With my hand on my heart, taking easy, deep breaths, I mentally chose a picture of my younger self, as instructed by my spiritual guide.
Gramps sat smiling in his favorite Stickley chair, in front of the brick fireplace, in their camp on Pleasant Lake. I sat nearby, awkward in my skinny, teenage body. Sadly, I remembered the lost, lonely, very anxious high school student who kept secrets, and beat back fears by being bigger than life. I was smart, funny, good looking, and popular, but I was a failure in the world of peer-approved sexual thought and behavior. And, no one knew.
I compassionately pulled my young self to me with great confidence, self-love, and assurance. “I am so sad,” I said, “that you had to go through this. You’re a lovely person, good outside and in, full of love for God, and the world, but hogtied by an unenlightened culture. You deserved so much better. I promise you that you’ll be happier than you can possibly imagine.”
“Really?” my young self asked with some doubt. “You’re happy as a homosexual? You’re not disowned by our parents, or our Church? Does everybody know? Will I be beat up? When will this happen? When will it get better?”
We are now melded in our mutually strong and intense embrace. He finds great comfort in my pride, my strength of purpose, and my sense of being totally loved. It’s a surprise to him. He had no idea. And then he saw more, beneath the tough layers of healed wounds. He saw that he would come out to his parents after college, feel accepted, but nevertheless drink paint thinner and take pills. Why? He saw that he would be fired for being gay, and publicly scorned. He saw hate mail and death threats, rejection from the Church hierarchy, and even from many gay people. But, he wasn’t overwhelmed.
My young, teenage self lingered long enough in our embrace to see Ray, and our 43 years of deep, abiding love. He saw a pile of my books and DVDs, and watched me speak about being gay to audiences around the world.
“They pay you to talk about being a homosexual?” he asked in astonishment. “Yes, handsomely,” I replied. “Plus, you and I help a lot of people love themselves, and their gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and queer children.”
“What’s ‘lesbian,’ and ‘transgender’?” he asked. “And why would you ever use the word ‘queer’? I hate the word, ‘queer’.”
“Trust me,” I whispered, my hand still on my heart, still breathing gently but deeply during this guided meditation. “You’ll understand, and be a champion on their behalf.”
We were instructed to say “goodbye” to ourselves. I resisted. I had more to say, but I knew I could come back on my own at any time. I felt so sad for myself when I looked at me as a teenage boy. I had grown into a formidable lion, and I wanted to protect him.
“I know what you’re feeling,” he said to me as he slowly pulled away, and sat back down on the sofa near Gramps. “You want to rescue me, but you can’t, and you don’t need to. I need to go through this, and it sucks, but I’m okay. I’m strong, clever, and resilient. I have what I need to withstand this fear and loneliness. And, I need this experience to become you. I’m going through this so that you can write and speak about it. You needn’t come back to me again.
But, how was this happening, and what did it mean to be told by my teenage self that I needn’t mourn with anger and sadness the loneliness and fear I felt as an adolescent? I’ve been relaying that story for 45 years, not as a victim anymore, but as a survivor and a thriver. Nevertheless, I sought sympathy and understanding.
What if my next guided imagery wasn’t spent as a mission of mercy, visiting a young man I see as a victim, abused by ignorance and intolerance? He says he’s okay, that I have to let him live out his life with the circumstances he inherited. I know that he’s strong enough. He is me. So maybe, in my own mind, at least, I should try to let go of my defensiveness of the drama. Is that possible? Is that not my identity, my reason for being? The part I play?
Maybe, I’ve been freed from my role of protector of the story. But, if so, what will it be like to move forward as if my past no longer needs my attention? Is it possible to fly unencumbered, trusting that what “was” doesn’t need fixing in order for me to be let down the cautionary signs around my heart? I look forward to trying to walk the path with this heavy load left by the side of the road.