any organization or any other person to carry me along to where I need to go. I must actively search for my own path and the inspiration to find what God would have me do and become. I must constantly question everything, even myself and my own beliefs, if I am really willing to accept new truth, light and knowledge from whatever source I may be shown. This is sometimes not comfortable, but it is necessary.

I have learned that I don't know very much, that I am not particularly wise, and that constant examination of my own life and study of the words of great and wise men should never stop.

I have learned that it's better to stand alone with integrity and honesty than to huddle with a group at the cost of truth.

I have learned that the price of such integrity can sometimes be agonizingly high, and that hate, fear, misunderstanding and ignorance can sometimes blind even the most well-intentioned.

I have learned to forgive myself and others more easily, knowing that ultimately I will be in great need of much forgiveness too.

I have learned that there are few joys in life greater than to reach out in love to try to lift up the hands that hang down and strengthen the feeble knees, sometimes on the spur of the moment. I am no anchor of strength; I am as fallible as most and more than many, but coming out has made it possible for me to serve in ways more fulfilling than almost anything else I have ever done. I am humbled and almost overwhelmed by the opportunities I've had, by what I've learned from so many, and by the love and acceptance I've received. In the past I've sat up front at church, I've run meetings, I've "presided," and all of that is nothing compared to the depth of satisfaction that comes from touching heart to heart, from the luck of being the one who helps change tears to smiles, who perhaps gives a little hope, trusting and praying that when the tears or the despondency are mine, what I've cast on the water will come back to me somehow. I wish I had an embrace wide enough and words warm enough to express how much I love so many I have come to know this past year.

I have learned that there are as many ways to be gay as there are gay people. That sexual orientation is, in the larger scheme of things, a very small part of who someone is. That it changes nothing about someone's fundamental hopes, aspirations, joys, griefs, desires for happiness or intimacy. That stereotypes may sometimes be partly accurate for some as a group but are fatal as a tool for individual assessment.

I have learned that faithfulness, fidelity, self-respect, self-restraint, charity and tolerance are crucial to lasting happiness. I have walked down Castro Street and been saddened almost to tears as I see the results of other choices in so many hardened, grim, world-weary faces who seem constantly to be searching for they know not what. They are the perfect embodiments of the "hollow men" T.S. Eliot also spoke of. Yet I also know that each is a child of God whom He loves as much as He loves me, and I must try to treat them accordingly.

I have learned that life is a grand adventure, that every day is a gift to be treasured and used to its fullest. I have lost youth's illusion that I am immortal; I have a finite number of days ahead and I want every one of them to be filled with life, laughter, love, learning, work, and service. I want to wear out, not rust out.

I have learned that miracles occur sometimes when we least expect them, and that gratitude for them and for the blessings of daily life is a key to happiness. Knowing this makes me eager for each day to begin since I never know what surprises or even miracles might happen.

And lastly, I have somehow learned as never before how much God loves me and all of His children. When I finally had the courage to come out to Him in prayer and the answer was "I know what you are, and I approve," I was transformed. I understood the depth of His love for me just as I was, even with this part of me I'd always been told was a fatal flaw. Now I know it is simply part of His design for me and my life. And I am as grateful for it as for anything else I have: my children, my work, my friends and family, my health. Despite what some LDS leaders theorize, I pray that Rob, God's gay son, will always remain that way, because acknowledging that blessing and being true to myself has brought me happiness and fulfillment I never imagined before.

I look up again. The light has faded further and the vaults far above my head are shrouded in semi-darkness. Faint harmonies echo through the cathedral as a choir begins preparation for evening service. The jeweled windows are less vivid now, but they still glow richly against the dark grey of the stone walls as the faintest scent of incense still hangs in the air. This place has become part of my history, my journey. Right now is another in my own pattern of timeless moments as the light fades, the candles flicker, the harmonies echo through the reverence and the soaring stone arches. I have felt the Savior's love here, have been refreshed here, recharged, grounded, inspired, energized to go back out into the world and continue the adventure.

I don't know where it will take me, but I am eager for the journey.


Sean said...

I had the privilege to perform a concert there at Grace Cathedral several years ago. A stunning building where you can't help but feel some sort of presence of God.

Gay LDS Actor said...

Beautiful. Very reminicent of my own thoughts.