The Choices We Make

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I marched last Friday. I marched because for me, it was the right thing to do. But I marched in silence amidst the cheers and horns and chants. I walked in silence because the power of my presence, mine joined with so many others, made a statement in and of itself. I walked in silence because the quiet time was at once good for self-reflection and supportive of communion with my mother, a proud lesbian, who I know was watching and walking with me from the other side. Silence because I had moved past my upset into grief…and my grief was both small and monumental. Small in its holding of personal loved ones and friends during this challenging time; monumental because I could not separate this protest from Gandhi’s salt march (which ultimately led to the liberation of India), from the Civil Rights movement in this country not too long ago, or from my personal activism in Pennsylvania and D.C. as a 20-something fighting for animal rights. All were striking a similar chord in my heart, a chord that was reverberating with the pain of the oppressed and marginalized, the voiceless and the silenced. I have counted myself, at times, among them, and like many of you, have found that often my only solace is Her. Only the power of silence, the place that contains the whole of human experience on its way to remembering the Divine, can contain all that.

From my moments of silent contemplation, witnessing, and reflection, I slowly came to realize as I walked that my personal beliefs were such a small part of the picture. Of course, mine is just one vote, but I don’t just mean small in that sense. I mean that what I believe is only a fraction of the power I have to create change. Yes, my beliefs got me there, walking down Market Street, and yes, that was important. But what became overwhelmingly clear as I felt my insides aching was that what mattered more than my beliefs was my feelings about them and how I engaged that in the world. In working through my incredulousness that people could hold (fill in your adjective here) views on marriage, I first dealt with my anger and then my hurt. I then came gradually to connect more with the feelings of empathy I carried with and for others in the parade. Finally, I allowed my awareness to leap out of the container my beliefs had shaped, a container filled with dualistic thinking about morality and ethics (most in black and white), and found a place of compassion that had no boundaries, that was every color of the rainbow at the same time that it was astoundingly clear; a translucence in which mind, heart, spirit and soul together resided. My power to create change, I remembered, lies in all of me.

I laughed as I thought that only a weekend prior, I had been sitting on a ferry on the way to Catalina pissed off by the choices of the woman who sat in front of me, wearing her buttons and political sweatshirt proudly. Why, I thought, did she have to sit directly in my line of sight? Initially, I lamented my bad luck. Then I was angry. Then I felt hurt. She had it out for me, didn’t she? My thoughts ensued, a rolling escalation of feelings…she stood in opposition to all in which I believed, acted to impinge upon my personal freedom and the freedom of those I love, hated what I cared for most, and probably only #$%*ed in one position. Then, I stopped the tirade and just looked. What did I know about her? Did we have anything in common? Did she, too, love chocolate, her cat, and her boyfriend? Were her reasons for doing so wrong? I opened my heart to her and settled back in my seat, the feelings quieting into a place strengthened by spiritual practice, finally dissolving into a place of peacefulness. When I next opened my eyes, she was gone, moved to another part of the ship.

Yet, here we all were at this march making a statement; it was an important statement about equality and social justice. At certain times when the passion moved through me, I raised my fist feeling the power of those gathered: straight, gay, transgendered, and those who prefer more fluid definitions of sexual orientation. Sometimes, I choked on a sob. Sometimes, I smiled and felt overcome with joy because so many were willing to be so out. I left the march moved. I left empowered. I left hopeful, trusting that this issue too would be behind us soon. I left thinking that perhaps this time we can do the right thing in a good, lasting, and beautiful way–a way that carries the tears of pain and hurt into an ocean of acceptance and love; a way that transforms rage and the only way into compassion and the way of honored possibilities; a way that lays the ground work for the future.

How do we get there? That, I believe, is for each of us personally to answer for ourselves, with our loved ones, with our families, and in our communities. I do believe that a helpful starting place in this is an open heart that has done its spiritual homework and continues to make that commitment with every breath…one that is full in its humanity; one that honors, listens and challenges; one that breathes into tension, surrenders, and chooses love above fear. A teacher reminded me the other night that when fear is present, there is no compassion. Did you know that compassion means literally, to be together in suffering? If we have compassion, we are together; if we do not, we are not. No matter where we stand in the political spectrum, we are suffering by virtue of our beingness. From this place, what do we choose?

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