"Sunrise in the Garden"
-At the Desert Retreat House-
A very touching story was featured last Friday on NPR's "Morning Edition." For the past few days I've been seeing this story shared and re-shared over the various social media, so I guess many people must have been moved by it, and I can understand why.
A 70 year old Gay man told a story of a time when he was a teenage boy growing up in the 1950's in a rural farmland community of Washington State. At that stage of his life, this man was not yet aware of the fact that he was Gay - but apparently his dad had it pretty well figured out.
One day the dad, who was a dairy farmer, showed up at the boy's school play wearing his dirty farmer jeans and boots. When he saw his dad looking like a crusty old farmer, the boy was ashamed, and he hid in a corner of the hall to avoid his dad as he passed by. Then on the way home the father confronted his child, asking him why he was so ashamed of his dad's dirty dairy farmer clothes that he had to hide in a corner so as not to be seen with him.
The dad went on to tell his son that he was proud to be a farmer and that he wasn't afraid of dressing like one no matter what other people might think. Then, knowing full well that his son was Gay (which was a rather remarkable accomplishment for a 1950's farmer), this remarkable father gave his son a piece of advice that would still be remembered when that boy was a 70 year old man:
Now, I'm gonna tell you something today, and you might not know what to think of it now, but you're gonna remember it when you are a full-grown man: Don't sneak. Because if you sneak, like you did today, it means you think you're doing the wrong thing. And if you run around spending your whole life thinking that you're doing the wrong thing, then you'll ruin your soul.
The story of a dairy farmer in the 1950's telling his Gay son to be proud of who he is and not to sneak is so tender that it brings me to tears, and it is so profoundly wise that I can't help but keep reflecting on it.
As I sit in my garden on this Sunday morning, I think about all the many people who will be off to church today. Many people who will sit in pews and feel that they aren't living up to the high standards and moral expectations demanded of good church-going people. Some may feel like they are a fraud, sitting in a church full of those people. And so they will hide their secret sins, sure that they would be scorned if they were ever exposed.
Others will avoid a church (or a synagogue or temple) or they may have abandoned any form of religion altogether because they feel the same way - that they aren't good enough, unable to live up to those high moral standards demanded of them.
But, as I see it, what happens in churches on a Sunday morning is an icon of what happens far too often in everyday life. We live in an age where it is becoming increasingly difficult to know what someone really thinks or really feels because everyone is always "tailoring" their image so as to be liked or accepted or respected by others.
Politicians see which way the wind is blowing and "take a stand" accordingly. People at work say whatever they think the boss wants to hear. Even friends hide behind layers of pretense putting on whatever face seems to get the most approval from others. Lots of people think of themselves as flawed and imagine the rejection of others if they were ever to be exposed. As I see it, there are plenty of people (not just Gay people) who hide themselves deep inside all sorts of closets of every shape and kind.
I think there is a lot of "sneaking" that goes on today, and it's ruining people's souls.
In my experience when human beings are vulnerable enough with one another to be who they are and share what they really think, they almost always find a common ground. We all share the same flaws and so there are no secret sins. There are no better people or morally superior people or holier people or more socially acceptable people, there are just "people"- all of us walking together in this beautiful struggle of our human existence, all of us eminently worthy of unlimited respect and equal dignity.
It's a glorious sunrise in my desert garden and my mantra for this new day is:
To thine own self be true!