In my heart and mind, I have a connection to every living thing, past, present and future.
As such, I try to communicate with everything around me. I talk to the water when I swim. I talk to every stranger whose path I cross. And, yes, I talk to the plants in our garden.
“Well, aren’t you putting on a show today?” I’ll say to the hibiscus. “Well done.”
(This is when you holler out, “George, come here and listen to this guy. He’s nuts.”)
When I pass the bamboo, I touch it. Each new plant brought home is welcomed and promised that I’ll do my best to make them healthy and happy. “There’s a lot of love in this garden.” I’ll say. “I think you’ll like it here.”
I apologize to the iguana when I end its life. “I’m sorry,” I’ll explain. “but I promised the plants that I’d protect them, and you’re eating them.”
I do hug trees, and I stop to tell the billowing clouds in the sunset that they’re magnificent. I laugh with the seagulls as they try to snatch a fish out of the mouth of a humpback whale. And I tell alligators how cool they look.
I know that plants don’t understand my words, but they experience my feelings. Do they talk back? Yes, by just being the best they can be.
Is there a pet owner that doesn’t talk to their dog, cat, hamster or snake? When you go to the zoo, do you ever stop, and look at the majesty of a male lion? “My, God, you’re handsome.” I talk to the gorillas and elephants, too. The words express my celebration of their being.
Back in the early 1970s, when I came out publicly, and started this most remarkable journey of writing and speaking about the joys and challenges of being lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, and now, non-binary people, it was a really scary time to draw attention to yourself as a “practicing homosexual.” There were no role models. Very few people in the United States would say they knew someone who was gay. I tell you this because you need to remember, or learn, how much courage and optimism coming out then took.
As a “practicing Catholic,” I lived in a world of both moral religious rigidity, and liberating spiritual inspiration. Particularly in the 1970s, Catholic nuns and priests could be seen marching in almost every civil rights demonstration. My experience of the divine world order, and my place in it, was heavily influenced by the emphasis of the Sermon on the Mount, rather than on the Ten Commandments.
In coming out as gay in a prominent family, as a writer for the Catholic newspaper, I drew both inspiration and courage from every source that affirmed my being. One such empowering line was from George Kazantzakis, who wrote:
“I said to the almond tree, ‘Sister, speak to me of God,’ and the almond tree blossomed.”
I felt called to blossom, to accept the loss of privileges in order to blossom as a young gay man.
Another spiritual source of direction and strength came from the life of Francis of Assisi, whose prayer Ray and I say every morning together. Francis had grown up in wealth, and with every privilege it provides, but he turned away from it and embraced physical poverty for the sake of spiritual awareness. And, he lived his life talking to all things, birds and wolves, and the sun and the moon, referring to them all as his sisters and brothers.
Does that help explain how I found the courage to come out in 1974, and why I share my feelings of loving affirmation to the plants, animals, clouds and the water? Each and every one of them speaks to me of God when they “blossom,” when they express their whole selves.
This awareness, this communication of admiration and respect isn’t with me every moment of the day, but with practice I have become more aware of what’s possible.
Perhaps I should leave this to another time, but I also express gratitude throughout the day to the angel that has walked with me since birth. It’s the angel that I call my “muse,” my “intuition,” my “wisdom.” My writing and speaking have always been inspired by my angel, and I thank them throughout the day.
“Quit arguing with me. It’s time to stop the gardening and get out of the heat.”
“I just want to do a couple more things.”
“Okay, but don’t say I didn’t try to help. By the way, you left the chili simmering on the stove. If you don’t go check it right this minute it’s going to burn on the bottom of the pan.”
My guiding angel was with me when I came out and got fired, and when I was on the 17th day of my hunger fast. They are there when I screw up, and when I succeed. By and large, my holy spirit is pleased with me, and joins my communication with strangers, with our Labradoodle Lincoln, with the bougainvillea, and with myself.
Enough. The garden awaits me, or so says my angel.
Brian McNaught has been a leading educator on LGBTQ issues globally since 1974. He has made his many books and DVDs available for free at Brian-McNaught.com. The New York Times named him “The Godfather of gay diversity training.” Brian has a weekly YouTube/FaceBook podcast called, “Are You Happy Without the Movie?” and McNaught's latest book, “On Being Gay and Gray: Our Stories, Gifts, and the Meaning of Our Lives” is available now on Amazon for $14.99.