"The most wasted of all days is one without laughter." ~e e cummings

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

a changing conversation of Love

Jim and Peggie Louise met on a blind date. Set up by mutual friends only because Jim was the one guy in town taller than Peggie, no one expected the relationship to last. Jim fell in love with Peggie, his "long-stemmed rose," though and over time and despite Jim's deployment during World War II, Peggie fell for him, too.

In August of 1947, when Jim and Peggie were 23- and 21-years-old, respectively, they eloped. They had no choice but to wed in secret because, in that time and place, it was unheard of for a Protestant like Peggie to marry an Irish Catholic like Jim. It simply wasn't done.

Peggie and Jim were never ones to play strictly by the rules, though, and they had no reservations about choosing to spend the rest of their lives together. They did, however, fear telling their parents what they had done. After their private ceremony, they each returned to live, separately, at their parents' houses. For three weeks, they maintained their charade. Finally one night when Jim arrived at Peggie's parents' house to pick her up for a date, he could hold it in no longer. He asked Peggie's parents to join them in the sitting room.

As the story goes, once the news was broken, a tense silence filled the room. Without a word, Peggie's father rose from his seat and left the room. He returned a moment later with a bottle of champagne and four glasses. "To the happy couple!" he beamed, and poured his congratulations for his daughter and new son in a toast to Love. That's it. Forget the church, forget the naysayers and the pearl-clutchers. In that moment, all that mattered was Love. And it was celebrated.


Twenty-seven years later, Peggie and Jim received a letter from their daughter Sherry, who was a junior in college. Sherry was due to come home for Thanksgiving and she was bringing her boyfriend, Cliff. Although they were young, they had dated for a couple of years already and knew they wanted to spend their lives together.

Sherry knew, though, that her parents were more practical than romantic when it came to matters of their children (and their children's education). Before her visit, she wrote to her parents a very rational and unemotional letter detailing the logical reasons why it made more sense for her to marry Cliff the following summer rather than waiting until after she graduated. She knew her parents would be apprehensive and, this time, it had nothing to do with the fact that Cliff was Irish Catholic. It was 1974. Interfaith marriages were commonplace by that time.

It's not like Sherry was marrying someone of a different race, after all.

Still, Sherry was nervous heading home for Thanksgiving. She hadn't received a response to her letter and knew her parents would prefer that she earn her nursing degree before getting married. As she and Cliff approached the house, she prepared her rebuttal: She would still finish school on time. She would still pursue a career in nursing. Getting married early wouldn't change any of her goals or derail any of her plans. She took a deep breath and opened the door to her parents' house.

As the story goes, Jim and Peggie met Sherry and Cliff at the door, holding a bottle of champagne and four glasses. "To the happy couple!" Jim beamed and there were hugs and happy tears all around. In that moment, all that mattered was Love. Graduation and a career in nursing aside, what Jim and Peggie wanted most for their daughter was love and happiness. She found it with Cliff, so all that was left to do was celebrate. (To celebrate and, to Peggie's sheer delight, to plan the wedding she never got to plan for herself.)

Time marched on and, with it, a changing conversation about love and marriage and religion and race. Cliff and Sherry's oldest daughter, Katie, married an Asian-American man. No one thought twice about the fact that she was marrying someone of a different race. It was the year 2000 and the Gen-Xers were open-minded, far more so than their Puritanical parents had been. Plus, Katie and her husband had both finished college and had found great jobs. Love, happiness, and financial security? What more could parents want for their grown children?

Interracial marriages had been legal across all 50 states for 33 years by the end of the millennium. Those who opposed it, for whatever racist and backwards reasons they may have had, were in the clear minority. Marry whom you love, it doesn't matter where your parents come from or what house of worship you attend (or don't) or the color of your skin. Religion and Race don't matter when it comes to Love.

It's not like Katie was gay, after all.

