I’ve always thought of myself as a quiet kind of guy. In fact when I was younger, I definitely tended to be introverted. Oh, I could speak up when the occasion demanded, but I was more comfortable sitting back and let other folks do the ranting, if ranting was called for. I abhorred making a scene. Maybe some of my reticence came from a lack of passion about contemporary affairs, but my excuse was that I preferred a “live-and-let-live” policy. When others were marching in support of their passionate causes, I was more apt to be sitting in the comfort of my living room watching them on TV and shaking my head. I was anything but a radical. Even now, I don’t think I am.
But there have been some changes. My wife would certainly attest to my growing verbosity as I’ve gotten older. But more than that, much more than that, I’ve been afflicted with this passion—for the cause. It’s all the fault of my gay son. Because of him and who he is, I’ve gone from being a quiet guy to being really steamed. Before I discovered he was gay, I was a normal, quiet, submissive citizen who might mumble a little discontent now and then, but never speak out blatantly in public. Of course I could certainly discuss political postures enthusiastically when the situation demanded it, but never outside of small group gatherings. I was a comfortable quiet American and so were all my family members. We had so much to be thankful for that it just didn’t generate that fire that drives an activist. Me an activist? No way.
I’m not so sure. There was that Sunday in October. I had gone to the 9:30 AM Mass, the most popular and well attended one at our parish. I was alone. My wife wasn’t with me. She was ill as I recall, and had to stay at home. Even so, I sat in our usual area near the front of the church. We had always tried to sit close to the altar because of my wife’s preference. My own natural inclination was to find an obscure place in the rear, but I had grown accustomed to sitting up front where we could see and hear well. Then too, I’d decided it’s one of the few public accommodations where you don’t have to pay through the nose for front-row-center seating. As I found my place and sat down, I remember being relaxed, a little sleepy, but anticipating an inspirational experience. Inspirational it certainly turned out to be.
It was just a short time into the service when it happened. After the readings, we were told that in lieu of the usual homily, we were to be treated to a recorded message from the Cardinal. He was going to cajole us into voting for Proposition II, the state constitutional amendment banning gay marriage which was on the ballot in the coming election. Understand—by this time in my experience of being the father of a gay son, I had been well tuned into the cacophony of the church’s and society’s self-righteous moralistic railing opposing fundamental human rights for gay people like my son. Now it appeared, I was about to receive a forced dose of this rationalized bigotry in my own church! The taped message began and suddenly I went from a comfortable, relaxed and harmless pew occupant, into a never before encountered feeling of a terrible rage. I was overwhelmed with emotion. This was not going to pass.
I had this tremendous rush of adrenalin unlike anything I had ever experienced before. It was as if someone had lifted me up. A surge of emotion was crying out inside of me: “Enough! Enough! No more silence!” And I found myself marching directly to the altar with an unstoppable resolve. There was no hesitation or thought other than to cry out against this terrible assault on my family happening in this unlikely place. I quickly reached the center of the altar, mounted several steps to the top, turned, and faced the congregation. I spoke in my loudest speaking voice with much emotion, overriding the Cardinal’s tape: “This is a message of hate. It hurts me. It hurts my family. It hurts my friends. I come to this place to hear Christ’s message of love. Today I hear only hate. I cannot stay and listen to it.” With that, I descended down the steps and marched out—down the main aisle in a defiant military manner, almost daring any usher or person to accost me for my interrupting outburst. I looked as many people directly in the eye as I could, hoping to emphasize my message and expecting some kind of reaction. There was none. To a person, they all looked astonished. They were dumbfounded, frozen in place, even the ushers. Nothing like this had ever happened before at our quiet, comfortable, suburban church.
It had never happened to me before either. By the time I traversed the parking lot and got into my car, I took a deep breath and began to calm down. My immediate reaction was: “Holy cats! Who did that? Was that me? I can’t believe I did that!” I still can’t.
The sequel started thirty minutes later, after I got home. The phone rang. It was my pastor. I heard him through my lingering daze apologizing: “Tom. I’m so sorry. I will never do anything again that will hurt a single parishioner. I apologize to you…………..” His unwavering support for me was unexpected. It continues to this day. Amazing. Much later I heard from some of my fellow parishioners, my neighbors. Their comments were consistently positive and usually began with: “Wow! That took guts……etc.” It was a surreal affair and I’m still amazed by the response it generated.
I’d like to think that it was “guts,” but I know better now. That wasn’t me. That was the Spirit that day who used me to send a message. I’m sure of it. I’m not a gutsy guy, but just maybe a little bit of an activist now. Could that be? Maybe. Maybe I do stand guilty of that self defined mocking label, a label I once so scorned in my comfortable complacence. Looking back over the past few years, I recall the many trips to the state capitol to lobby my state senators and representatives. I remember all the marches and demonstrations I’ve participated in, the letters to the editor and articles I’ve written………..all on behalf of the gay community and my son. I look back and I say to myself: “Good Grief! That has all the earmarks of an activist.” Then I start to feel good about myself. Until I realize…………..It’s the Spirit working through me, telling me what to say and do. I am only a receptive, grateful tool. It’s the way the Spirit works, apparently.
Yes indeed, now that I think about it, maybe I am an activist, and if it’s a good thing, it’s really because of the Spirit. …………………and having a gay son.
(And I like it!)
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