Monday, March 10, 2008

Unconditional Love

His hand was up as soon as the performers began to ask for questions. It appeared to be his first movement since he had been fixed in his seat, entranced by the puppet show for the past 5o minutes. His face was lit by an eagerness and excitement, just hoping the woman with the microphone would notice his pale, white waving fingers over to the side and near the back row.

"So thanks so much for coming to the show. If you have any more questions, please feel free to email our office in Nova Scotia and someone will happily email you back."

His face crumpled, his shoulders slumped and the tears began to drip down his face. His breath quickened and soon little gasps emerged from his mouth as his crying grew in sound and heaviness. While others around us donned their coats and gathered their belongings, he slumped further in his theater seat, trying to say, "I uh-uh jus-- just uh want-ted uh uh to ask uh- uh a quest, a question."

I put my arm around him, initially feeling his disappointment. "Sweetie, we can email your question when we get home. "

More crying, more uh-uhs.

"Now, come one. We just had a fun time. That was a great puppet show and while I know you are disappointed, we need to remember we had a great time."

His thin frame, now further sliding in between the gap of the seat back and the hinged bottom, started to shudder. As he continued to cry with increased strength, I felt my empathy begin to turn to annoyance. Didn't we just do something cool? Wasn't it so great that we got to go to this puppet show at all? Heck, lots of kids didn't get to ask questions and none of them seemed stuck to their seat in a sagging mess. He just needs to get over things.

Later that night, I replayed that scene again and again in my head and my reactions to his disappointment and crying and the many other times I was exasperated when he just couldn't seem to 'get over' things. And then I thought of a few of the parents who had been interviewed in the film, For the Bible Tells Me So, which I had just seen two days before.

This documentary looks at five families who must face their religious convictions when they learn that they have a child who is gay or lesbian. Let me say upfront that I passionately believe in the full inclusion of GLBT folks in all aspects of life, including marriage and ordination in the Episcopal Church, etc. I went into the film hoping to get a sense of the biblical passages that opponents of gay marriage-- or homosexuality in general-- tend to quote to back up their positions (which frankly, in my heart, just feel un-Christian). I'm not one who will ever be able to quote or argue scripture, but I did leave the documentary with a better sense of these few passages, the context in which they were written, and alternative translations and interpretations than the loud, TV evangelists would aggressively argue.

While I was watching, I was sitting between two friends who were viewing the families' stories through their own perspectives. Both openly gay, they were seeing glimpses of their personal stories and at times, in the darkness of the room, I saw their nodding affirmations. My lens is different and I found myself completely entranced by the stories of the parents interviewed. Not all of these stories had easy or beautiful 'endings,' but I became completely blown-away by some of the parents' own journeys of loving their children and perhaps, learning to accept their kids in ways they never expected-- a few even becoming crusaders not only for their own children, but others who are discriminated against for their sexuality. I was particularly moved by the Reitans, this sweet, white Lutheran Minnesotan family, who become unexpected activists in the gay civil rights movement after their own struggle to come to terms with their youngest son's sexuality. In a simple statement, father and former presidential candidate Dick Gephart says simply, "It's called unconditional love, right? No conditions," when talking about his daughter Chrissy.

Hours after the puppet show, I reflected on that statement with Peter as we lay in bed. So here I would not have an issue accepting a son who is gay--in fact, I actively work not to assume they are necessarily heterosexual-- but, yet, I struggle with this one little fellow's incredibly sensitive nature. (And I am NOT making any links between sensitivity and homosexuality-- these are unrelated here.) Is my unconditional love for him being tested? Yes, as a parent I should be teaching him coping skills, but by continually wishing I could 'make' him more flexible, am I hoping that he is something that he is not?


Andrea said...

Don't be too hard on yourself...of course you don't love him less or differently because he's's just so exhausting for you to deal with on a daily basis.

JennyA said...

My brother-in-law has an uncle who only had one child because he felt he could never love a second child as much as the first. This was in the back of his mind when he and my sister decided to have a second child. Of course, they ended up with twins, and it turns out that neither one of them is having any trouble loving each child as much as the other two!

Anonymous said...

Well, I could go on for hours on this subject.

Zachary is very, very sensitive. He needs things to be as he expects them to be. A situation like you describe would land him in tears.

I have always comforted him, but inside I worried that I was not helping him learn to cope. When I gave him the routine he needed, others would judge me and I would wonder if maybe I was doing something wrong. Or there was something wrong with me.

Then I read *Highly Sensitive Person* and I realized he is ME. And he is wonderful. And the jerks who judge us can take a leap.