Mothers can be very intuitive. While improved, my struggle had not ended upon returning home. My mom had noticed. To her everlasting credit she arranged for me to talk, not to a Bishop, but to a psychologist. My mother is a very wise woman.
My stomach danced anxiously as I sat in the psychologist’s waiting room. The palette of subtle blues and grays that adorned its walls did nothing to calm my nerves. The last time I had confided in a stranger, it hadn’t gone so well. I fidgeted anxiously with an AARP magazine and studied the patients’ faces as they exited the office. I searched their countenances for signs of terror or shock. Did they look betrayed?
Then it was my turn.
I had imagined the psychologist as a straight-faced woman with a severe hairstyle in a black pantsuit. Gloria was the polar opposite. Vivid with life and color, her curly, gray hair shot out at every angle like hundreds of tightly wound springs, barely constrained by a brilliant red and blue scarf that she had tied on like a headband. The ends trailed freely down her back in two graceful lines. This shock of color beautifully accented her white peasant shirt and flowing, mahogany skirt. I could see her un-pedicured toes peeking out impishly from her sandals. Her smile was wide and her eyes crinkled with joy when she greeted me. I liked her immediately.
Gloria invited me in and we sat down across from one another before an enormous picture window showcasing an expansive view of downtown Missoula.
“So, what would you like to talk about today?” Jane queried, cheerfully.
I told her everything without a second thought. It was like a dam I didn’t even know I was harboring had burst. The information poured out like a flood. I told her about my personal relationships and my conflicted relationship with the church. I told her about the court and being dis-fellowshipped. I told her about my meetings with the Bishop. I confessed every foul, pent-up, distressing emotion and every thought. I told her about my conversation with Hudson and how I felt when I read the words of Maya Angelou.
I exposed how conflicted and alienated I felt, how abysmally I was at fitting into my own world. How everyone else seemed to adhere so easily except me. I explained that I was frustrated because men controlled everything in my world … and I wasn’t a man. What’s more, I couldn’t do anything about this or anything else because those things were decided by God. I couldn’t fight against “God.” I couldn’t rationalize against “God.” I couldn’t protest against “God.” He was the trump card and I didn’t have a hand to play. I told Gloria everything. I didn’t hold anything back.
After my stream of words ran dry, I sat back, deflated, in anticipation of her response. I expected a series of vague questions like, “So what do you think you should do?” or “How do you feel about that?” Instead, Gloria set down her clipboard and leaned forward across the table, beaming.
“You know what I think?” she declared.
I shook my head, no.
“I think you have good instincts. You need to follow them! Listen to yourself! Don’t worry so much about pleasing other people. Actually, scratch that. Don’t worry at all about pleasing other people. You need to trust others to handle their own feelings. Stop protecting everybody from yourself. Give them the opportunity to deal with the truth. Does that make sense?”
“I guess so,” I muttered.
“Good,” she pronounced, “Because there’s more. It seems to me that you have landed in a school where you felt the need to lie in order to be who you are and where you are still hiding yourself. That’s going to be bad for you in the long run. Frankly, I think it’s been bad for you in the short run. You need to find another option for your education. It may not be possible immediately, but it will be worth it. I promise.”
Her smile was so bright it illuminated the room. It wasn’t like the plasticized smile the Bishop always wore. I could feel Gloria’s radiated joy warming my soul.
“So, that’s homework assignment number one,” she continued. “Make a plan. Get to another school. Now, here’s homework assignment number two. Go test out your real, complete self on everyone else. Give them the chance to handle it how they will. If you get nervous just think, ‘What’s the worst that could happen?’ You can’t break someone by being honest with them … but you can break yourself by doing the opposite.”
“Now,” she continued, “You mentioned fighting against ‘God,’ can you tell me more about that?”
I shrugged, “Well, it’s really just that I have been trying to do what I’ve been taught, but I”
Jane held up her hand, calmly, “Taught by whom, exactly? God?”
I paused, “Well, yeah, the church…”
She lifted her hand again, “Is ‘God’ and ‘the church’ the same?”
I didn’t know the right answer for that. “Uhhhhh … yes? Well … no … I mean, not exactly … but, maybe?”
Jane smiled sympathetically, “It’s not a test question. I just want to know what you think.”
I contemplated this for a moment. “Well, I don’t think they’re the same. I mean, there are thousands of religions all around the world and throughout time and they all claim to be God’s mouthpiece. So that can’t be right. I guess …” I felt embarrassed at the idiocy of my own words, but Jane didn’t look concerned.
“Go on,” she urged.
“I’ve always secretly thought,” I paused.
Gloria nodded, encouraging me on.
“It’s just that all the religions are so different, but their main tenants are almost always similar. I’ve always secretly thought that maybe God sends down his messages to everyone, everywhere. Like maybe he scatters little diamonds of truth all over the world. Then people find them and share them with others and over time they add their own flourishes and ideas and traditions. That’s why they’re all so different, but at the core, they’re all the same. I like the thought of God sprinkling insight and wisdom down on us all, like glittering raindrops of truth.” I felt a knot tighten in my stomach. I’d voiced this same idea in Sunday School before and been quickly and firmly corrected.
“What a beautiful concept!” Jane exclaimed. “I’m going to remember that for myself, hold on.” She jotted what I’d said down on her notepad, then continued. “So here’s homework assignment number three: Take some time to get to know God, your God, in whatever form that comes. Pay attention to what rings true to you. Pay attention to what feels false. Stop assuming that everyone else knows something that you don’t. I sense that you are a very spiritual person just the way you are. You just need practice listening to find your way. Once you stop fighting yourself, trying to wrestle yourself into believing something you can’t, the rest will come.”
My eyes burned with tears. It felt so good to have someone that I could be completely open and honest with. Nothing I said could hurt her and she didn’t want to hurt me. There was no judgement only love. I had never known a greater relief.
They were just words, but I welcomed Gloria’s advice wholeheartedly. My lungs expanded to full capacity for the first time in months. The tension in my body eased.
But later that night, in the dark silence of my own room, a thought nagged at me. If it was that easy, I would have already done it. What made me think I could do anything different now? Then I recalled what Hudson had told me the month before, “No. That’s the easy part. The hard part is deciding what to do, once you’ve figured it out.”
“Work backwards,” he had said. “Start with what you know and build from there.”
I knew where I’d come from ….
I knew where I was ….
Did I know who I was? Maybe … maybe not …. But I knew that something in my conversation with Gloria had strengthened the tiny, burning flame within me … a flame ignited by the words of Maya Angelo … and that perhaps my identity had something to do with that.
This is the latest installment in my story. If you haven’t yet read the previous entries, click here to start at the beginning. Then continue to read each post in numerical order.