Yours, Mine, Ours

blumen-1

For some reason I had a lot of gay friends in high school. It wasn’t something I planned or even thought about until senior year, when a number of friends started coming out.

Homosexuality was not an issue prior to that, and my friends were my friends. Who they loved would never became an issue for me.  They were wonderful people before they were out, and they were (and are) wonderful people after they were out.

Those relationships stayed close beyond high school and brought new friendships with them.  It never occurred to me that there was anything unusual about having a lot of gay friends because that was what I knew.

Most of my close friends had relatively supportive families when they came out, but over time I heard horror stories of people being shunned and even threatened with violence by their own flesh and blood.  I knew of at least one friend who was beaten up simply for ‘acting’ gay even before he himself had seriously contemplated who he was.

It wasn’t until I started dating more that I realized that some people really did have a problem with homosexuality. Some of the objections were religious, but more frequently, there seemed to be an unfounded fear of unwanted sexual advances (ironically often in men who themselves were aggressive with me).

I ended relationships when it became clear that the man I was seeing would never accept my friends.  For a long time, I believed my own intractable position was founded on the fact that my friends were a non-negotiable part of my life, but as I’ve married and we’ve gone our own ways geographically, my feeling is stronger.

It wasn’t until I had a son who defied convention with his tutus and fairy wings that I understood why it had mattered to me so much back then that any companion be accepting of my gay friends.  But when my unconventional son began asking to wear his rainbow wig to the diner, the empathy and love I had felt for those people crystalized.

It wasn’t just acceptance of my friends, I had wanted. It was the assurance that if any child of mine was different, a future husband would respond the way the Big Guy does — by asking if our different child wants to wear his superhero cape with his wig.

It hit again Sunday when the news came in from Orlando, and I read of a mother reading the last texts from her son, knowing he might be dying and that his last moments were filled with terror.

It hit because as a mother I knew that the last thing she probably cared about at that moment was who her son loved.  The only thing that mattered was that she wanted him to be safe so that he could love.

I knew that could have just as easily been my kid who had wanted acceptance and freedom from fear.  It could be your kid that was refused housing or service or even medical care. It could be any of ours that was in that night club in Orlando, murdered for the crime of loving someone.

I don’t know what the future holds for my unconventional son, and it is not our job to project an orientation on to him. It is our job to make sure he knows that our love doesn’t come with conditions and to work for a world where everyone’s kid can be honest about whom they love without fear.

Town Meeting

peaceful mountain

I had the picnic basket packed with pasta salad, cheese and crackers, and watermelon by 7PM.  We had an hour to go.  It was a only a five minute drive to the church yard, but we’d need to get there early to find a good spot.

When we arrived, the unofficial meeting was just coming together.  There were dozens of young faces – some just a few months into this world.  There children born on the other side of the globe lolling on picnic blankets with kids whose grandparents and great-great-great-grand’s built this town.  But, while the faces are different, the feelings of the attendees – unlike on official Town Meeting day – were very much in sync.

Everyone, regardless of how they felt about the latest stop sign or school budget line item, greeted their neighbors happily.  Some had brought dinner. Others brought dessert.  In front of the congregation was what looked like a laundry line, draped with colorful sheets.  It looked like the make shift stage Thing1 and Thing2 had created under our swing-set a few years ago.  

By the time the sun dipped behind the mountain at the edge of the field, the meeting was ready to begin. A wiry man with a snowy white beard walked to the center of the lawn making introductions and as he left the grassy stage, players bearing elaborate marionettes glided into view. 

For the next two hours, we watched field in front of the mountain darken, with the only light coming from lamps clamped to teepees at each side of the stage.  The players and puppeteers told tales of foolishness, mercy, greed, and, finally of one of those rare but wonderful instances of man’s humanity to man.  

The last story of a lifetime of generosity and love ultimately benefiting the generous concluded with the illuminating of paper lanterns constructed to look like houses. The puppeteers dimmed the stage lights and soon, the only sight was the tiny houses against the mountain and the only sound was the rushing river nearby.  And the only thing we knew for that moment was the peace that we were unconsciously sharing with everyone in that field.

That moment was a gift from the players.  It was also a gift from the Arab and Jewish storytellers who gave these stories to their children and to the world. As our moment of peace came to a quiet end, I thought of their descendants a half a world away, locked in endless conflict and, gazing at the stars, I wished peace for both sides – for their sakes and everyone else’s.  I wished for us to remember that, we all have an inheritance like this – one that could unite us more than we allow it to us divide us if only we’d claim it.  

It’s only a wish,and, as John Lennon said, I may just be a dreamer.  But I didn’t imagine these stories or that moment.

The Path Taken Together

Photo 2

“We are now arriving in Rugby.  Rugby, North Dakota,” announced the conductor over the loudspeaker.  “For those of you who don’t already know, Rugby is the geographical center of North America.”  My two adult dinner companions and I looked at each other and smiled as the youngest of our party, six-year-old Thing2, absorbed the information.  It was the first time he had been silent since we had been seated with the Boy Scout troop leader and den mother.  

The train may not have reached the geographical center of North America at its appointed hour, but the dining car staff was a model of down-to-the-minute efficiency.  Feeding 400 people in two hours required military precision and, as in our case, sometimes seating strangers together to ensure every booth was used to its fullest potential.  

