Monday, March 26, 2012
In the Shadows
A few years ago, I wrote this and an abbreviated version was used as a reading for a church service on the shadows of our lives as voiced by the poets and bards of our community. This week our pastor spoke about the intersection between sorrow/pain and growth/blessing. So I am sharing that piece as a response via blog today.
The shadow of fear is faced fully, and into the darkness we step, not knowing where the journey will lead. If fortunate, the darkness is transcended and on the other side, the light of love and the self which is true. If well done, at the end of it all, a contentment in that realization itself. In one poem I wrote:
And then that day comes, quietly we scream.
We have seen the vision of coming death’s door
Life lived, with unfulfilled dreams
Dark day is here, we are no more.
And yet a blessing indeed for love and soul
Love living on, in mystery so sublime
And our memory becomes part of the whole
Even as finite body recycles into the Divine.
And if we see Earth as living and being
And if we accept we are all part of whole
In all of creation we are seeing
Nothing lost, and love rooted at heart of soul.
Within life itself though, within the life span itself, it seems we undergo many deaths, births, and resurrections, or so it has been for me. As if life were a continual re-imagining of the authentic self that lies within. As I speak here of the many tragedies and the passages that lead to the ME that is today, in my search for the ever elusive light that shines brightly, fades, hides behind the clouds of life, and then reappears again; within the shadows of existence reaching out and expanding exactly the way so much of nature does… as I speak of these things, I am ever mindful that within darkness came the source that enriches and accentuates the beauty of direct sunlight upon the authentic soul. And the mystery, the countless synchronistic moments that led to the next moments almost as if by design pulling me along to an ongoing, ever changing journey of self truth. All along the way are choices to be made, and each path represents a different outcome. In my alcoholism for example, that moment of clarity demanding a decision, sobriety being the choice for life in my case. Avoiding always avoiding labels and defining restrictions on that mystery, but nevertheless feeling a sense of awe at the non-definable presence along the way.
In such a lifespan are those moments, sometimes long moments that become days, weeks, months even years, that may require a journey beyond the normal limits we believe possible, and into darkness; where each step is an act of faith for which there are no guarantees, yet our realities demand the choices be made. And they are important choices. Choices made between life or death, joy or sorrow, love or the safety of acceptability. And as if that were not sufficient a challenge, society filled with those who want to make those choices for us without the consequence of living the decision. Today I am addressing such a time, a piece only of a life journey.
“The struggle is over, for the fish has
Surrendered to the bottom feeders;
Its breathless form a delight to those
Who feverishly rip it apart for its peace.
A piece of peace, for the strongest and most ruthless,
Swarming fury, then emptiness....
They have found what the fish has already known.
Bones sink to the ocean floor, some wash ashore
And peace silently waits
To be discovered once more.”
This is from a poem I wrote some years ago, during darkness like I had never known before. In still another writing, feeling the intense angst of separation from everything meaningful to me, and yet another analogy to the fish, I wrote the following:
“I offer love yet am I reviled..
My pain I offered to be met with more
My heart I presented, only to be devoured
In a swarming tumultuous feeding frenzy
For the sharks, left with nothing save a few bones
Completely devoured...the flesh of life.
So come to me Death! I welcome thee my friend!
COME TO ME...Waiting for thee
Come to this soul with passion spent
Come to me, my heart rent..
Let this end.”
People close to me were afraid that I was becoming suicidal perhaps. But it was not that after all. But, at that moment, in my darkness, I could not see my way to find the inspiration for life to continue, sensing that death was drawing ever more closely as a natural resolution to my desolation and devastation. No, it was not that I desired death, well maybe perhaps a little, but rather there was the sense of separation from the very light others take so for granted.
