“Hi, I’m Nick. I grew up Mormon. A few years ago, though, I had a crisis of faith, and now I just identify as Christian. That crisis came mostly because I am gay and couldn’t deny it anymore.”
Twenty-someodd pairs of eyes looked back at me, standing at the front of the classroom at the University of Washington. I waited, but there was no change in their expression. They seemed to say “okay, so what?” It was in that moment that it suddenly all hit me. This existential crisis I had been through, the excruciating process of accepting myself and reconciling my spirituality, it wasn’t a big deal. It certainly wasn’t going to change these people’s perception of me.
That moment standing before my new classmates was the birth of a paradigm shift. Suddenly, being out of sync with Mormonism wasn’t good or bad, it just was. Being gay wasn’t good or bad, it just was. These major issues that I had been wrestling with had become my identity, and now they really didn’t matter. For the first time in my life I realized that there was nothing left to be, no identity to claim, other than the very first line I had spoken to my class: “Hi, I’m Nick.”
I had never had so much freedom to determine what that meant. Sure, maybe the freedom was always there, but now there were no strings, no social expectations pulling me down. I was a blank slate and could be anything I wanted. But as I looked at the expanse of possibility I felt a bit lost, and I had to accept a bitter truth: I didn’t know who I was, or even what I wanted.
There was a period of time that felt pretty much like I was floating in limbo (to some degree I’m still there). But all this open space has allowed me to dream, to listen to my heart as I figure out what passions excite me and give me purpose and meaning.
As I fell into limbo the work of author Paolo Coelho became a guiding star. The theme underlying all his books is that there is something each of us is meant to do, our Personal Legend. When we find that legend, that passion, we will feel ourselves fall into sync with the rest of universe and we will truly come alive. Life cannot be completely fulfilling unless we have found that passion, that personal legend.
The last five years have taught me the tough lesson that in order for grand creation to take place, and especially for that personal legend to emerge, there has to be destruction of anything standing in its way. It was this way with my sexuality. It was this way with my faith. And now with my identity and my dreams it has happened again. Creation requires divine chaos. Though I haven’t yet mastered it, I can sense that there is a certain power in being able to react to that chaos like a sculptor to a mass of clay, rather than desperately trying to stop the inevitable. We don’t need to fear change. Change isn’t tragedy, it is opportunity.
I leave you with a line from Coelho’s masterpiece The Alchemist that has framed much of my journey through fear, destruction, chaos, and creation:
"Tell your heart that the fear of suffering is worse than the suffering itself. And that no heart has ever suffered when it goes in search of its dreams, because every second of the search is a second’s encounter with God and with eternity.”