I had seen the Boy Scout troop board the train earlier in the day.  We had just reached the border of North Dakota when the uniformed flotilla of teenagers marched past us and then forgotten about them – a tribute to their chaperones’ ability to keep a dozen boys in line for hours on end – until the seating hostess put me and Thing2 together with their leaders.  

Twelve years of living in a very small town has not undone my urban-cultivated and media-nurtured policy  of never talking to strangers.  However, for Thing2′ – born and bred in the country – strangers don’t exist.  As soon as we sat down he began chattering with our companions, asking about their badges and where they were going.  

Sociability had been his hallmark for the past two days of our cross country train trip, and it kept him happily busy as he played with other children and introduced himself to friendly passengers in the observation car.  He showed neighboring passengers the pictures he was taking and cooed at babies.  He chatted with a friendly Amish woman about her dress (which he found beautiful).   And, as he got to know people from all walks of life, so did I. 

Now, as we sat with our companions from the midwest, I thought of the pundits and pollsters who love to claim that Americans are completely at odds with each other – divided by region and class.  Listening to the troop leader talk about changes in North Dakota topography and things that were high in the minds of his neighbors, I was reminded that there were probably more shared values on that train than insurmountable, opposing ideologies.

We may have had different boarding points and destinations, but we were on the same journey.

Lettuce Listen

Lettuce

Today I hustled. I fed. I chauffeured. I walked. I shopped. I chauffeured some more.  I prepped.  I cleaned.  I chided.  I sat at a desk in a windowless office watching the light change as clouds softened the sunlight hitting the door.  I messaged.  I read and typed.  I focused and tinkered.  I emailed people in Hawaii and Maryland.  I ran.  

When evening came, I washed and peeled and chopped and cut and cut until I noticed I had one more thing to wash and cut and walked through the door into the rain and out to the garden.  I walked to the middle of the deserted plot and knelt down to pick some lettuce.  I plucked, and as the raindrops softly plop-plopped on my bare shoulders and rat-a-tatted on the lettuce leaves, for the first time all day, I stopped thinking and working and hustling, and I listened.

Heroes Begin at Home

A long fuse

When our twelve-year-old, Thing1, was about four, he began begging us for a baby brother.  He didn’t want more playdates with other boys, and he definitely didn’t want a baby sister.  Fortunately, we were able to deliver on his request two year later, and, even though we couldn’t take credit for Thing2’s gender, Thing1 was perfectly happy to go along with our contention that Thing2 was the big present that Christmas.

Thing1 took his big-brother responsibilities very seriously.  He read to Thing1and held his hand on the jungle gyms.  He made sure that I didn’t pick any outfits or Halloween costumes that violated the boy code of ‘not-too-cute’.  It didn’t take Thing2 long to decide that his older brother was a hero.  Six years later, Thing1 is learning that no good deed goes unpunished.

The two of them share the same wants these days, and the perfect harmony that characterized their early years together goes off key with increasing frequency.  They still share a bunk room, and, for a time, I thought the close proximity was the primary cause of their constantly overlapping material desires.  But the other night, as the Big Guy and I orchestrated the circus that is homework hour at our house, it became apparent that it does’t always take the opposing forces that lead to conflict don’t have to be equal in size or determination.

The increased expectations and volume of homework this year drove Thing1 to study at the desk we put in his room two years ago.  Thing2, however, still needs more supervision if we want his 20 minutes of homework done before eight o’clock at night, and we’ve designated the kitchen table as his study space.  Anything can draw our happily distractible six-year-old away from his studies, and, if we don’t keep a close eye on him, we know we’ll find him in the bunk room pestering his older brother.

Last week I had a chance to watch this ballet once more.  This time, however, a different angle made it seem like a completely new production.  Thing2 had just been restored to his chair after bouncing around the house, showing us his afternoon artwork.  Thing1 had the door to their room closed.  Hoping a little music would help Thing2 concentrate, I hit play on If I Fell, one of his favorite Beatles’ songs.

My plan backfired immediately.  Thing2 began singing, revealing that he wanted to sing Beatles at the school talent show.  The love song ended, but instead of bending his head to his work, Thing2 hopped off the chair and ran to the bunkroom, calling to his brother through the door to let him know about the talent show plans.

“Leave me alone,” Thing1 yelled through the door.  “I’m trying to work!”  I ordered Thing2 back to his seat and opened the door to let Thing1 know yelling at his brother should be reserved for actual crimes.  He came out to defend his reaction and, after we discussed the right tone to use with his parents, Thing1 trudged back to his desk.  Thing2, watched the exchange and hopped up again as soon as his brother began his retreat.  It was like watching a match chasing a long fuse.

I got up to pull my first-grader back to his homework before a fight broke out, but when I got to the door of the bunk room, Thing2 was hanging on the back of his brother’s chair, arms wrapped tightly around Thing1’s neck, consoling him while revealing his talent show plans.  Thing1, still miffed, was trying to write while ignoring the stranglehold, but then I saw him pat his baby brother’s hand.  At that moment I knew he also realized that this wasn’t pestering.  It was worship.  Sometimes it hurts, but even when he’s trying to find breathing space, Thing1 seems to understand that being someone’s hero is not just a responsibility; it’s a gift.