I plan to put in a rock garden this spring. Nothing big, only three short rows. In one row I’ll plant smooth river rocks spaced about an inch apart. In another, ordinary gravel. In the third, some of the curiously shaped and colored stones I inherited from my father and grandmother.
I’ll tamp the soil lightly over these pebbles, water them well, wait to see them sprout, watch them grow, gather a bounty of rocks this fall.
Wasted effort? Misguided hope? Sheer stupidity? Perhaps. Yet so much like my life! After coming out as a gay man 14 years ago, I tried hard to educate my wife, parents, siblings and others about homosexuality. I tried to help them see, accept and love me for who I am, as I am. I might as well have been coaxing rocks to grow.
I hoped the woman I loved most in the world, the one to whom I was married, could understand. Hoo boy.
Perhaps my siblings, the people who grew up with me, would be able to get it. No way.
I realized it would take time, but I believed that before they died surely my parents would come around. They proved me wrong.
A year ago this month, my mother was admitted to hospital, diagnosed with a terminal illness. She was to return home, would need 24-hour care. My husband and I volunteered to take the first week-long shift. But even on her deathbed, she was concerned about keeping up appearances, adhering to church dogma. In the end, religious scruples outweighed love for her child. We were not welcome to provide care for her in her home overnight. Receiving this on top of other you-are-not-good-enough messages, I left. I hardened my heart, refused to make contact, check on her condition, attend her funeral.
This past month, at an uncle’s funeral, I saw one of my siblings. The one who testified against me in court during my divorce hearing. Who in this and many other ways has thrown stones my way. With whom over the years I’ve tried to reopen communication, offered to meet, discuss differences. No more. I gave up waiting for those rocks to sprout.
Not that stones can’t be a catalyst for change. My husband and I were married in Windsor, Ontario by a minister who was among the first in the city to wed same-sex couples. When outraged detractors hurled stones through the windows of her church building she redoubled her outspoken advocacy for the right of all people to marry.
Not that stones can’t offer thrills, excitement. My cousin Neil captains an ocean-going boat in Alaska, takes fishermen out in search of bottom-feeding halibut. One client fought for 20 minutes to bring up what he’d hooked from the ocean floor. No one on board knew he’d snagged a rock until it broke the water’s surface.
Not that stones can’t serve as vehicles for healing. In my first experience of a Lakota-inspired sweat lodge ceremony, I held the door flap open as red-hot rocks were carried into the midst of the darkened circle. The lodge keeper explained that those stones, older than imagining, could serve as recipients of all the sorrows I asked them to bear.
When I plant my rock garden this spring, perhaps I’ll plant the rock that is my heart towards my sibling, my mother. The rock that is my gallstone towards my former wife. The rocks of my kidney stones towards the church, legal system, higher education, organized anything. The stones my society flings at me, the messages that demean, diminish. The millstone I carry around my neck of not being acceptable, my internalized homophobia, self-hatred, despair.
Maybe I can release these stones into the earth’s accepting embrace. Maybe I don’t need to carry this load of stones around, after all. Watered, nurtured, weeded, maybe the results of my planting will be something beautiful.
This essay appeared in The Letter, May 2008.