Friday, October 26, 2012

A moment of grace

Picture a steely gray late afternoon sky, a fine mist falling, and choppy waves making a few white caps on Lake Superior along the shore of Two Harbors.

Ginsberg and I scramble along the slick rocky shore near the lighthouse park, me picking up stones, Gins toying with pieces of driftwood. As we return to the parking lot, Gins locks his eyes on a gaggle of geese just down the beach.
I stop and quietly say his name 3 or 4 times until he finally looks up at me. I tell him we will be leaving the geese alone, and he complies. We walk toward the car and I notice a very very old man sitting in his battered red station wagon, parked near mine. His window is down and he is looking at Ginsberg.

As we get closer, he says in an eastern European accent: "Beautiful beautiful dog." I thank him and get a better look. His skin is gray, there is no color to his lips. He looks almost waxen but his eyes are blue and bright. I mention that Ginsberg is a husky, and he says, "Yah, I know huskies."

I bring Ginsberg over to the man and he puts his paws on the edge of the open window. The man pets him. I am surprised by this, because Ginsberg can be somewhat reserved with strangers. The man says again, "Beautiful beautiful dog." We're quiet for a few seconds.

And then the man says, "What beautiful beautiful friend, what beautiful company God gave us with the dog, yah?"

He has just said in his eastern European accent the exact sentiment I've had these past few days in the north woods in the company of sled dogs. I agree with him and find that I have nothing else to add. He's said it all.

And so I tell him I must leave. He looks me in the eyes now and says slowly and sincerely, "Thank you for your company."

I can't remember the last time someone has thanked me for my company. It makes me cry.

I drive back to the cabin, in the quiet, grace, and company of my blue-eyed Alaskan Husky. And God.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

For the Daniels

On election day, Minnesotans will be voting on an amendment that, 
if passed, dictates that marriage is only legal between one man and one woman. 
Something is amiss in America when we use constitutional powers
to restrict freedoms rather than guarantee civil rights.
It's time to speak up.

For the Daniels

The most remarkable museum exhibit I have ever seen was an interactive installation called “Daniel’s Story.” If memory serves me right, I took my children to see it at the Field Museum in Chicago years ago, back when we were almost poor.

Walking through the exhibit, we entered the life and environs of Daniel, a Jewish child living in Europe during the Holocaust. First we came into his home, listened to music of the time, saw the books he read. And then we heard the radio and the chilling messages of hate issuing forth. Soon we traveled through a tunnel, walled on both sides by lifelike murals of Nazis carrying rifles and of their angry dogs. We could hear shouts from these oversized uniformed men and menacing barks, and the effect was terrifying. We then moved into the ghetto where Daniel lived briefly amid lice and filth before he was shipped by cattle car (another terrifying simulation) on to the concentration camp where he presumably died. Upon leaving that portion of the exhibit, we entered rooms where children were invited to create tiles that captured their emotions. The tiles were added to a wall, and the display was monumental.

But what stays with me to this day was a set of simple hinged panels in a row, intended to be read left to right. Together, the panels depicted the slippery progression of bias to discrimination to ethnic cleansing and, ultimately, to genocide. Atop each panel were words reflecting increasingly stronger sentiments that one might hear to degrade and debase some group of “others.” Children lifted the panel to find words they could use to speak up for the targeted group. The final panel said, “All (fill in the blank) should die. Underneath that panel was the phrase: “Too late. You should have spoken up sooner.”

It’s this exhibit that motivates me to speak up today.

In my very ordinary brain, the sexual orientation of my children, my nieces, their friends, or anyone’s seems as much a matter of fact as their shoe size or eye color. It just is what it is, same as the rest of the cards in the deck that life has dealt them. (I know how glib this sounds, but hear me out.)

Would I disown a child because he wears a size 12 not a size 9 sneaker. Would I lose one minute of sleep about it? Would I evict my daughter because she has hazel irises and I have brown ones? Would I shed a single tear of sorrow if she announced she would marry another person with hazel eyes? No, of course not. The very idea is so nutty it leaves me almost speechless. Almost. Because to not speak up when any form of discrimination is at play is rather dangerous, isn't it? So, though I normally flee from conflict like a fly from a swatter, I am entering the fray because conscience won’t let me stay silent any longer.

I'm not as clueless or insensitive as this may sounds. OK, I can be insensitive. There was the time when my hetero-then-bisexual-then-legally-married-to-a-transgender-man-whom-she-dated-when-he-was-a-woman friend chided me for not having a rainbow sticker on my office door to indicate that I was GLBT-friendly and I just wanted to smack her. But I only smack flies and mosquitoes, so I put the sticker up. My friend was correct, I conceded, but it just seemed silly to advertise that I was OK with people who partner with people of their own gender, as unnecessary as advertising that I’m good with people who "wear size 12 shoes" or who "have hazel eyes. (It was and still is necessary, but it maddens me that it is.) I know I still sound glib and I know how serious the human-rights implications are, but still, hear me out.

What I don’t grok but clearly see happening is that gender-orientation stirs the kind controversy that makes people propose constitutional amendments that codify discrimination, except that I know that fearfulness will always be among us, and there is some aspect about this matter of fact that taps some serious fear buttons to the point of serious hostility. I can’t help but wonder if, perhaps, some amendment supporters are so conflicted about their own sexual orientation and leanings, even to the point of self hatred, that they must enshrine heterosexual unions in our sacred legal code to prevent themselves from exploring their own identity. Stranger things have happened.

Of the positions I have heard, the two most salient in my opinion are (1) concern about procreation and (2) erosion of virtue.

1. Procreation
I fully concur that human intimacy is a divine gift, not to be messed with lightly, and that the privilege of bringing children into this world pings our most ancient strings of DNA code, as it should if our species is to survive. But, dear God, what does it really matter what gender one is oriented to legally share one’s life with? As a species, we’re in no obvious danger of turning off the spigot of procreation on this planet, that’s for certain. Like frantic gerbils, humans just keep adding offspring to it! (Have you ever seen too many gerbils in a cage? Not recommended.) 

2. Virtue
If we’re worried about people turning away from the Word of God, the dogma upon which so many of us congregate and use to guide our actions, we best look at what we’re doing for and with young people in our everyday lives, and in particular, I suspect our sparse churches, temples, mosques, and meeting houses ought to be ramping up environments that young people find divine, rather than embedding in our constitution matters of marriage.

For the love of all that is good in humankind, why is marriage even an issue?

And, further, why are beautiful young souls evicted from their families, tossed to the streets to be preyed upon by unscrupulous people, and battered, often destroyed by cruelty? I do not take lightly hate crimes against people whose sexual orientation is deemed out of the norm by certain groups. And like the panels in Daniel’s Story shows us, there is a dangerous progression from legalizing any kind of prohibition that denies the rights of any group of people, and we must speak up before it’s too late.

So enough already. ENOUGH! As pollyannaish as it sounds, I just want this brouhaha about gender orientation and marriage to be over. It is wrong. It is unnecessary. And it distracts our attention from the other things that divide and harm us--like poverty and cooking the life off our planet and horrific, preventable diseases that disfigure, blind, and impoverish people in equatorial countries, and warfare.

Thinking of you Daniel, and voting no,

Kathleen Kimball-Baker


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