The cultural conversation about Love was like a snowball racing down an incline, gaining size and strength and speed as it descended. If it doesn't matter that you're of a different faith than your spouse, and it doesn't matter if you're of a different race or ethnicity than your spouse, what does matter? Does sex?

As it turned out, the same conversation that had previously taken a generation to change, this time evolved much faster.

Almost exactly 15 years after Katie married a man of another race (to precisely zero naysaying or pearl-clutching), the United States Supreme Court voted to legalize same-sex marriage. Anyone in the United States could now, truly, marry his or her true love. On June 26, 2015, all that mattered was Love.

***

It hasn't even been a year and that Love, it seems, has already been forgotten...

The snowball of Love that had been barreling down the mountain of Acceptance for the past three generations recently hit a Bathroom Bill Blockade that smashed that snowball of Love to smithereens.

As far as we have come in Loving our neighbors of different faiths, races, and sexuality, we must not forget to embrace our transgender, genderqueer, gender-variant, and gender non-binary friends, neighbors, and family members as well.

America, we are so much better than this.

I know this country isn't perfect. I know that, in terms of Racial Bias and Inequality Between the Sexes, we still have a long road ahead of us. I know that systemic racism and sexism are real and present and affect millions of people on a daily basis. I know that there will always be people who Hate. I don't like it and I don't understand it, but I know it.

The generations of people who came before us were forced to have Hard Conversations about Religion and Race and Sex. Things are far from perfect, but progress has been made. The progress (however limited) we've made as a people should have paved the way for us to have this Hard Conversation about Gender. We should know, by now, after everything we've been through, to rely on Compassion, Acceptance, and Love in our interactions with each other. We should strive for understanding.

It shouldn't, after so much time and so many tears and so many broken families, still be this hard. When will we learn our lesson?

***

Sherry and Cliff celebrated their daughter as she married a man (who happens to be of another race). They welcomed into the family, with open and loving arms, their son's partner (who happens to also be a man). They toasted (with beer, unfortunately, as no champagne was on hand) when another son announced that he and his girlfriend had eloped in a private wedding ceremony (an homage to his grandparents' eternal and forever love, perhaps?).

Most importantly, to me anyway, Cliff and Sherry haven't hesitated for a single second to love and accept my gender-nonconforming son, their grandson, just the way he is. (Thanks, Mom and Dad. But also, you're welcome. We can all agree that he's a pretty awesome addition to this family.)

I know I'm lucky to be a part of a family like mine. I know that it's not the norm to be surrounded by so many generations of people who, truly, are All For Love and Love For All.

Why the hell isn't it?

Lesson Learned:

It seems ridiculous, doesn't it, that fear of admitting their interfaith love prompted my grandparents to elope? I mean, they lived in the same town. Their parents knew each other. Their families weren't even devout; Jim's family were what they called "Christmas and Easter Catholics."

Can you believe that it was less than 50 years ago that Loving v. Virginia legalized interracial marriage in this country?

Imagine how our children are going to look back on this time. What will they think of us? At least I can say for certain that mine will always know that they are, have been, and will always be loved exactly as they are and for exactly who (not what) they are. They will also know that anyone they choose to bring home is welcome in our family (so long as they treat my babies with love, respect, and kindness).

Like my parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents before me, I'll have a bottle of champagne ready. We'll toast to Love.

2 comments :

  1. Lovely story. My own great grandparents eloped. Granny was the daughter of a wealthy family and the man she loved was beneath their station. They moved from Donegal to Glasgow and had twelve children. Amusingly, my grandfather converted to Catholicism when he married. My mother married outside the box when she fell for a dashing (Catholic) Scotsman newly arrived from Glasgow, whom nobody could understand. She converted too. And I married across racial lines (although that is somewhat less of an issue in the UK than in the US). So far, love remains strong.

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    1. Again, our similarities are striking. Thank you for sharing your family's story. I love the part about your mom marrying a Scot, whom no one could understand. :) Cheers to love!

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