“I hope they all screw themselves and burn up in hell.”
My mother’s comment came this evening after my husband read aloud a news headline stating that Ireland as a country had legalized same-sex marriage. I felt my heart’s rate and rhythm change instantly. I reprimanded my mother, but I don’t remember what I said. I know it wasn’t enough. She continued, and my husband and I remember her next words differently. I thought she said “They can believe whatever, but don’t shove it down my throat.” My husband said she was facing me when she said those words (I was looking straight ahead in shock and unaware of her non-verbal communication), and that the “they” was actually a “you,” in response to what I had said to her.
I wish my husband and I could remember what I said to her after the first comment, but so many words came to me at once that it’s not clear to me which ones I said and which ones I tried to say before my internal filters of cowardice and wisdom interfered. I think it ended up being not much more than an expression of horrified disapproval that she would say such a thing. I know I did not correct her, and after her second comment I said nothing.
There is so much I could have said—should have said. I knew that if I opened my mouth again, my entire mask would unravel and reveal all that I believe and don’t believe—my mother does not know of my broken faith or my support of the gay community. I knew that my mom would be leaving minutes later anyway to drive several hours home alone in a severe thunderstorm, and the timing felt completely wrong. It also seemed as if my words would be wasted on someone so unreasonable. I could give you more excuses, but I doubt you care to hear them. None of them are good enough. None of them assuage my guilt over my own hypocrisy. I’ve been writing here on behalf of gay friends since Thursday, mostly in opposition to my friend—a man who truly does love you, even though he and I have reached very different conclusions. I wouldn’t let a single comment of his go unanswered—but I was paralyzed tonight by the savage words of a foolish woman. The sad truth? He would have defended you with greater passion. I’m so sorry.
I’ve written 416 words so far according to the word count at the bottom of my processor, and it has taken an hour. I’ve been crying and praying and reading and mapping out my next steps. My reading found me in what was my favorite story of the Bible as a child—in the book of Esther. The story has been on my mind since Wednesday morning when I was folding a load of laundry while listening to a shuffled playlist of every song on my iPhone. A song played that I was not familiar with—I had heard it, but it was part of an album I had downloaded for the sake of other songs, and I hadn’t paid attention to it before. In these words, I found my story.
“Feels like I’ve been holding my breath,
Trying to still my restless heart.
Everything hangs on my next step,
Finding my nerve, playing my part.
I found shelter underneath his crown,
Found favor inside his eyes.
Rock this boat and I just might drown.
Honesty seems to come with a price.
There’s a time to hold your tongue,
A time to keep your head down
There’s a time—but it’s not now!
Sometimes you gotta go uninvited;
Sometimes you gotta speak when you don’t have the floor.
Sometimes you gotta move when everybody else says you should stay.
No way, no, not today.
You gotta ask if you want an answer;
Sometimes you gotta stand apart from the crowd.
Long before your heart could run the risk,
You were born for this.”
(“Born for This” by Mandisa, from Music Inspired By the Story)
I had always seen myself in Esther’s story. I wanted to be the one to boldly risk everything to take advantage of the platforms I found myself standing on with obedience to my calling. I wanted to never be ashamed of who I was or what I believed—even when my reputation or safety were on the line. I met gay people and democrats in college, and I was convinced that I had come to that place “for such a time as this” to stand against them. How many have been hurt by the force of my pride? Again—I’m sorry.
But as I sorted and folded clean clothes while this song played Wednesday morning, I realized that this is still my story—perhaps now more than ever. My mother and those like her are Haman, desiring the annihilation of people I love. The church as an institution is King Ahasuerus, blind to reality and allowing it to happen—despite having the power to change it. You are the targeted Jews, oppressed and grieving the betrayal of humans by humans. Some of you are Mordecai, urging me to do something about this. I live inside the palace gates of a perceived holiness that doesn’t include you—but I don’t really belong here. I am Esther—deeply acquainted with life outside the palace and a lover of those who live there. And I am here for such a time as this.
My mother’s words today will not go unanswered. I am preparing a banquet table in the form of a letter that I will send.
If I perish, I perish.