Looks like it would make a mighty fine walking stick. It’s about five feet tall, just the right size ‘round. As my husband and I walk through our woods I spot it alongside the trail. I pick it up, am surprised to find it’s hollow, light as lemon meringue. Dotted with holes where woodpeckers once drilled for insects. Knock all you want, but nobody’s home.
I once felt like that, empty as all git out, and I couldn’t understand why. I was doing everything right, everything church, society, family told me to do. I married, had kids, a house, a dog. Served as a church leader, worked for a religious-affiliated nonprofit, always used my turn signal. Yet found my self, my whole world, hollow inside. Was there nothing more than nothing at the heart of it all? Good people were supposed to be happy, I thought. Was I missing something?
In a word, yes. And I didn’t have a clue how big it was. Or if I did, I repressed, ignored, denied any hint of it. I couldn’t be gay. It was unthinkable, impossible. I believed what I’d been taught by church, family, society: gay people were hell-bound sinners, misled, misbegotten, mistaken. These sex-crazed creatures were objects of pity, destined to be much less happy than, say, me.
No way I could be one of them. No way, I say. No, not that. Anything but that, but them. Not me.
Bless marriage, middle age, mortality for finally waking me up to life, to the realization that my lifelong attraction to men was more than passing fancy. To my unhappiness, to the fact I was sharing it with those about me. To the news that this wasn’t going away.
After I came out to myself and others as a gay man, my wife and I separated, divorced. Loss beset me on all sides: children, family, friends, church, employer, landlord, legal system. I learned the hard way I could not rely on any external source of help.
When others turned me out, I turned within—pushed open the door of loss, grief, pain and stood amazed at what lay behind. A path led down into depths, into dark. Shaken, shaking, I took tentative steps into myself.
Along the way I lit several little candles: I recorded the events of my days, dreams of my nights, my reflections on each. I learned about and practiced active imagination. I meditated. I read books, various authors’ call to nurture one’s inner life. By these actions I cast light on the self I’d been afraid to face.
I found more substance in that supposedly hollow space than I could shake a stick at. And I understood that when wrapped in my robes of self-righteous comfort, I’d been the one who was misinformed, misled, mistaken, an object of pity. Then came life, rapping at my door, insistent, probing, inviting, “Empty yourself. Come in, come down. Of all the space in the universe, this is your true home.”
This essay first appeared in The Letter, October, 2007