Accepting one’s self is empowering
Above my work station hangs a poster emblazoned with one of my guiding maxims, a statement made by Pastor Niemoeller after World War II when the full extent of the Holocaust became known.
“First they came for the Communists,” he said, “but I was not a Communist, so I did not speak out. Then they came for the Socialists and the Trade Unionists, but I was neither, so I did not speak out. Then they came for the Jews, but I was not a Jew, so I did not speak out. And when they came for me, there was no one left to speak out for me.”
Over the course of the past 10 years of writing for the Courant, Niemoeller’s words have inspired me not to hesitate, not to flinch or falter from taking positions oftentimes contrary to the zeitgeist—popular opinion—to speak for those who have been victimized or marginalized. As a result, I have been raked over the coals from time to time, but I came to realize quickly enough: Develop an alligator hide or cower in the closet.
Cowering, however, is not my way. As I like to say, I never backed down to a Raider fan in the South Stands, and I’m sure as hell not going to back down to voices of fear and hate no matter how loud or angry they might be.
To be a victim means being de-powered. That’s what assaults—from rape to vile derogatory comments—are about, time-honored ways to dehumanize others, a need that arises from an innate sense of worthlessness.
In the Trayvon Martin case, I have learned once again about intrinsic injustice in our justice system, one in which victims too often become victimized again. We’ve made progress over the past century, one supposes. Then, they lynched black men and let the perpetrators go free; today, a gun makes it tidier while providing and assuring the despicable a respectable cover.
In Texas, I’ve learned anew men are men and women are chattel. The war on women—on the “little ladies”—continues unabated. Women are now denied their constitutional right to health services, while men need never feel the humiliation of being probed with a wand.
I’m neither black nor a woman. But I am gay, and that aspect of my being, that once brought me considerable angst, I’ve come to realize is among the most precious gifts with which I’ve been blessed.
Life, of late, has taken a different, seemingly completely unexpected course, but in hindsight has been unfolding without my intent. In “Seven Thousand Ways to Listen,” Mark Nepo makes the point about how once we recognize “that we’re not sure where life is taking us, then we’re ripe for transformation.” Once one has said “yes” to the Universe, he/she needs to hang on because the ride will be both careening and exhilarating.
It demands one being open to fundamental transitions as well as accepting that which he/she held dear as gospel no longer serves and accepting that old truth served because it helped to mitigate fear and doubt. One comes to understand in a universe replete with unanswerable questions, the height of arrogance is the self-confidence exhibited by those who claim they know the answers.
In “Walden,” Henry David Thoreau comments about how easily we “fall into a particular route, and make a beaten path for ourselves.”
“How worn and dusty, then, must be the highways of the world, how deep and dusty the ruts of tradition and conformity!” he writes.
Indeed. Conformity…the bane of personal growth, that which prevents one from hearing a different drummer: his/her own soul’s tempo.
“To honor myself,” writes Nepo, “means that as I grow, I will not ignore or hide the parts of my soul and humanness that become more present in me and the world. To honor myself means that I make a commitment to keep the truth of who I am visible; that I will not let the truth of my being become invisible again.”
It takes some of us longer to accept that, not to ignore the essential aspects of his/her being; but when he/she does, he/she finds it empowering. And now, as a gay man who from fear at first denied his sexual orientation, then went to pains to cover it, and now publicly proclaims it, I have discovered that.
To be continued.