One of the fun-but-serious things that my partner and I sometimes do when we've unintentionally hurt each other's feelings is that we request a do over. By the time we're requested the do over, we each have recognized how our own stuff got in the way of deep listening, or how we misinterpreted the other's actions or words, so we really can make different choices, during the do over, "knowing then what we know now."
It might seem artificial or trivial or even pointless to have a do over, but the proof is in the pudding and the truth is in the experience. Each time we have used a do over, it's been as if we've heard each other for the first time, not the second, and the air between us is clear once again.
For some reason, there's a moment in my fairly recent life that keeps replaying, and I find I am longing for a do over. This memory has resurfaced because of an anecdote I read recently in Friends Journal, tucked away in a long article by James Fletcher about Black Friends' experience among Quakers.
The segment tells of an unexpected Opportunity for worship among an AFSC delegation traveling on a segregated train through South Africa. It tells of how, when confronted by an officer to move to the whites' section of the train, the white Friend travelling among the Black delegates
shouted out firmly that he could not obey that order because he had orders from a Higher Authority that he had to follow. When the policeman asked him to show him those orders, [the white Friend] replied, "I can't, because they are written on my heart."My own experience has nothing of a threat of being confronted by police, let alone of being arrested--and arrested in another country at that!--but it is one that called for an Obedience to a Higher Authority that I fear I still lack.
A few years ago, the partner of a friend of ours had died of AIDS, and it was known that the man's father was a fundamentalist, fire-and-brimstone Christian. In the last week of his partner's life, our friend fretted over how he might respond to his father-in-law had he started with any talk of "repenting for your sins," or "you're damned and going to hell." Thankfully, the last days in the hospital and at home were quiet ones, in every way.
Then there was the low-key, close-friends-and-family-only memorial service. As low-key as it was--and it wasn't a Quaker memorial--there was a tension in the room as soon as you walked in: Michael's family took up the first three or four pews and was seated on the left; Michael's friends, his partner, and his partner's family took up seven or eight pews (or more) and were seated on the right. I briefly wondered about sitting with Michael's family, but maybe it was some of our grieving friends who waved us over to where they were already seated...
There were the usual funny and tender stories that a few close friends shared, and our friend had graciously invited Michael's father to say a few things about his son, his only son who had died before he was forty, to close the service.
The eulogy started quietly enough but quickly turned toward something else. I kept thinking of the Reverend Thrower in Orson Scott Card's Seventh Son, who could not see the innocence and open-heartedness of a young boy named Alvin, and who could only condemn Alvin for sinning and could hurl only the worst condeming passages of Scripture at him during church services...
I sat in disbelief. Could this man, Michael's father, really be saying what he is saying, condemning those of us who loved Michael, who happen to find Love and God in someone of the same gender as ourselves--could this man really be using such hateful words in the midst of a memorial service for his son?!
But it was happening, and Michael's family was allowing it to happen and were in fact nodding in agreement to what was being said. And none of us across the aisle moved to counter it.
Two minutes passed. Five minutes. Ten.
Hoping that someone else would be the first to leave, but not seeing a hint that that would happen, I excused myself from the middle of the pew and stepped into the anteroom.
But stepping out to get some space to think didn't help, not to think clearly, anyway. I had all sorts of other thoughts go through my head, though:
Can I ask the proprieters of the funeral home to interrupt this man in such a way that it won't embarrass the friend who had rented the home in the first place? Did I have that power, especially since I didn't consider myself to be too close of a friend to Michael or to his partner?Fifteen minutes turned into twenty, and then finally Michael's partner stood up and interrupted his father-in-law, saying something like, "We have to stop here. I'd like for us to close with saying the Lord's Prayer together."
Can I walk back in and ask that Michael's father simply stop and allow us time to resettle before heading back to our homes?
Can I pull the "Pull in case of emergency" red handle under the glass box on the wall and deal with the consequences of having made a false fire alarm?
Then Michael's family went one way and everyone else went the other and headed to Michael's and his partner's house, where we debriefed, guffawed, vented, and roared with uneasy laughter.
But I'm still tormented inside by the whole thing, two years later. I want a do over, but I don't know what it would look like or sound like or be like.
I don't know that I'd have the courage now that I didn't have then, to be able to say, Stop. Stop now. This hurts. This is not what God asks us to do at a time of grieving and loss.
Maybe what I want, really, is some input on how to change the ending that I had experienced that day.
Have you ever spoken up at a time of great peer pressure to remain silent?
Have you ever been among the group that was being verbally or physically attacked, yet had found the will, or had called up the courage, or had felt the Presence strong enough in order to say No More...?
I find I'm eager to hear your own stories; I'm eager to have this experience re-done in my own heart, if possible.
Thanks for reading me.