Friday, January 29, 2010

Reason for the Season(ing)?

There was a time when my past pains and current 'limitations' seemed doubtlessly insurmountable. By dwelling constantly on what seemed wrong, what had gone wrong, what was likely never to change, I found myself in a quagmire of hopelessness. This consumptive thinking is also self-fulfilling prophecy, which it kind of helps to know!

When you feel despair, it's deceptive. Convinces you that its voice alone is true. Convinces you that the seduction of self-pity is more rewarding than graceful struggle. After all, life is instability, movement, flow, and change. 'Success' is not about a dollar amount or acceptance from others; those things are unreliable. Learning to know our inner selves, and accepting what we find...this is the task we have before us, and it is a lifelong journey.

I've been thinking about influence recently. Last night I heard about how people can take the difficulties of the past and use it to the advantage of another suffering person. That we can transform heartache into hope by sharing our personal story with others. Making use of a tragedy or hardship to build a bridge.

Last night wasn't the first time I had thought of this notion of being of service through taking the risk of being open. This quote sums it up for me.

"It takes more courage to reveal insecurities than to hide them, more strength to relate to people than to dominate them, more 'manhood' to abide by thought-out principles rather than blind reflex. Toughness is in the soul and spirit, not in muscles and an immature mind."
- Alex Karras

The most connected and warm feelings in my life have come from two kinds of experiences--both of them opposite sides of the same coin.

Years ago, when the city of Tampa was having hearings to repeal the "Gay Rights" ordinance, I was active in speaking out against the measure. (I was defending the need to have protection under the law. All that 'overturn the denial of the affirmative' gets confusing!) I was handing out a newsletter I had written defending my position and giving specific examples of how gay and lesbian people are hurt by such measures. One guy I handed a paper to circled back several times on the campus that day, and I was a tad concerned about personal safety. Finally, he approached me and said very simply "Thank you for being out here and doing this for those of us that can't." And then he simply walked away.

That incident was an awakening of spirit and soul for me that has kept me going through many dark nights. A revelatory inspiration. The connection I felt to humanity that day allowed me the strength needed to keep working all these years. I have had a small handful of similar incidents happen through the years, generally when the isolation and loneliness of being an outspoken agent of unpopular sentiment is about to overtake me. I thank the Universe for these blessings of feedback.

The other thing that has assisted me is when another person stands up and speaks out, in ways big or small. Whether it's Linda Ellerbee fighting to keep journalism alive and well, or Nadine Smith keeping the fight for Equality alive, or even a Christian who stands up in their congregation to say they disagree with an action of the church. Could even be a friend who risks sharing a secret with you; this is the most sacred trust of all. These are the things that shape us.

We often never know the impact of our actions or words on another person. In management they teach you that for every person who speaks up about an issue, there are an average 10 to 15 people who feel similarly but said nothing. With political and sexual matters--which are, unfortunately, the same in this country-- I imagine the number of mute admirers is greater. (plus, there are always plenty more detractors willing to share their opinions than there are supporters. Just the nature of the beast.)

We may never know the impact we have on other people in this life. Why would we waste precious energy assuming that no one cares and we have nothing to offer, when the opposite could just as likely be true? That we have impacted more people than we know. That we have helped others through the courage of our convictions, though we may never know it.

The point of speaking up and speaking out is not to receive praise or admiration! It is certainly not to receive financial benefits! (As my dear friend Ernestica says: "No-no-no-no-NO-no-no! IT ain't that kind of party!") We do what we do for the rightness of it. Because truth needs to be spoken.

When I share who I am, other men and women who are attracted to the same sex know that they are not alone. We may never speak personally. We may have nothing else in common. But when the world tells you to hand your head and feel shame for what you feel, and you see that not everyone buys into that garbage, there is hope. Others inspired me thus.

When I relate without trepidation that I suffer from depression and mental illness, it gives a real face. It eliminates stigma and fear. It creates understanding. It links others in the same boat to me.

When I reveal that I survived an abusive childhood, that gives hope to someone else who is enduring one now. It gives connection to someone else who went through their own hell. Possibly, hopefully, it allows a burden of aloneness to be lifted off the shoulders of another suffering person. Let's them know it can be put in the past, and a future free of fear awaits us.

When I stand tall and face oppression head-on, I show others that 'lying back and taking it' does not have to be an option. If I am able to find courage and fierceness to face life and injustice, then anyone can do so.

We all need connection to others in order to survive. We need to know we aren't alone, and know that our desires and loves and needs are not absurd. We need to be acknowledged for our genuine selves, not the plastic facade the world teaches us to present in polite company. I risk telling 'too much' so that someone else doesn't have to suffer for feeling completely insane or all alone in the world. Far too many are stripped bare of their personhood for the sake of fitting in and making others comfortable.

Time was, I couldn't imagine that my experience could offer anything to anyone. Still don't know in what ways it might be used, and that's okay. If I wait until there's a 'perfect' opening to say the perfect words and actively try to have an impact on a specific person...I may be waiting a good long time. But if I live openly and honestly in my world, then the possibility of impacting people increases exponentially. I may never know the specifics of said impact, but it isn't about recognition.

I'm right where I need to be; living out loud and proud. Hoping to be of service to others. Showing by example, as best I know how, to be the person I was born to be. Hopefully, letting others know that they are perfect just the way they came to be in the world, no matter what anyone else says.

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