Breathing is hard this morning. My heart lies heavy in my chest and tears well in my eyes. I feel immobilized by hurricanes, earthquakes, and the unimaginable devastation left in their wake. I am horrified at the looming threat of nuclear war. I am disgusted by the senseless pain caused by hatred, bigotry, and ignorance. I weep for the thousands, hundreds of thousands, millions of people around the world driven into refugee camps and immigrant detention centers. I grieve for young girls forced into sexual slavery and people shot on a Sunday morning in a Tennessee church. I fume over health care debates, inequitable school funding, mass incarceration, and hunger in my own community. Add to that, concern for aging relatives, family members and friends with health problems, and the mulberry tree in the back yard invaded by tent worms, and I am not feeling very hopeful today.
I am reminded of the early 1960’s musical, Stop the World, I Want to Get Off.” Get me off this planet intent on devouring itself with hatred and division. Let me fly unfettered as a leaf freed from a tree by a gentle autumn breeze. Take me to a land of plenty filled with kindness and compassion, equity and generosity, respect and reverence. Take me to a land of peace where disputes are solved with jello-rolling contests, and laughter and joy ricochet off the hillsides, where the only floods saturate the ground with sparkles and starlight and the only grieving is for ice-cream that has fallen off a cone onto the ground.
I see this world sometimes. It is as real to me some days as the horror is on days like today. I can see it when a monarch lights on our butterfly bush, when a neighbor shares greetings over the backyard fence, when my wife greets me with a kiss at the end of the day.
I saw it this weekend at the Virginia Pride Festival on Brown’s Island in Richmond. Thousands of people of all ages, races, ethnicities, abilities, sexual orientations, and gender identities came together on Saturday to laugh, play, and dance together in the fullness of who we are — unrestricted, unencumbered, unified – for one delightful day.
LGBTQ Pride celebrations haven’t always been like that. In the first Pride march I attended in the late 1970s in Boston, some people wore paper bags over their heads to conceal their identities for fear of losing their jobs and their families. Determined to march, they exposed their bodies but not their faces to a hostile world.
At that and other marches over the years, counter-protestors yelled obscenities, damned us to hellfire, and threatened our very lives. We were told we were sinners, mentally ill, diseased, a plague. That still happens in some parts of the world, and, even in some parts of this country, despite how far we have come.
But for the first time this Saturday, in all my years of attending Pride, I did not see one person standing in opposition. I didn’t see one banner condemning us to hell. I didn’t hear a single person with a megaphone misconstruing the word of God and berating my life and the lives of those I love in the process.
Instead, this year, I saw children running freely with rainbows painted and smiles plastered on their faces. I witnessed white, African American, and Latinx people holding hands, laughing, and talking together, running to hug each other, and sharing food and hula-hoops with equal abandon.
I admired young six-foot, four-inch women with slinky skirts and fishnet hose strolling side-by-side with short-cropped, gray-haired women wearing boots on their feet, ball caps on their heads, and key chains hanging from their belts. I met a food-truck worker elated by the steady stream of customers waiting to be served and a local police officer who expressed how honored he felt to be there.
I saw our society’s most conservative institutions, insurance companies, banks, grocery stores, realtors, and even Amtrak vie for customers who defy convention, who break the rules, who live and love without regard to society’s expectations. I saw entrepreneurs, street vendors, and retailers willing to accept our money and cater to our needs. I saw churches, synagogues, and other faith communities, who used to condemn us as sinners, reach out to us in love and acceptance.
I’m not naïve enough to believe that there wasn’t discord among some of the people who attended Pride on Saturday. I know people there said and did mean things – cutting things – things that would scar even the most hardened souls. I know that somebody’s phone was probably stolen, or car broken into, or heart broken.
But I had a choice to see those things or to see – and remember – the pervasive love that overflowed that island paradise for a single September day.
I can choose to focus on the devastation that permeates my news feeds or I can put myself to work making Beloved Community real, not just for one day of the year, in one city, but every day, in every place, around the world.
As long I remember that all I can do is what I can do, as long as I don’t let hurricanes of negativity flood me with despair, what I can do matters.
Every thing of beauty I grow in my garden, every meal I share with my beloved, every laugh, every song, every generous gesture matters. We cannot give those things up out of a sense of guilt or obligation and expect the world to change. The world changes right here, right now, in this moment, in this place, in this time when I extend myself in love, when I reach for understanding, when I bring joy to the lives of those around me.
I didn’t plan to write about Pride today. Quite frankly, I didn’t know where this post would go when I started writing. I only knew that I could feel the grip of hopelessness bear down on me. The fact that even in those moments when I want to stop the world and jump off into another reality I am grounded in a vision of Beloved Community, a community I have witnessed only a few times in my life, is comforting and reassuring to me. I hope it is to you, too.
Now, it’s time for me to research where the best place is to donate to the people of Puerto Rico. What are you doing today to hold onto hope?