When I came out seven years ago this fall, I started a process of shedding a false persona in which I had encased myself over the course of decades. I began charting a course and discovering/forming an identity post-closet, post-marriage, post-Mormon and, eventually, post-law. Almost everything about my life changed.
Then, I met Mark, and the journey of self-discovery upon which I had embarked took a different turn and entered a new phase. My identity became, in many ways, merged with Mark and our life together. With him, for example, I began cycling, and he told me something no one had ever told me before (or since) - that I am a "natural athlete." I saw myself differently, in ways I hadn't before. Together, Mark and I would ride thousands of miles over the next several years.
Then, our lives grew even more entwined once he was diagnosed with terminal cancer. He immediately retired; I was already effectively retired, but I gave up any thoughts of continuing my legal career after his diagnosis. We traveled and spent so much time together, which was wonderful, amazing and beautiful.
But as Mark grew closer to his departure, we both sensed that we were perhaps too entangled, too enmeshed. He sensed that, in order to prepare himself to die, he needed to let go of a lot of "attachments" (in the Buddhist sense, i.e., unhealthy, hindering grasping for that which is not beneficial). I, on the other hand, grew to feel that if we didn't create some space between us, I would die along with him.
It was a bittersweet passage we traveled during the last months of Mark's life. Loving, yet letting go; holding each other, yet not - despite the sometimes overwhelming temptation to do so - clinging to one another.
Since Mark left, I have been on a journey of, for the first time in thirty years, living singly. At first, the thought of being single after 25 years of my first marriage and 4-1/2 years with Mark scared me to death. It took a while for me to accept that I needed some time on my own to grow, to integrate all I had experienced since coming out and to recommence discovering just who I am apart from roles as lover, husband, father, lawyer, church member, etc., etc. (and to trust that, when the time was right, perhaps the Universe would bring someone else into my life).
Meanwhile, these past six months, part of that process of discovery has involved seeing just who I am as a cyclist. Was this something I wanted to pursue on my own? Could I do it on my own? Would I have the willpower to force myself to train on my own? Would I grow disgusted with it and give it up? Or would I embrace it, on my own, all by myself. Put another way, is it truly "mine," or was it just "ours"?
What I have discovered these past five months is that it *is* mine -- a legacy of what was once ours, but now is mine alone. With the exception of what I rode on my recent tour, I have ridden 2500 miles since March 1st and climbed almost 200,000 vertical feet ... all by myself.
Now, I am getting ready to leave on a demanding two-week cycling tour in the Swiss Alps. It will be hard, even grueling at times. It will rain. It will be cold sometimes, and I'm sure there will be times when I want to get off my bike and hurtle it off the edge of a cliff. And Mark won't be there to share a gin and tonic with me at the end of a day of hard riding (or prevent me from hurtling said bike off said cliff). Though I will be with others, some of whom I know from past tours and are now good friends, I will in a sense be all by myself. And that's what I need to do right now in order to grow. Cycling as metaphor.
Interestingly, the following picture showed up in my Facebook memories today. I took it four years ago in a men's room in a bar in San Francisco. What someone had written on the wall is as relevant today, if not more so, as it was four years ago. It is the type of thing Mark used to say to me. Now, it is my message to myself.