Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, robed in white, and where have they come from?” I said to him, “Sir, you are the one that knows.” Then he said to me, “These are they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. For this reason they are before the throne of God, and worship him day and night within his temple, and the one who is seated on the throne will shelter them. They will hunger no more, and thirst no more; the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat; for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”
This past week I attended an“Ignite” event sponsored by the Wyoming Humanities Council. The event brings together community members who give a five minute presentation on their personal and/or professional passions. The idea is that in hearing other people’s stories our own curiosities and passions are ignited. Micah, my husband, was a participant. He shared the story of his cross-cultural upbringing; as he is the descendent of a Swiss father (himself a descendent of immigrants) and an American mother and how his own experience has given him a passion in public radio for helping other people tell their stories, too. There was also an architect from the University of Wyoming who proclaimed the environmental benefits, and aesthetic possibilities, of solar panels. A woman who has given her life to community theatre shared how people who participate in local theater learn the invaluable skill of empathy. And there was a punk rocker who now preaches the gospel of meditation.
There were other captivating stories too, but the one that really caught my attention was that of a man who has assumed a secret identity. By all appearances he’s your classic Wyoming businessman. He appeared on stage wearing a white dress shirt, tie, and vest, blue jeans and cowboy boots. But then he launched into a five minute story about how he knew at a very young age that he wanted to be a poet. He went so far as to study English at the University of Wyoming and even managed to get published. He had big plans for studying screenwriting at UCLA after college, and was looking at a possible career as a professional baseball player. But then life happened: an injury, undiagnosed mental illness, the demons of having grown up in a murderous, alcoholic family, not to mention the burden of generational poverty. Instead of UCLA he wound up working fast food in Wyoming.
Seventeen years passed. He eventually got himself a “respectable” job at the Wyoming Business Council. And all the while his secret desire to write poetry went unfulfilled. That is until one day he decided the answer to all his problems was a secret identity, a pen name behind which he could hide. So he began writing poetry. And he began submitting his poems for publication. Not timidly and every once and a while, but doggedly and with grit. He’s clocked sixty-something published poems and over a thousand rejected poems. Still, he remains undeterred, because he says publishing poems is not what makes him a poet. What makes him a poet is that he simply shows up and does the work; writing and creating day in and day out. So, he says, this Ignite event was his “coming out.” Now that his secret identity has been revealed he’s no longer in hiding. It was an incredibly courageous thing he did: going after a dream that was all but dead, creating a name to prompt him to begin again, revealing his true identity to an audience of strangers, and believing in his identity as a poet despite how much he does or does not publish.
From the rapt attention of the audience it was clear this Wyoming poet is not alone. There are many of us in the world who harbor a secret identity, as a writer or musician or artist. There are even more of us who abandoned a dream long ago to create and who struggle to find the courage to begin again. The Wyoming poet has “come out of the great ordeal,” and as far as I can tell, has experienced the nearest thing to a literal resurrection. He’s no longer hungry or thirsty for a creative life, ruled by fear and insecurity. Instead, by returning to his truest identity, as a poet, he now lives beside the springs of the water of life.
This is not to say he doesn't experience struggles or obstacles. Creating anything makes us vulnerable to pain and challenges. But it’s not the great ordeal of denying our truest passions and desires. So take heart from this Wyoming poet. It is possible to reclaim what once was lost.
Do you have a secret creative passion or identity?
What can you do to “come out of the closest” and nurture your creative self?