We can never anticipate the way our lives may be enriched by the encounter of someone ostensibly different. For it is these very collisions that challenge us to look critically at ourselves, to carve deeper into the world we live, and ultimately to examine our motives and intentions for the lives we lead. In the main, when a Catholic mother of three moves into a suburban neighborhood the questions on her mind are: How are the schools? Are there children for my children to play with? What’s the local church like? Will we fit in, make new friends and how can we become part of our community? As with life, these questions are quickly answered for better or worse.
Suburbia is ideal, or so they led us to believe, and comes with a compensation package: quiet streets, good schools, easy shopping, close churches and a general, if manufactured sense of satisfaction. The down side is that suburbia can perpetuate a homogeneous environment. A drone-like dream in search of answers where the masses end up following some bold voice hiding behind a curtain with shallow answers to silly questions that are devoid of meaning. Unless, of course, you happen upon the cool gay guys and make use of the ensuing friendship to put a sharper point on your ideas of social conscious.
It’s impossible to explain how the universe brings us together, but a friendship ensued between us and our gay neighbors down the street. Lunches and long afternoons developed into concerts, cocktails, and excursions around the world. They didn’t live in our world nor we exclusively in theirs, and we came together not in spite of our differences but in celebration of them. We coalesced not as gay or straight but as individuals who share a community and a search for enlightenment.
It has been in the quiet moments with such friends that I discovered these two wildly intelligent and magically creative souls. Greater still are two exceptional people who strive for and succeed in living life to its fullest - soaking up the adventures, living life graciously, pursuing personal truth, living free of conflict, exploiting joy. In their example they inspire those around them to live courageously amidst adversity. In those quiet moments I have also witnessed the love and devotion shared between these partners, peers and companions. It’s been my pleasure to be in the presence of such a genuine and palpable love and commitment.
If anything is constant in life it’s change. What is defined as good, bad, right and wrong by individuals, communities, societies and humanity is capricious in nature and is usually defined by the times in which we live and controlled by those with the most power (i.e., the ones with most to lose). A line from the movie The Reader resonated with me when a law professor explained to his class “We think we live according to morals. But really we live by the law; laws relevant to our period of time.”
Attempts by those with the most power (or the most to lose) to oppress the opinions, the needs, and the truths of those that are different will ultimately lead to revolution. This dynamic has played out repeatedly throughout history. Our young country was founded on the desire for religious freedom. Native Indians and African Americans have been brutally oppressed, women were denied the right to earn money, to vote or drive a car, Protestant and Catholics have waged war on one other in centuries past, and Mormons were viciously driven west from their religion’s New York birth place. In each and every case both God and Bible were used to justify the horrific attitudes and actions against a targeted people. This pious oppression led the heretic, the lunatic, and the archangel to revolt.
This ridiculous mimicry continues with Proposition 8: Invoking God’s good name, using selected verses from the Bible, and inciting fear into communities on the safety of our children via false propaganda. Instead of spending precious time, energy, and resources stripping the rights away from a group of people very simply looking for love and acceptance why don’t we call it what it is—fear. Fear of losing control, money, property and possessions, fear of being wrong, fear of our own mortality, fear of losing a faith base, fear of losing freedoms, fear… Fear drove each and all of the aforementioned examples of oppression, and its baffling how these very victims of oppression turned to become perpetrators of the same cruelty. Indeed, as a Catholic mother-of-three, I can attest that children learn what they live.
In some way most everyone has known oppression. But I challenge each person and every community to confront their fears, and not simply displace it onto a group of individuals that can fuse thought, culture, enlightenment, economy and fun into our communities. As a graduate student at Queens University studying Organizational Development, I discovered the William Bridges Transitions Model as a resource to guide the change of social conscious away from the cycle of oppression and revolution. Bridges model begins with an ending or letting go, moves into the neutral zone, and ends with a new beginning.
What would our society look like if we let go of displacing our fears onto other groups? How would it feel to stop believing others are responsible for the break down in families and communities? Can we as individuals stop making others responsible for our weaknesses and be responsible for ourselves? Authentic power and control of our lives is not accomplished by austere posturing towards others who are different.
The French philosopher Henri Bergson said “To exist is to change, to change is to mature, to mature is to go on creating oneself endlessly.” The Neutral Zone is a tremendous opportunity to reflect on ourselves as individuals. It requires great focus and discipline because as nature abhors a void it’s convenient to fall back on the security of the old, familiar and destructive ways. Absent of displacing our fears onto others, what are we left with? What defines our quality of life, and what are our tenets that we can be responsible for and achieve without denying others their truths? If we allow ourselves time in the Neutral Zone examining just ourselves – our motivations, intentions, needs and desires and how to pursue those to the best our ability - we can begin to formulate a strategy for our lives that does not come at the expense of others.
Slowly we emerge from the Neutral Zone with our new and improved conscious into a New Beginning. This phase gives us the opportunity to create a picture of our life underwritten with a purpose, followed with a plan, and a new path you can control and be responsible for.
History repeats itself and measures such as Proposition 8 should and will galvanize support for the oppressed. The value of my friends and their meaningfulness in my life is not defined by sexual orientation or lifestyle choices, but rather enhanced by a magnificent point of discovery. Today I see men as truly three-dimensional characters (no offense to my ESPN-lovin husband, who, incidentally, enjoys the gay clubs as much as I do – Shhhh)! Furthermore, it is well to know that their lifestyle choice has in no way eroded our family nor our ‘One Man One Woman’ marriage. In fact, it has enhanced our understanding that the world is made up of many kinds of people and that diversity is the art of thinking independently—together. Knowledge of their stories, their adversities, and perceptions of the world has strengthened the belief that my Higher Power is driven by acceptance, patience, kindness, respect and love. And it has furthered my conviction that if we were created in God’s image, it’s simply not up to me or any mere mortal for that matter to interpret whom among us is worthy of that love.
Our social conscience evolves much like a corporation and follows a universal life cycle. Our society began with Puritan ideas that were effective for the time. Unfortunately, they discounted other viable and important aspects of a collaborative culture. As the country continues on its own life cycle from a dream (freedom) to getting organized (Bill of Rights / Constitution) to making it (prospering) to becoming an institution (wealth) we have, before us, a choice: select a path of renewal or risk closing in.
I was struck last Halloween by my daughter’s choice of costume. She’s the middle child, you see, and we’ve long been concerned that she find her own way. But when she chose lions and tigers and bears as her metaphorical traveling companions, I was reminded that her dreams and her personal idea of home may very well be more magnificent than anything we could have ever imagined for her.