Yesterday was National Coming Out Day, but I just couldn’t do it.
That’s changed. This morning when I got up, I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror. I stood there for several minutes staring…examining…judging what I saw staring back at me. The real me. Right there in front of me. That’s Doug.
Maybe it’s time after all to face up to the facts – quit hiding behind the facade – quit trying to make myself believe that it isn’t true. Maybe it’s time to face reality. Maybe it’s time to just acknowledge it – come to terms with the cards I’ve been dealt. I wasn’t born this way – trust me! Yet I can’t say that it has been a matter of choice. The truth is, I have fought it every step of the way. In spite of my futile efforts, the image before me in the mirror tells me that it’s all been for naught.
I catch people looking at me. It’s like they can see right through me. I can see it in their eyes – they know! I feel judged – like, I’m not fully human – like, I have no useful value to society – like, I don’t belong! Their sympathetic grins make me feel like I’m two feet tall. Oh, sure, they would never say anything to my face, but I can tell that they are treating me different than if I were more like them. Deep down I want to scream back, “You think you know me, but you don’t! I’m intelligent! I’m funny! I’m sexy! I’m talented! I’m creative! I’m capable! I have loads of wisdom and experience that would benefit your life if you would only ask!”
Well, today is the day – my day to speak out, to turn over a new leaf, start a new chapter. It’s time for me to be fully who I am, to embrace the true me. No more hiding. No more pretending. No more self-pity. No more cowering. It’s time for me to stand up tall, with head held high, and let the world know that I am not ashamed!
And so, here it is…..
My name is Doug Rudnik, and I……. am gray!
Yes, you read that right! I’m gray! And it’s not just a little around the temples – it’s all over head to toe – gray! And you know what, I really am proud of it! It looks good on me! My dad turned gray early. For me, it began when I was about 27. While I still have a few resistant strands here and there, I know that it’s just a matter of time until even they succumb to this undeniable sign of growing older. I do feel a bit rejected at times. My brain tells me that I am just as strong, just as fast, just as good looking as I ever was. However, trying to keep up with people half my age quickly reveals its fallacy, disproving the popular notion that we are only as old as we feel.
We have a youth-obsessed mentality in our culture. We have creams, dyes, surgical procedures, pills, and diets all geared to make us look/feel/perform younger. For the first time in my life, I have a President that is younger than me (by less than two months).** The young people growing up now have no concept of life without cell phones, internet, microwave ovens, email, or video games. Somewhere along the way, we became afraid of growing older. Next year when I turn 50, I will qualify for AARP (American Association of Retired Persons…. I had to look that up! ha!) and I will be 14.7 years older than the median age in America. Even remaining relatively healthy my medical costs are rising by at least 4.4% per year. As I get older, I will not only continue to experience changes in my appearance, but also in my hearing, vision, muscle and bone mass, circulation, organ function, not to mention the possibilities of Alzheimer’s Disease .
That being said, growing older doesn’t mean growing more useless, or irrelevant. In fact, some of the world’s greatest accomplishments and inventions have been achieved after the age of 50. Take this short list of examples:
Thomas Jefferson became President of the United States at age 61, and in his later years conceived, planned, designed, and supervised the construction of the University of Virginia.
Colonel (Harlan) Sanders began his Kentucky Fried Chicken franchise with $105.00 from his first Social Security check at the age of 65.
Julia Child did not begin her long-running PBS program “The French Chef” until the age of 51.
Ronald Reagan, a former actor, union leader, and corporate spokesman, was first elected to public office at 55 when he became Governor of California and remains the oldest man to have served as U.S. President.
Walt Disney officially opened Disney World on July 18, 1955 at the age of 54.
Laura Ingalls Wilder didn’t write and publish “Little House on the Prairie” until age 65.
Taikichiro Mori left academia at the age of 55 to become a real estate investor. When he died in 1993 he was the richest man in the world.
Anna Mary Robertson “Grandma” Moses is one of the biggest names in American folk art, yet did not begin painting until well into her 70’s.
What was their secret? As you read their stories you discover that:
- They were primarily people who were self-employed, or at least self-motivated.
- They let their advanced years of knowledge, experience, and wisdom work for them, not limit them.
- They stepped out of their comfort zone and took risks to create something new that would benefit others.
- They worked hard – with passion, dedication, and enthusiasm, but they also worked smart!
- They weren’t afraid to fail. (Thomas Edison is said to have failed 1,000 times before inventing the light bulb)
- They partnered with people who had the skills they lacked. (KFC was actually made successful by partner Dave Thomas, founder of Wendy’s)
- They never stopped learning.
- They found something that they truly enjoyed doing.
For me, “coming out” means emerging from old ways of thinking, old limitations, old expectations, and old routines – not because “old” is bad, but because the successes of the future cannot be achieved by the old ways. Automobiles were not possible until combustion was understood and harnessed. Electronic devices could not be invented until the semiconductor was conceptualized and then maximized. Books can’t be written until the author has a message. Music cannot be composed until the musician expresses a song. Dreams do not become reality until we say “yes” to the still small voice within us.
For me, “pride” is not about my race, nationality, past accomplishments, self-supposed entitlements, or the labels that I choose to bear. Pride comes from rising up, moving on, and giving back – going where I have never gone before, thinking thoughts I’ve never thought before, creating what I’ve never imagined before, persevering like I never have before. It means standing on my own two feet, while joining hands with others. It means accepting people for who they are, and the gifts they bring to humanity – not by the generic labels that bigots use to discredit them. It means taking personal responsibility to solve the problems I see – not in sitting back and waiting to be bailed out.
What I see when I look in the mirror is a reflection of the person I have chosen to be – but I know it is not the person I am yet to be. I acknowledge that I am neither pleased nor displeased with myself without reason. The fruit of my life is a direct result of my own utilization of God’s natural/spiritual laws. Whether at age 49, or 99, the sum total of my life is not in the trophies on my shelf, but in the billions of moments in which I either chose to be productive, destructive, or apathetic. The joy of seeing my dreams leave my head and emerge in my reality will be the result of the efforts I dedicate to them. My reward is in knowing that someone else’s life is better because of it all.
It may not be that black or white to you, but that’s giving it to you straight!
(**This piece was first published as a Facebook note on this day in 2010, reference is to President Barack Obama.)