- by Julie Wood -
This is a follow-up to her first post about her gay son Ben who committed suicide.
I have a lot of questions and many of them do have an “edge” to them. How could anyone that identifies themself as a follower of the example of Jesus, feel he has the right to belittle, shame, reject and judge another? How could any person who believes that God individually designed and created each of us, reject the art of the Father? Does that person believe, as the Bible story tells us, that God looked over his work and was so very pleased? Sometimes my questions become more analytical such as: Is there a primal need for the ego to belong to a perceived superior group? Does the ego delight in dehumanizing another group just to feed itself? Is this the dark side of us humans? Is the basis of prejudice and judgment fear and insecurity? Is judgment, rejection and hate just the popular thing within an individual's social circle? (This question reminds me of Dr. Seuss' book Star Belly-Sneetches!) How many of us who hold up hate signs have ever read the teachings of Jesus? -STOP- I ground myself and remember, every human being has a story. Every person on this earth has life experiences that precede this particular moment in time. My life path has prepared and nurtured me to love; I am privileged. If any of us begin to feel self- righteous or as if we have it all figured out, then we too are playing out the same role as those other’s prejudice we hope to challenge. I/we must stay kind and compassionate while never giving up. While we create ripples of change, we can do so with the understanding that each person has a story of their own.
This is part of my story. More often than not, I can empathize and see the good in others. I am just natured to be drawn to those who are different than me. I really do love the diversity. People fascinate me and I love that some of the wisest people that I have ever known have had the lowest IQs. This part of myself is not, however, something I can take credit for. I am grateful for the influences of my childhood. Please know that I am not implying that my family was without struggles, but the values that I was taught have made the path for compassion easy for me. I really was raised with The Golden Rule, The Good Samaritan and we really did sing Jesus loves the Little Children, ALL the Little Children of the World. Each one of us has been influenced by values, the scene, the others in our life, the earlier generation that influenced those in our lives and our life experiences.
I was sharing my thoughts, about how much easier it is for some of us than others, with a friend of mine. She told me about a quote by Cory Booker of NJ. His father told him, "Boy, don't you walk around here like you hit a triple." “You were born on third base." He spoke of all of those who came before him, making the way for his opportunity. This is true and meaningful for those of us who were taught respect, honor and love. We were put on third!
Growing up in a time with an emphasis on racial injustices, I remember my mother saying to “be kind to everyone” and that “no one chose the skin that they were born into. On the inside, we are all of the same.” When I was about 10, I have clear memories of going with my father, a white pastor, several miles in the opposite direction of our destination, to a gas stations owned by a black man. He wanted to set an example of acceptance and the extra effort was worth the statement in the 1970s.
Our parsonage home was across the street from the church and on a residential road with a sidewalk on one side. About five or six houses up the street lived Annie Pearl. She taught me to break off a geranium stem at just the right place so that we could root it to become a new plant. We had many geraniums! She also taught me how to crochet knit caps (we call toboggans here in the South). I had way too many toboggans! Although Annie Pearl had Intellectual/Developmental Disability, she lived on her own and worked at the biscuit factory. I loved her and she was my friend. To the right of Annie Pearl lived Miss Irene. She was in her eighties and she was my friend. To the left side of Annie Pearl lived a young man with Muscular Dystrophy. At High School, he was treated like a rock star, and he drove his electric wheelchair around the neighborhood. He had the best smile and was brilliant. I respected him and he was my friend. Across the street, lived Emma. She was in the profound range of intellectual disability with severe cerebral palsy. Her elderly mother provided for her every need. She lifted and carried Emma from room to room to position her so that she could see out of the windows. The devotion was beautiful and Emma’s mother’s heart was full.
One of my dearest and best friends was gay. No one ever really acknowledged it, but we all just knew. I haven’t seen him in years but I will always treasure him. There were also several of my family members with same sex life partners. Never was there a lack of acceptance, judgment or condemnation. There was no big explanation, nor was it hidden, it just was not a negative issue. I am so very lucky to have had these influences.
I was seated in a childhood filled with diversity, honoring of diversity and social justice. Just now, looking back, I can see how my life choices mirror the experiences that I had as a child. So much of who I am is because of the love that was demonstrated and taught to me. Acceptance has not been my struggle. Sharing life’s journey with someone different than me, is not my struggle. My struggles in the earth school just happen to be different ones.
Now consider the personwho was born into an environment that criticized, judged and modeled hate? The family or community culture may have had a rigid belief system that was not based on love. Insecurity may have forced a false belief that by belonging to a particular group they would be acceptable by their group/culture. This belief system may have been woven into the very identity and criteria for belongingness into their family. I would think that acceptance of self, if LGBT, or acceptance of others, would be so much more of a mountain to overcome. Compare that experience to mine. Wow, look at the difference! Many people with a more judgmental background have experienced the shift. They have done the work to crawl right over that mountain of ugliness to a new vantage point of love. They deserve credit!
