Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Pride and Prejudice


I tried to stifle my tear before it hit my waffle. I stared down at the text from my mother, "Supreme court recognized same-sex marriages. Heart. Smiley Face."
My wife was alarmed at my sudden change of affect, but I was too choked up to vocalize an explanation so I settled for passing the phone across the table.
Our eyes met.

I'd like to say unfettered joy crossed our faces and that we stood up and did a dance, but our prejudices ruined the moment.

We thought about holding hands, but didn't.
We dashed the palms of our hands at the tears in our eyes while cautiously peering around us hoping no one would notice our odd behavior and ask if we were okay.  We might be prejudiced and even occasionally hypocritical, but we're also both horrible liars and we know it.  Don't ask after our welfare unless you want an honest answer, and on that day we were afraid (because of our prejudices) that an honest answer might get us lynched.
We were having breakfast at a Waffle House in Fayetteville, Arkansas on our way to a lakeside cabin near Eureka Springs.  I knew Eureka Springs was relatively hippy and LGBT tolerant, but we weren't there yet.
My wife bit her lip and gave me a smile.
She handed me back my phone and squeezed my fingers as our hands touched in the passing.
Our smiles trembled.  This was just too big to celebrate silently.

I come from a long line (156 years back on the newly immigrated side of the family) of Texans.  My wife comes from an even longer line of Texans.  Parts of both of our families have been in American since 1690.  In short, we live in our ancestors' ancestors' homeland; and neither of us was about to abandon our families and careers to move out of state any time soon--even if that was the only way to obtain legal recognition of our relationship (our status as a family).
Sudden legal recognition of us as a family was momentous. Not because we or our family needed it to validate our relationship.  In our eyes, and the eyes of our friends and family, we had already been married for over three years.  We already had the illegal ceremony and marginally-legal (as long as we don't talk about the city ordinances we broke) wedding reception. We had even already obtained a legal marriage certificate from Martin Luther King County in Seattle, Washington while we were passing through for work (and where more friends than we new we had in town showed up uninvited to the impromptu ceremony to celebrate it with us).
Legal recognition of our marriage in Texas was momentous for us because it restored our faith in our homeland.
We were suddenly free to chase our dreams, buy a house, officially take care of each others' aging parents, and pay our taxes...as a couple (which meant paying more taxes by the way) in our ancestral homeland. We could have some of the same freedoms that our great, great, great, great grandparents came to these lands hoping to find and secure for their progeny.
Somehow it made me feel safer at home again.
But it didn't make me feel safer about expressing my love and happiness in a Waffle House in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

Of course I have an excuse for that.  My prejudice prevented it.
That morning when we wandered into the Waffle House, we were greeted by a spirited, balding Caucasian septuagenarian named Joe, who proclaimed himself a to be a lay minister and witness to Jesus, "Blessing upon us and all strays."

As I said, I'm from Texas, and I'm no stranger to adamant fundamentalist Christians.  I wasn't offended by Joe's strong expression of faith.  I blessed him back and we chatted about his life and the shared points of our faith for several minutes after he showed us to our table.

But I didn't give Joe the benefit of the doubt.  I let my stereotype of adamant fundamentalist Christians convince me that Joe would be rabidly opposed to same-sex marriage as a sin and that he would want to tell me all about how I was bound for hell rather than share our joy.  And I let this prejudice convince me that everyone in that Waffle House would share this condemning attitude.

Fortunately, my tears did hit my waffle, and Joe did notice.
He bustled his way back to our table, slid into the booth next to me and asked the dreaded question, "Are you okay?"  In my hesitation, he continued, "I'll pray right with you, whatever it is."

I thought he would find my answer nutty and offensive, but I had to be true.  I told him we were just happy.  Happy that our marriage of three years was finally legal everywhere in our great country.
Joe was so happy that he cried too.  Then he thanked God for us with enough volume, enthusiasm and specificity for everyone to hear and understand. . . and people clapped. Then he sang a celebratory hymn and people joined in, including me.

I am ashamed that I did not sing with more courage with Joe in that Waffle House.  I should have suspected better of Joe in Fayetteville.
I am sad that I didn't realize until after we left breakfast that the Waffle House was on MLK street--I should have taken that as a sign from the universe probably.  Joe and God wanted us to be proud of our love and to share the joy and light that love brings without fear born of prejudices.  I should have already known that.
I am proud to know, and call family, so many compassionate and supportive people of a great diversity of religions, politics, ethnicities, educations, sexual orientations, and socio-economic classes. I believe this is America's greatness: that we can all so easily choose to know and love a great diversity of people.
And one lesson I have learned from my fortunate existence in this greatness is that most people prize and share two primary objectives: to love and be loved.  I strive to let this lesson always be my first prejudice now.

Our wedding bouquets. Photo by Andrew Fritz. 

2 comments:

  1. Beautiful. Just beautiful on many levels. Thanks for writing this post!

    ReplyDelete

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