At what point was it that this immersion into the dark recesses of spirit occurred? I had always felt a great deal of separation as a gay and transgender person in the south. Growing up in the fifties and early sixties in East Texas, queer was no easy thing to be. Worse, I could not melt into the crowds so to speak. I was identifiable as somehow different and therefore an open target. Still I survived, and eventually even thrived. I found a person to share my life with, even as I lost virtually all of my family because of my transition from male to female. I had managed not to lose my job even if I faced a great deal of harassment on a regular basis in that workplace for my “difference”. But I had friends, and a lover who loved me selflessly and totally.
There's the proverbial final straw, the one that simply makes life too much to deal with. In dealing with crisis of this sort, working on one or two problems helps make life more manageable. Understanding this at an intellectual level is useful, up to a point. Many times before, this knowledge had helped me transcend difficult times, like when my friends were dying during the early days of HIV or coping with bar raids or police brutality or the deaths of my parents.
Then came my True Darkness, what Theresa of Avila or John of the Cross might have called the Dark Night of the Soul. Here it was that my encounter truly began, where no intervention was possible, my choices to be made and the mystery present in my search not just for light but survival. My one true love became ill suddenly and died soon after. I held my soul companion in my arms helpless to the ravages of viral encephalitis and then he was gone. Having already lost much of my family who rejected me for my queerness, I was so very alone. I was but a shell, functioning to live, but little more. Still, this sort of thing happens after all and it wouldn't be easy, but I could and would survive.
Less than a month later, I am preparing to walk patrol in our gay ghetto as part of a volunteer organization to prevent gay bashings. My friend Dee and I are laughing about something that happened to her a few days earlier. Suddenly without warning she lets out a gasp and collapses to the floor. A friend applies cpr, but even as I hold her in my arms, reaching for her pulse and telling her that I love her, they are the last words she will ever hear and the second person in a month near and dear to me dies in my arms.
Quietly I sit at the foot of the stairs, rocking back and forth, softly sobbing. The ambulance came and I rode with her to the hospital for the doctors to state the obvious. In the events of these days, I had met head on the full darkness of the human condition. I had stepped fully into the darkness, with no certainty of where my journey was leading, but inside somewhere a hope that I could not see but was there nonetheless. .
The dream was there; something I could not imagine nor define, hidden by the veil of the darkness of circumstance. This was a passage that was singularly mine, and yet I needed help for the journey had taken me to a place beyond any pain I ever thought I could endure. I stepped into darkness, powerless and vulnerable.
And so it was, making quiet choices one at a time, placing one foot in front of the other even when I wanted to simply go away, and with countless people slipping into and out of my life weaving webs of support, webs of love to help me step beyond all of this, and slowly healing began. We hear so very often of the interconnected web of life. It's very real to this writer. Were it not for all the small gifts of loving kindness along the way, I would not have had the strength to prevail. Having known such love as I had known and then seeing it lost, left me more mature in terms of not only others, but for myself. Like the plant that grows in the fertile soil bathed in the loving light of the sun, I prospered from the exposure to light even more than ever for having known true darkness.
There will be more times of shadow in this life, but there is a certainty of light that cannot be taken away. My awe of the mystery remains always, and the journey amidst the shadows has become one of excitement and anticipation. At the age of 56, well 57 this week, I am on the slope towards that final transition to another unknown. But I have today, and it is that day, THIS day, I celebrate. Oh my differences are still there and they are significant, and no matter what I do or how I do it, some will find fault and even wish that I would disappear forever. Hate and fear does that to people. And so I would finish with this excerpt from another poem I wrote entitled trans-separations:
But life goes on and love goes on and hate and fear go on also.
To all who hope that my kind will disappear, and those who revel in my difference;
What we have not in common rather than what we do, I smile sweetly, and offer this simple reality:
I can only be me and you can only be you and we can be we or never
But my truth will remain, agree or complain, and from my truth you cannot sever
For in truth to self I have found truth in others and the same for love it is clear,
To leave behind that which is ME would leave ME with nothing but fear.
My soul lives, and will beyond death and it is a beautiful soul prepared to love, prepared to live, prepared to dance.
If you dance with me, then we dance together, but if you cannot, I shall dance alone.
July 3, 2004