It’s hot as I write this. Very, very hot – for San Francisco, and more so for most of our friends and family across the continent. It’s not the time of year to plant in the garden – in fact, with water restrictions, I have had to let some of the container plants go, awaiting the proper time for planting, in the fall, or perhaps spring. We do not have air conditioning in our 19th century “Victorian Cottage” on a hill, where cattle belonging to Leland Stanford use to graze, on property he purchased from Adolph Sutro – they would be amazed at what their city and region has become, in more ways than one.
I often find a kind of inspiration in working in the garden, going out early today to water before the hose became too hot to hold. There is never ending change in nature, and in the plants and insects that visit our little space, and in the sky watching us all quietly. They take little notice of the chaos and confusion that our airwaves batter at our souls with, endlessly; they have their little time on stage, doing as they were designed or created or evolved to do, depending on how you see our world. And then, they are gone, as we shall be as well one day.
When it is so hot that there is little escape for us, we close the curtains and shades to wait it out; yesterday, at the height of the blistering oven awaiting outside the door, I spent some time on a different kind of roots – my family tree. As I have shared before, my heritage amazes me in a way that is difficult to put into words; as life would have it, the bibles and diaries and stacks of photos of ancestors from all sides of my family found their way into my boxes and crannies, and even when I neglect them for that “someday” when I will pull it all together, they call to me. Services last Ancestry, Family Tree, My Heritage and others flood my email with “clues” and “discoveries”, and they make it so easy to click “accept” so that, boom, hurrah, you have 15 new ancestors!! But that is not really learning, or understanding – it is just data piling up. As a friend asked me last week (who also enjoys dabbling in their family research), “What are we doing all this for”?? The only answer I could provide is that it speaks, to my heart; they speak, from long ago, and I lean forward to hear their lessons, their secrets, hoping for answers to my own questions.
It will take a great deal of work to really develop the research skills, writing, photo restoration, and technical understanding to create a meaningful history of my family; my hope is that it will have meaning for others, my nieces and nephews and cousins who sometimes ask little questions but whose lives and interest lie elsewhere. I feel a kind of stewardship over these lives lived before mine, their faces looking at me through faded torn photos, their scrawling words on tattered pages. In a way, it is ironic that the gay childless man has taken on their heritage, but as I age, I come to see more and more than life is filled with irony; our expectations of what the future would look like fall to whatever fate decides, our prayers if any might seem to be unheard. But I am aging; my memory is starting to blink on and off like a “battery replacement needed” indicator, my body is telling me things I really do not want to hear, and my heart is drawn more and more to reflecting on what is the best way to make something useful of whatever time I have remaining.
So there is the garden; and there is the family tree, which needs tending; but there is a third set of roots that need my attention. They are old, and perhaps if not forgotten, I wanted to ignore them. They are the foundation of the garden of my mind, my spirit; the lessons I was taught, the seeds I planted slowly over years – beliefs, behaviors, habits; and the choices I made that brought me to where I stand today. We all have those hidden gardens, and perhaps we are reluctant to open the gates and see what lies within, and beneath; it is easier, surely, to find something else to focus on. Somehow, now that the running to and fro of a career and the unfulfilled wishes of a young man are behind me, and I move into what lies ahead, I know in a way that has nothing to do with my intellect that those roots, those foundations of so much of my life, need me to find them, and sit before them, and listen to their stories, and under the quiet skies of dawn or the shiny carpet of stars, renew my soul garden, clean up the refuse, give it the sun and food and water to bloom anew.
When I started this blog, I felt I had a message to share. In a way, our lives, our daily acts of kindness or anger, giving or selfishness, speak much louder than words. But words carry power, amazing power to change our own world, and those around us; I felt, perhaps with a false sense of having some wisdom worth passing on, that being open about my life might give someone else who faced struggles of their own, some hope. I called this blog “my journey towards authenticity” – not “to”, because I haven’t made it. In fact, as I have grown (fighting all the way) and opened my eyes to see things a little differently, the truths that I have seen are not always pretty about myself; I am realizing how far I have to go in terms of acceptance and forgiveness, responsibility and giving. It might sound wonderful to say “I am going to be authentic in my life and relationships” but you have to be willing to look in the mirror and really see the truth about what you yourself have to work on, what you have to take ownership of and have the strength to admit you have a very long way to go. Honesty isn’t always pretty.
Is blogging about this part of my life appropriate? I am this first to admit, I don’t know. I spent nearly all of my life from my very earliest years (talking about roots) in hiding. I hid because I was afraid of being hurt emotionally and physically in a home environment where threats were very real; I hid because those who cared for me taught me that I needed to be someone that I was discovering I was not. I buried my heart and worked hard to conform, to achieve, to be seen as a success – but in hiding from others, I closed the door on myself as well, and even after reaching a place in life where I could be more honest about my feelings and my orientation, I still tried to fit a mold, instead of letting what was inside my soul garden blossom.
I was surprised recently to learn of a quote attributed to David Bowie. I know little of him – my own taste in music tended towards people who were old when I was born, and contemporary artists generally didn’t sing those kinds of songs. Still, from what I know of his life, he had struggles, he walked a different path than many around him, and his creativity touched lives. Perhaps he did say these words, or repeat them, but whatever their source, I see their wisdom now more than ever. He said –
“Aging is an extraordinary process whereby you become the person you always should have been”.As attributed to David Bowie
Of course, we all have different opinions on what that “should” might look like – but I think there is some truth in saying that each of us inherently have unique characteristics and gifts, drives and desires – and that it is never too late to be open to discovering, and sharing them, more fully. I see this in my garden, and in my family history, and in my own spirit harmonizes as though this truth remains – whatever designer and design there may be to our lives, the greatest gift each of us has to offer is to be fully ourselves, human, imperfect, unashamed and without blame towards ourselves or others. This is the heart of grace and forgiveness, however we might seek them – to be loved and to love one another for who we are, not for who we want to be seen as or for what we expect one another to become later. Love is for today, as is.
Friends and strangers who read this, I am a terrible example of any such principle, but if I wait until I can be who I wish I already was or always had hoped to be, there would be no reason for sharing. Our souls may not be as pretty as we’d like to pretend; we may choose to close our eyes to the light of honesty; but at the same time we shut the door to being ourselves. Sitting under the branches in my “soul garden”, it is far from the promise of beauty and love that I long to share. In realizing what I portrayed to the world (through my filtered eyes) needs renewal and refreshing to be any kind of oasis or inspiration, there is a temptation to shut the gate, put up the stage backgrounds again and try to forget the lessons that life is asking me to acknowledge, to live with pretense instead of honesty. What a tragedy that our world makes it so difficult to trust, to be honest and know we are accepted – and what a powerful gift we each can bestow by becoming that source for others in our lives.
Just as the seasons require me to care for the plants in our yard through their cycles, year after year; just as the challenge of discovering my family tree of life, my ancestors lessons and gifts and sacrifices to preserve to those who follow; It will take my lifetime to tend to this garden of my soul. But I sense this realization, as daunting as it seems to loom ahead, is a gift; to open my eyes and know that aging does not mean only closed doors and memories, but paths to discovery and sharing, contributing and creating joy. Change and growth is not just for children, or perhaps we all remain children even though our bones and muscles age and our brains slow, children in a garden, looking for beauty through aging eyes. My life has always been called to a path of differentness, I have fought it and tried to walk the road that others picked for me, but I am forging my own way, and will continue to write about that here. I hope that, occasionally, for someone, my words will resonate and the lessons I am trying to live out can somehow, help them as well.