The Audience Participation in response to Part One was so thoughtful, I can’t help but feel that many of you have been in a similar situation in your own lives. At the very least, we know that we’re not alone as we struggle with the Herculean task of trying to please everyone. Is it possible, I ask you? I try so hard, I must believe that it is.
Part Two: Who To Be, or Not To Be
I thought to myself, it’s important to stand up and say who you are. How does the world ever move forward? It moves forward because people come out of the closet and declare themselves, no matter the pressure, no matter the horrible things people might say, no matter what. Harvey Milk was right. We have to all come out of the closet and show the world we’re not ashamed of who we are. What if I have a cousin (or maybe five) who are afraid to say they’re gay or trans? I can pave the way so it won’t be so hard for them. Maybe I’ll totally freak my parents out, but I’ll move the world just a little bit closer to being a better, more accepting world. Right?
But then I thought to myself, it’s only a wedding. I have never even met this cousin. Sure, we traded a few letters when I was growing up, and sure we’ve been writing for a few years as Facebook friends… but would it kill me to miss her wedding? And I haven’t seen my uncles and aunts in years. Is it really so important to see them now? I do have a lot of friends and I have my partner’s family and I have my parents. Maybe that’s enough. Maybe I am being selfish to want more.
I thought to myself, my parents are old. I don’t want to hurt them.
I thought to myself, I’m making a public performance about who I am. This isn’t a secret that can be kept.
I thought to myself, am I being selfish?
These thoughts in their infinite variations circled my mind like vultures, waiting for me to lose my mind. None could take hold and stay put, each replacing the one before it, only to be replaced by the next one. Perhaps it’s because I’m a meditator, but I knew that these bouncing thoughts were a distraction, a way to keep my mind chasing its tail. They were rationalizations. They were the reasons I would tell myself afterwards to make it okay. The real answer would reside in a place of stillness somewhere deeper inside of me.
There is no right answer, of course. There is just the truth for me. But what is that truth?
* * * *
A small voice inside asked, What if it was your child they were asking you to hide? What if it was your child who was transgender and wanted to go to India? Would you tell your child to hide away? I knew immediately that I would not.
Perhaps it is easier to love our children than it is to love ourselves.
* * * *
So I asked myself, Who do you want to be?
Do I want to be someone motivated by Fear? My parents live in fear and they let it control them. Can I do that, as well? When we live in Fear, we have to protect ourselves by putting up walls and those are the same walls that also keep the Beloved Friend out. As someone who has faced the darkest depressions, who has looked at death and tried to take his own life, I can honestly say that to shut out the Beloved Friend is a tragedy greater than any other. When everyone else was gone and I felt utterly alone, it was the Beloved Friend who held me in gentle hands and wiped away my tears and told me that I was loved, and nothing I could do would ever change that.
My cousin, out of love, invited me to share her wedding day with her. If I were to stay away from the wedding, I would be turning away from Love offered. If I were to do as my parents wish, I would be doing it because I was afraid of losing them. That would be the path of Fear. And if I were to act out of Fear, if I were to stay here, I would end up resenting my parents for it. And I would be telling myself, Yes, there is something wrong with you and shameful about you and you should be hidden away.
But if I was to respond to the love that is offered to me with an open heart, then I would go to the wedding to share my love with my cousin. To welcome the Beloved Friend, our hearts must be open. It is surely frightening to be that vulnerable… to keep our hearts open and loving with all the chaos that surrounds us. I know this much about myself: More important than anything else is my union with the Beloved. If I were to act out of Love, I would be able to hold my parents in my heart, to be loving, even if they were angry with me.
Shall I be a child who fears his parents, or shall I be an adult who can love them with all their flaws and love myself in all of mine?
A friend of mine put it this way: There is a difference between being “selfish” and “self-loving.”
The answer is simple but not easy. But I sense a stillness and I know I’m not alone… and thus I know my path.
And so I wrote to my parents, and I told them how much I loved them, how much they mean to me, and how I had to answer Love with Love. I wish I could explain it to them, convince them, but they would smirk at my values, at my truth. It would make no sense to them. They would tell me I was being naive. I cannot control what they think. I also cannot control them. They are adults and I forget that sometimes. They have to make their own decisions, as do I. The best I can do for me is to live truthfully, and the best I can do for them is to love them no matter what.
(I dare say that’s a good bit better than all the people who might make them feel ashamed for having a son like me! And I can see that this, too, is a rationalization.)
It says something when you’re afraid of your own parents. And that is my work to do. To sit here and know my fear. To work up the courage to send them an email and to know exactly how afraid I am of their response. To receive an email back and not check it for three days because of this giant Fear in my chest.
Lots of work to do. Can I keep my heart open when those I love most might reject me? It’s hard, but I’m trying.
* * * *
They have responded to my email. They are not happy. They are frightened. They say that my grandmother is old and fragile, that I should consider how other people’s lives could come crashing down… They did not say that they hate me. They have not written in over a week now. I have written them two more emails to say I love them.
* * * *
I have done so many things that have frightened them: I shaved my head. I came out of the closet and dated women. I became a playwright. I transitioned to male. I grew a beard. We have survived each time. (Am I still rationalizing? Still trying to reason, to convince someone? Yes, I think I am.)
Who do I want to be? I want to be someone who faces Fear with an open heart. There’s no answer, there’s no right way to do it. There’s just the feeling of my heart opening, and me following that feeling wherever it leads.
Deen says, Sometimes we seek kindness in the tender eyes of others. Sometimes we are the kindness that looks on another’s fear with compassion. Sometimes kindness is brutal.