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True to the Universe

Gordon Hall at Harvard Medical School
Gordon Hall at Harvard Medical School | Photo: G Allais/Flickr | Some rights reserved

by Michael Haehnel

Riddle

On a sunny day in Boston in mid-November of last year, I took a walk across the Harvard Medical School campus. I was curious about a corner of the wide stairway leading to the entrance of Gordon Hall that had been walled off for most of the summer. Now the barriers were gone, as were the construction workers.

I saw that they had installed a ramp, probably to meet ADA requirements for wheelchair accessibility. This being Harvard, the ramp in no way appeared to be an add-on or afterthought. The walls on either side of the ramp were faced with marble matching the marble of Gordon Hall, the other buildings overlooking the grassy quadrangle, and the other exterior walls. The ramp looked as though it had always been there, designed into the original architecture. The only giveaway was that the marble was new, and therefore little brighter than the rest.

As I looked at the new marble, a strong sense of comfort and peace settled over me. Here is a riddle for you: why would that be? What was there about the marble that filled me with serenity?

Clue

Only a few days later, I was listening to the November 14th broadcast of Fresh Air on National Public Radio. Terry Gross interviewed Sandi Tan, a woman who grew up in Singapore. Sandi had been involved in making a film when she was eighteen years old. She and her friends worked with a man who represented himself as an experienced American filmmaker. The problem was that when the filming was done, the American and all the cans of film disappeared: Sandi and her friends had been had.

Twenty years later, the widow of the so-called filmmaker reached out to Sandi and returned the cans of film—seventy in all. Sandi’s observation at this turn of fortune was, “Time can be a very strange friend.”

A Once and Former Dirty Word

2014 was a horrendous year. My world was collapsing. I faced steep financial difficulties and searing family conflicts. Yet in the midst of it all, I had hope. I had had an experience in November of 2013 that renewed my faith—a spiritual awakening that allowed me to see that God did not want me to remain in the closet any longer. I felt God’s love more than I had ever felt it before, so I knew that things would turn out all right.

However, I also had a timetable for how quickly the “turning out right” needed to happen. It was down to a few weeks—a couple months at most.

One of my good friends at the time—a straight man who helped me on my journey out of the closet—cautioned that I would need to be patient. I trusted my friend in many things, but at that moment he had just uttered a dirty word: “patient.” It could not be that the steadying of the arc would take longer than sixty days.

A few weeks later, I realized that I was going to have to go a lot further down before I started to go up. More disappointment, more loss, more sorrow—not only for me, but for others close to me. I fell to my knees and sobbed for a long time. I was being ripped down to the foundation stones, and it did not feel good.

However, after that day, after grief cleared my brain, I realized that patience was not my enemy. Patience was something like an “Under Construction” sign—an indication that there was a purpose to the mess. I held on to that.

Five Years Later

Here I am five years later, and no, not everything is entirely right yet. But the rightness greatly outweighs the wrongness. I am at peace with my sexuality, with the rest of my identity, with my family, with my finances, with God. And with time.

The things that still need settling no longer vex me. Instead, I am curious…intrigued and excited even. I am true to myself now, and true to the universe. Or at least truer to the universe. So I am confident in the flow of things. Life’s an adventure now, not a slog.

I want to enlarge on that idea of being truer to the universe. When I was in the closet, I was fighting myself. I was not only fighting my sexuality, but by extension, I distrusted anything that I wanted. The universe in which I lived was crisscrossed by rules and cautions and dire prohibitions. Flowers may bloom and seasons might wend and galaxies might turn, but overlying them all was an inflexible grid that asserted itself and scrutinized the blooming, the wending and the turning.

As I came to accept myself as I am, I came to accept the universe as it is, grid-free. I now can join the blooming, the wending and the turning, and find holiness there. Participating in the motion of the atoms and the expansion of space-time, I find myself soaring with confidence, rather than tiptoeing fretfully.

The Riddle’s Answer

What I saw in the marble, that sunny day back in November, were the hundreds of millions of years that that stone was in the making. First, it was all varieties of living organisms in the prehistoric sea. Then it was limestone, the accretion of billions upon billions of skeletal remains. Upheavals brought pressure and fiery heat to bear upon the beds of limestone, so that the limestone ceased to be. The altered and compacted and hardened remains are what we know as marble. It takes time and heat and pressure for marble to become marble.

I felt peace when I saw the marble because I am okay with what I have been through. I am okay with what I am going through. It will be all right. Time and the universe are my friends.

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