What do you do when you don't get the true love, much less the five gold rings?
This is, more or less, the question that prompted me to blog this Christmastide on queer perspectives. I keep coming across LGBT folk who are single and miserable about it, to the point of depression and self-destructive thoughts.
I suppose I know something of these thoughts, although mostly through a haze of memory. After I came out at the age of 31, I went through a pining period. I longed for a partner. I did personal ads in the paper (as one did at that time) and tried meeting men in social groups. Mostly, I was met with disappointment, either in the men I met or in the disinterest some men showed in me. Some of this was quite painful and a few tears were spilled along the way. A few years into this, I came to realize that I was putting my own life on hold, somehow thinking that I couldn't make my life until I had someone to make it with me. I was afraid to make any choices for fear that it would somehow lead to not leaving room for Mr. Right. I realized this was a particular kind of nonsense and started doing things like applying for grad school and making other forward-moving plans. Eventually, I began to wonder if I actually wanted to find Mr. Right, since I began to find other things more important to attend to than dating. Where I am now is that I lead a fairly contented single life. Occasionally, I run across someone I'm interested in---and then I'm Very Interested. But this seems to happen about once every five years so unless one of these men I'm Very Interested in finally returns the interest (so far, no go), it would seem I'm not likely to end up in a marriage anytime soon. More importantly, I'm not filled with dread at the idea of continuing on alone.
But that's me.
What do I have to say to people who are filled with dread with the idea of continuing on alone?
Beloved of God, I have a couple of things to say, one of warning, one of encouragement.
First the warning: Beware of making anything in life an idol. This isn't only about relationships. It's about career, about lifestyle goals, about accomplishments at the gym----anything.
Let me try saying it another way: Life has multiple disappointments. They'll come in many guises. I'll relate one of mine.
Had I been born in another place besides rural Texas, I might have been a dancer. I had no idea I had an interest in dance, other than my occasional rapt attention to a PBS special I might stumble upon. I do remember watching some things on TV that involved dance, whether more show-dance as on a variety show, or a documentary about ballet. But there wasn't anything even remotely resembling a dance class in my community. I had nothing but the TV to suggest I might be a dancer myself, and that all took place in far away places that may as well have been Oz or Neverland. It never occurred to me to even think about it.
Perhaps that interest in dance led me to pursue theater at college. My junior year in high school, we did get a theater class and that sparked the performer in me. When I got to college, it turned out theater majors were encouraged to take a Modern dance class for P.E. credit. I took the class and loved it. But by then I was 19 years old and everything I knew about dance was what I learned about ballet on PBS---and those shows said you had to start when you were six years old. I didn't even have a very clear idea that what I was taking was different from ballet, I just enjoyed it and eventually fulfilled all my P.E. credits with dance classes, never even considering it could be something more in my life.
Long story short (and cutting out some key elements), in my mid 30s I started going to local dance shows, eventually started taking a modern dance class, and realized that this was something I more than just enjoyed a little bit. And for sure, by your late 30s, it's too late for a dance career.
And I have real sadness about this. It's a real loss, a real grief in my life. Living in a city now and seeing kids who attend the local High School for the Visual and Performing Arts, I always, consciously, have to deal with my feelings of envy and regret. What might my life have been like had I had some of the opportunities these kids have?
Well, what can you do? You grieve, you move on. I'd long put a lot of energy into writing and in some ways the bit of dance writing I've done has been a redirection of those energies, but it'll never replace the actual dancing I wish I could have done.
This does not make my life a complete waste.
And here's where I start with the encouragement (or at least I hope it is encouraging).
I could make dance an idol, a part of my life that is more important than any of my other abilities and opportunities, but I don't believe that something unfulfilled is the totality of my life.
I believe in a God of redemption. This is not only some eternal salvation of a soul---I don't think the Bible is even talking about that most of the time it speaks of salvation. I think of Barbara Brown Taylor's question, "What is saving you now?" What is giving me meaning to get up tomorrow and the next day?
It's not that I'll suddenly, at age 52, get an audition with Bill T. Jones. It's that I have stories to tell and am writing them down. It's that I have friends who I can sometimes help and in helping them find meaning in my own life. It's that there is beauty in small things every day, from a wild flower invading the crack of a city sidewalk to a spectacular sunset. It's that there are pleasures besides dance that I can actually still experience.
These are the things that keep me from despair. I experience these things as redemption. I receive these things as gifts from God and they are what save me.
About the time that I realized how much I really did love dance was the time that I also had to give it up. Granted, I was given opportunities to perform in a few dance shows and even still, when I make performance art pieces, movement is usually integral to the piece, but dance simply could not be the center of my life.
This is not so for every hope for our life. The hope for a partner does not have to go away with age. The desire for knowledge or education does not have to be given up. I still hold out hope that I'll still write more short stories and maybe longer pieces, too.
But whatever disappointments come, I believe God will enter them and offer redemption. God can and will redeem those disappointments. They may always be disappointments, but they need not crush us.
The five gold rings are not the only Christmas gift to be had. I hope you find delight in the gifts you find before you.