Saturday, January 4, 2014

Out of Order

Out of Order (def.):
not in sequence
not following the rules or customary procedure

Life is a little scary these days. I walk the halls of Nassau Community College as a full time student, the only white head bobbing in a sea of youthful shining crowns. Life seems to be going backwards.

Backwards. Hmm. The familiar formula of high school/college/job/marriage/children/retirement, has not been my trajectory. High school/college dropout/work/marriage/children/divorce/come out/back to college. From the looks of it, I shifted into reverse somewhere along the line. But here I am, here, now, and somehow that feels right. Not always comfortable, but right, nonetheless. I had thought I was aiming at a degree, but it turns out that is not it at all. I am traveling, and the trip itself -- as it unfolds -- is becoming enough.

There have been many moments when I have felt broken, mis-aligned, "out of order." My drum beats differently and my ears hear a different song, a new song -- or maybe it was my song since birth but I could only ever hear snatches here and there. I am a musician and have tried to create my own song over the years, or at least uncover the one already within. I have had some success, I think, because my singing and guitar playing have moved and comforted many people and, in turn, hit a chord (so to speak) with myself.

Alan Cohen's moving essay, A Child's Song, tells of an African tribe that gives a special song to each new child born into their midst. This song is sung to the child throughout hers or his life, especially at milestone moments -- entry into puberty, major accomplishments, marriage and death. "You may not have grown up in an African tribe that sings your song to you at crucial life transitions," Cohen summarizes, "but life is always reminding you when you are in tune with yourself and when you are not." ("Sing Your Song," from Wisdom of the Heart by Alan Cohen, copyright 2002)

My song led me back to school. In my Communications class last semester the professor, a soft spoken woman with a wild curly mane, had us turn our desks to face each other, encouraging us to speak about the meaning of our names, our confidences, concerns and canons. Words spoken in trust, were breathed with care and attention. I had much to say (perhaps too much!) and my young compatriots listened and responded with their own stories. I told of a 27-year marriage, which produced five fantastic individuals, two sons and three daughters. The ending of that marriage when I announced to family and friends that I was gay. My new and finally authentic partnership. The feeling of freedom matched only by the stress this upheaval brought to the five I loved most. My children have supported me on my journey despite the pain they felt as they saw their parents' marriage (and a good deal of their sense of security) come apart.

In the preface of his book, Man's Search for Meaning, Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl speaks about happiness and success as byproducts of being true to one's path, as opposed to aimed-for goals. "Happiness must happen, " he states. "You have to let it happen without caring about it. I want you to listen to what your conscience commands you to do and go on to carry it out to the best of your knowledge." Later on in the book he says, "Man is not fully conditioned and determined, but rather determines himself whether he gives in to conditions or stands against them. Every human being has the freedom to change at any instant."

This I am doing! Changing, growing, re-interpreting myself. Not a re-invention, for in many important ways, I have been true to parts of my name, my song, my potential. But a big piece was missing and is just now filling in. With this new-found fearsome freedom, comes an even more fearsome responsibility, for five of my most important people rely so heavily upon me for their own visceral sense of security and fledgling worldview. Jumping ship, from an accepted and celebrated heterosexual life to a seemingly odd, surprising and churning sea of homosexual identity has been daunting. Yet its true-ness, its relief and release have spoken to me so clearly, saying my leap was entirely worthy.

These past few years, my life’s path has been rocky. Stones fell from the surrounding hills, blocking my path. These stones were named Loss, Confusion and Identity Crisis. I have had to stop, sit on these stones and weep for a while. It is only now that I can begin picking up these stones, stacking them along the side of the path, forming a cairn as tall as me -- the shadow they cast in my life’s mid-afternoon sun, pointing the way.

So what if I do things "out of order?" Family, then school? I am moving forward, swimming for all I am worth, often against the tide. My white head bobbing in the sea of shining crowns is swept along for the ride.

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