Getting to Pride this year took some doing for my husband Dave and me. A late-late-night drive home after a school reunion hours north on Friday, an early morning, then the hour-and-a-half drive south on Saturday. The parade had already kicked off when we arrived. We criss-crossed streets to head it off at the pass, catch as much as we could.
What’s the deal with Pride, anyway? Sure, I go because we are F-A-M-I-L-Y and this is our statewide reunion. And you betcha, I go to drool over the sexy men. But more, I go looking for God at Pride. Really. Or almost really.
Earth’s crammed with heaven, says the poet, and I suspect she’s right. You can run into the holy most anywhere. Some people claim to find the ineffable in church, others in nature, in an empty bottle, a hot body. A box. Many places.
Me, I see the divine at work in the union of opposites. In the allegedly impossible flight of the bumblebee. Every year in the turn of seasons—even as the world dies a wintry death, new life springs forth. In moments so beautiful, so perfect, they hurt. Times when love means everything and nothing at the same time. When what looks to be an ending proves a beginning. It’s an old old story. The god dies; the god lives; in dying the god lives forever. Blessed be.
Not knowing any different, I intuited my coming out gay as a holy moment, imagined I was standing on sacred ground. Looking back now, I think if ever I lived in the tension of paradox it was then. I was 34, 35 years old at the time, yet I was newborn. It was all over for me; it was only getting started. One day I was exuberant; the next, ready to kill myself. My life was falling apart around me even as it was at last coming together. It was nothing I had done, yet my wife, church, friends, parents, colleagues pointed (or flipped) the finger at me, said it was all my selfish fault.
It was a crazy mixed-up time. Nothing made sense, or if one thing did, it was that nothing does. I caught a glimpse of the big picture with all the clarity of one going over a cliff; what I saw was my feeble attempts at orchestrating life made the least sense of all. Says Annie Dillard, “we are most deeply asleep at the switch when we fancy we control any switches at al
Oy. I so often reduce people, issues and situations to a series of toggle switches. On or off. This or that. Night or day. Male, female. Gay, straight. Yes, no; us, them; right, wrong. Hot, not. Every once in a while I wake up to what I’m doing and remember earth’s crammed with paradox. Life’s less an either/or proposition, more a both/and.
Both/And? Damn. If it were up to me, I’d have some moments last forever, others I’d squish between my fingers and rub out of existence. Same with people. To embrace the whole of life is to embrace both pleasure and pain, longing and fulfillment, love and loss. And who can do that?
Yet the mystery of life drags us in this very direction. All is one. Mitakuye oyasin. We’re all related, all one family, all one flesh, all one single metaphysical truth.
Across the globe this month, LGBT persons and their allies celebrate what it means to be gay at this present moment, honor those who have come before, look ahead to what is to come. They gather to march and demonstrate, party and celebrate. In a very public way. With joyous abandon. In over the top display.
Pride celebrations bring together people from across the LGBTIQ alphabet soup spectrum, uniting opposites and in-betweens in one glorious if all too short-lived spectacle. I took in the Pride festivities in our Midwest state capital this year and gaped slack-jawed at the creativity, daring and diversity of our community. I marveled at the sheer number of people present. Where do they come from? Where will they disappear to? Like me, many returned to small towns and regular jobs, to lives of quiet courage, to being themselves in a less-than-embracing world.
We are family, and for one full fabulous day this June I experienced it. I embraced the walking contradictions all around and within me. And in the paradox of their being one —our being one—I glimpsed the divine. Such sightings sustain. The flags furled, music silent, the crowds gone home, Dave and I were almost home. As we drove up our country road, ankle-high corn in the field to our left, beans popping up to our right, he turned to me and said, “you know, after spending the day at Pride, I feel less lonely.”
Photo credit: Ryan Ready (rufin_ready at flickr.com)
An earlier version of this essay appeared in the June issue of The Community Letter