I would have never dreamed that my life journey would have continued on to include the following as part of my story. My son, Ben, told me that I lived in a bubble; he was probably right. At this moment, my fingers scurry across the keyboard of my son’s computer. It is the same keys that his fingers tapped to take down his Facebook and Blog as he completed the various tasks before ending his life. I am sitting in the house where we were family and writing this in the month, at the place, when I last sat in his presence, put my arm around his body and talked until we solved all of the world’s problems. We had the best spring break!
The first anniversary of his death will soon come, nestled right in between my birthday and mother's day. We will feel the feelings, I will cry, I will hold dear and I will breathe. We will live right through the anniversary and continue to thrive. While we will never stop missing our Ben, we will learn to go on living beside the loss. His spirit was just too beautiful to dishonor him by not thriving. So, we will cope and live by working for change. Judgment of LGBT, resonates not only with questions and feelings of disbelief and frustration, but now with the determination that comes from a broken heart. My son Ben was shamed, and now he is gone. There are many pieces to the puzzle, many we will never know. One prominent piece, however, is most certainly the rejection that occurred within his faith community.
So, where do I go from here? What is our goal and what must we consider? For the person who overcomes hate, what created the shift, the change? Could it be that he fell in love with someone of another social group or someone that he loves is gay, thus creating a conflict in their belief system? Or maybe he was willing to be introspective and challengehis belief system. Was he confronted by conscience! Maybe he received formal education that created a shift. For those of us who are advocates for change, how do we facilitate a shift?
The moment Rosa Parks road that bus and she was not forced out of her seat, it was because someone who could have moved her, had a shift. Rosa Parks’ story had twenty years of fighting for civil rights before that day. That person’s shift helped change Rosa’s story to one we all know. I recently saw a documentary describing how after WWII, Japanese American families were placed in work camps. American leaders thought it was appropriate to rob these citizens of their homes, business and lives to divide them up and place them behind tall barbed wire fences just because their appearance was similar to those who had bombed Pearl Harbor. They are not still imprisoned, why? Someone in power had a shift in their belief system and these families were eventually freed. I don’t fully know the story but I believe that someone's heart had to have softened to a new vantage point. He was able to see the truth and make a change. We advocates seek to create these shifts.
A familiar lesson that Jesus DID teach is the Good Samaritan. He said, 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' He was asked, "Who is my neighbor?" He explained with a parable that may apply to us. An individual was on life's journey. The journey was loaded with effort, risk and hardship. The traveler was beaten and robbed to the point of near death brokenness. Those who were in roles that one would expect to respond by jumping right in, getting their hands dirty, problem solving, and sacrificing to aid the forgotten were the ones who surprised us. They looked away from the suffering, distanced themselves, and protected self, by moving to the safety on the other side of the road.
Jesus told the story at a time in history, when there was much strife between the Jews and Samaritans. Isn't it so very interesting that it was the Samaritan in the story who sacrificed self to care for this victim? I believe that this was not only an illustration that everyone is our neighbor and to be loved, but also a lesson in not making assumptions about any group of people.
As we work to create the shifts of change, we do not want to lose our compassion. Every human has struggles and a story. We are just given different struggles to work out. We are all learning? During each of our lives, we have at times stepped into each role described in this parable. This writing is a reminder to me what I wanted to share. To promote love, we must show love. We must remember that everyone has been influenced by many experiences. We will not slow down or stop, and we will insist on change, but a prayer for the one spewing hate may be a kind thing to do not only the perpetrator but also for ourselves. We do not want to be a part of the hate cycle.
Not only are we taught to love our neighbor as much as ourselves but some of us even need to love ourselves as much as our neighbor. It is just a given, you are acceptable and wonderful because you are as much evidence of creation as the ocean, the ever changing sky and the magnificent mountains. Nature shows us transformations through so many examples such as the miracle of the caterpillar! The caterpillar did not become the butterfly without being squeezed to struggle, then struggle to transformation. Soon, a shift will be complete.
Overarching beliefs can and will change. For now, we will keep digging that tunnel through the mountain, shovel by shovel to create a shift, a change in perspective that shows through to the new vantage point when the path is shoveled with love. Kindness can go a long way. Remember, everyone has a story.
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Julie Hilliard Wood spent her childhood as a member of a "parsonage family" in the Western part of North Carolina, as her father was a United Methodist Minister. Julie received her BA in Psychology from The University of North Carolina at Charlotte with a North Carolina Certification in Social Work in 1986. She has worked in the geriatric field as a Social Worker, Social Work Consultant and in leadership positions in non-profits supporting individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. She is married to Bill and has three children, Sophie, 10, Lacy, 12 and Ben in heaven.