It is, at first, a terrible thing to live amongst the legends and lore, the symbols of this or that, or of him or her, of It, existing unremarkably amidst the dull and common esoterica of Everyday.
For instance, nearly every morning he saw “CASTRO” written on each slender white street sign, at every intersection of most of his daily round-trip. How often as a teenager had he dreamed of CASTRO STREET, with all its attendant allure, all the concomitant freedom and delectation? Before he’d moved here to San Francisco, he was certain that in “The Castro”, the sun always shone, day or night, that everyone was “Out and Proud” and that “Closets Are for Clothes”, not for people.
He chuckled at the T-shirt wisdom he once took so seriously, but the smile on his face drooped with a sudden sadness as he mourned his lost innocence and his move away from such simplistic purity.
How sure he was of the world back then! How sure he was that the world in which he’d grown up, even the world he’d inhabited at the time would most certainly not have the final say in how he was to live his life.
But that was when he lived in their world of black and white, with sharply and rigidly defined lines, to be crossed only at the risk of punishments just as clearly defined. No, that kind of existence, living on the sufferance of the world around him, being the Good Son, the Clean-cut All-American, no, that just wouldn’t do.
Still, he had managed to exist under those exact conditions for better than the first quarter century of his life. As a creature of that society, molded by the pressure and the experience of living according to those strictures and that system of rewards and punishments, he could do no better than to get by. It was not so much a fear of reprisal and exile as it was that he knew of nothing else, of no one else: he’d simply failed to understand that there was indeed a Without, a place to stand apart from the world, the only world he had ever known.
It was the discovery of the World Out There that heralded his return to innocence—or rather, his arrival at a new kind of innocence. It had given him better eyes with which to look at the ordinary live-a-day world around him. Imbued with a sense of wonder and joy, he remained astonished at the breadth and depth of simple and subtle variation in all the little things around him.
Many people come to such a place, come to that kind of an understanding through diligence and hard work, through choosing to ignore that which would bring them down. Many are forced out of the nest begrudgingly, cast out into a bitter atmosphere. Still others cling to the fringe, clearly defiant since their early days, contrarian in an almost doctrinairish sort of way.
He would have to categorize himself as none-of-the-above. For him, it was an epiphanic leap.. He wasn’t so much pushed into revelation as he was pulled toward it. If he had his feet firmly planted in his ordinary world, then he was liberated from his very shoes, stolen away in an instant, only to soft-land barefoot in the tickling grasses of a new world. And he could identify the exact moment when the world went from subdued tones of off-gray to fierce and blossoming riots of color.
Such a moment is a thing too bright and too vivid and too sudden to comprehend, something that can only be endured. But eventually, the eyes adjust and the mind accepts, leaving only the memory of the leap, in itself a source of joy, but certainly not of the substance of continuance.
But his world was not the same, never the same. No longer even familiar. Those elemental, firmamental things that he’d depended upon were all vanished, demolished or changed into things undependable, into configurations ununderstandable.
Put another way, he had been grounded and contented—if not entirely happy—in his own backyard, knowing what was where, how far away each and every known thing was, only to be suddenly yanked away in one glorious, terrifying, eye-opening, over-flight. To have been limitless for a time, unbounded, capable of touching the sky itself and knowing and seeing all, and having it be too much to accept, to the point that the mind blanks and consciousness is lost. And upon awakening, nothing is familiar: he was afloat, but even that did not last. He panicked, scrambled.
The façade of mystery had been blasted away. Mystery, that brute force phenomenon that often masquerades as magic.
And when that ostentatious display and florid din of Esoteric Mystery had given way to plausible pragmatism, when the shouts of dogma were carried off on the ordinary breezes of the practical, the apparent silence was nearly ruinous. It was a vacuum that threatened the context by which his life had been given form.
For those with a strong sense of place, to have one’s station in the universe suddenly made irrelevant, suddenly torn and rent from the fabric of Time, there emerges a despair bordering on terminal. No longer is there a taskmaster-parent. No more are the absolute principals which delineated the world into slots or bins or queues clearly labeled as Good or Bad, Right or Wrong, or any neat categorizations into polar opposites which ordinarily serve to make Sense of the world on one’s behalf.
And there remains nothing but a new and lovely sensitivity to the special and little and frequent gifts that the Universe hands you every day.