“My life’s goal is to be on ‘Oprah!’” my friend told me when Ms. Winfrey still had her daytime talk show.
Being on “Oprah!” guaranteed instant name recognition, and a best-selling book.
I discouraged him from believing it would make him happy. The high you feel with such a “success” lasts a few days, and then you come up with a new goal, such as, “I’ll be happy if they make my life story into a movie.”
Can you be happy without the movie?
That’s important for us to consider. First, let’s laugh, if we must, at the seeming absurdity of the question, but then get honest about what we imagine will satisfy our ego’s need for meaning.
Here’s a different question. “What’s my ‘Light,’ and do I have the courage to let it shine?”
“This little light of mine, Lord, I’m going to let it shine, let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.” – Gospel song
If we do the hard work of getting to know ourselves, name our unique manifestation of the Divine, and claim it regardless of all circumstances, they may make a movie about us, but that’s not what will make us happy. Our happiness will come from knowing, before we die, that we had fully lived to our potential.
“The unexamined life is not worth living” – Socrates
When we examine our lives, where do we start? What are we looking for? We’re looking for the whispers we’ve heard since childhood about the makeup of our soul. It’s a treasure hunt for how we’re uniquely suited to manifest the Universe. We’re not looking for what’s not so good about us, but rather our gifts.
“I said to the almond tree, ‘Sister, speak to me of God,’ and the almond tree blossomed.” – Nikos Kazantzakis
There are many metaphors for understanding the “Light.” I once wrote, “When I die, I imagine that God will ask me, ‘Brian, did you sing the song I taught you?’”
For most of my life, I believed that my “song” was being a gay man who celebrated his sexuality as a gift from God. Indeed, my adult life has been devoted to helping others name and claim that unique part of themselves. It took courage on my part to publicly affirm my homosexual orientation. Joseph Campbell described such work as “the hero’s journey.”
It is a journey that is ongoing, rather than a one-step process. There are stages to discernment, as well as to confronting the losses inherent in being different. Those losses can include the sudden absence of all that seemed important, from family to employment.
I could die today, at 72, a man with a smile of contentment. I have not only dared to speak the name of my way of loving, but I’ve done so, to the best of my ability, with loving kindness toward myself and others.
But, I’m not dying, and at this very moment, I have the inkling that I have at least one more song to sing, if not an entire album. I’m aware that my “Light” is less like a candle than it is a crystal chandelier.
How so? I believe I have the power to heal. We all do, but I’m at a place in my life that I can give more attention to the whispering I’ve heard since I was young.
I’ve been very drawn to working with those who are dying, not to make them physically well, but to ease their fear of what lies ahead, to heal the anxiety of their soul. More recently, I’ve found myself interested in the ongoing need for the intimacy of older adults. Are those challenges that will reveal another prism of my Light? How do I name it? What do I need to do to claim it? Am I up to the challenge, to the opportunity, to the losses it will require?
I wonder if Oprah is longing for a movie about her life, or if she instead is looking for more clues to the full dimensions of her Light?
Two Guys and A Dog is a semi-regular column from Brian McNaught, who has been a leading educator on LGBTQ issues globally since 1974. Visit Brian-McNaught.com to access his books and DVDs for free. “No one has done a better job of chronicling what it is like to be gay in America.” – Former U.S. Congressman Barney Frank.