“In the chill silence of that wintry night, with the mist like rain sifting down and freezing where it fell, one of the three major limbs split away from the trunk and crashed to the ground. This so unbalanced the remainder of the top that it, too, split apart and went down. When the storm was over, not a twig of the once-proud tree remained.”
I don’t recall when I first read the talk by Spencer Kimball – originally delivered in 1974 – entitled “Hidden Wedges.” But I recall being struck by its message and I recall it being oft quoted in Church materials back in the 80’s. (Which of course doesn’t seem that long ago to me in one way, but in another way seems like an eternity and several planets away.)
I hadn’t thought about it for years, I think, when – recently - it was suddenly, forcefully brought to my recollection. I was talking with a friend about my mixed-orientation marriage, when I had one of those moments I described in yesterday’s post. One of those jarring moments, like slipping on ice, when a realization strikes you with such force that it can bring you to a complete halt in mid-sentence. For I had realized that my repressed homosexuality had been a hidden wedge in our marriage from day one and that, one wintry night, a storm had come which had caused the “tree” of our marriage to splinter.
Then, as I pondered this incident with my friend in the weeks that followed, I remembered … I remembered why I had been struck by this talk when I first read it. It was because I knew – I always knew – even then, when I had first joined the Church as a young man, that as much as I tried to repress it, as much as I tried to disown it, as many efforts as I made to be the “righteous” heterosexual person the Church (and, I believed, God) wanted me to be – in spite of all of this, deep down within me was the hidden wedge that only I could see: the wedge of my homosexuality.
It haunted me, the presence of this wedge. I could see it, lying there. And even as I “grew in the Gospel,” went on a mission and did my best to live up to the image of the Golden Convert that many (including me) had of me, even as the “tree” of my testimony grew up and around this wedge, I knew it was there.
“As I lay sleepless this night reminiscing,” wrote President Kimball, “there came to my mind an article from the pen of Samuel T. Whitman titled "Forgotten Wedges," which stirred me and from which I wish to quote:
The ice storm wasn't generally destructive. True, a few wires came down, and there was a sudden jump in accidents along the highway. Walking out of doors became unpleasant and difficult. It was disagreeable weather, but it was not serious. Normally, the big walnut tree could easily have borne the weight that formed on its spreading limbs. It was the iron wedge in its heart that caused the damage.
The story of the iron wedge began years ago when the white-haired farmer was a lad on his father's homestead … [One day] already late for dinner, the lad [on his way back to the house from the pasture] laid [a] wedge, edge up, between the limbs of the young walnut tree his father had planted near the front gate. He would take the wedge to the shed right after dinner, or sometime when he was going that way.
He truly meant to, but he never did. It was there between the limbs, a little tight, when he attained his manhood. It was there, now firmly gripped, when he married and took over his father's farm. It was half grown over on the day the threshing crew ate dinner under the tree. A corner of the blade still protruded when he reorganized the yard and left the tree in an out-of-the-way corner. After that, it was forgotten, except at rare intervals. The farmer's hair turned white. Old age beckoned just around the corner. Grown in and healed over, the wedge was still in the tree the winter the ice storm came.
In the chill silence of that wintry night, with the mist like rain sifting down and freezing where it fell, one of the three major limbs split away from the trunk and crashed to the ground. This so unbalanced the remainder of the top that it, too, split apart and went down. When the storm was over, not a twig of the once-proud tree remained.
The next morning, the farmer went out to mourn his loss. "Wouldn't have had that happen for a thousand dollars," he said. "Prettiest tree in the valley, that was." Then, his eyes caught sight of something in the splintered ruin. "The wedge," he muttered reproachfully. "The wedge I found in the south pasture." A glance told him why the tree had fallen …”
“Apply the Atonement,” some had said. Others had said, in so many words, that if I was righteous enough, tried hard enough, prayed hard enough, had enough faith, this wedge would be removed. I did all those things, believing that the wedge would not so much be removed but pulverized, or just miraculously disappear. From time to time, however, I would be reminded that the wedge was still there.
This was disheartening, but I kept trying. I was like the tree: I couldn’t remove the wedge; it had to be removed from me. This made me feel powerless and vulnerable and weak in my very core. For no matter how beautiful and leafy the tree might appear to others, I knew its secret; I knew of its weakness at its very core.
Year after year passed. The tree managed to survive many storms without splitting apart. Then came the night of the ice storm, and the wedge buried deep within it, the wedge that had lain there so many years, finally caused the tree to crack and break.
I will let others draw what morals and lessons they will from this parable, which is rich in symbolism.
I do want to point out, however, what is obvious, but nonetheless perhaps not visible to us raised/steeped in the Mormon world view: we view(ed) our homosexuality as a wedge, as something dirty, unclean, impure, unnatural, undesirable, a flaw, a source of shame, a source of self-hatred that never, ever went away. It only became a “wedge” because of that world view …