The other day I was flying to Los Angeles to see my girlfriend. For those of you who missed the memo, this is the year I got divorced. As my straight life coach told me, "You wanted 'marriage equality,' divorce is marriage equality." Anyway, I digress. The woman sitting next to me on the plane seemed pleasant, she was dressed in a purple sweater and wearing a purple and silver scarf. She looked like any other new-age Californian, only she wasn't.
I was re-reading a great book called Transitions by William Bridges that I'd read three years ago when I decided to leave my steady government job to open a private therapy and life coaching practice and to support LGBT people in coming out of the closet. I peeked over to see what she was reading. She was excited by my interest.
"It's a book about what kids say to Santa Claus," she said. "This man has been Santa for over 40 years."
I was immediately interested and in my therapist-speak I urged her to "tell me more."
Her eyes filled with tears, "One kid tells him that all he wants for Christmas is for his father to stop beating him or to not beat him so hard."
Since the divorce my heart has broken open - I am way more sensitive to everything - and my eyes filled with tears too. "Wow, that's heavy."
"He's a Christian, you know?" she said.
I nodded, feeling that wall wanting to come up. I knew that was code for his superiority in her mind, and, of course, her superiority as a Christian. We spoke a little more about what the kids asked Santa for, and then I turned to look out the window as we descended towards the airport.
"I have more books," she said, "would you like one?" She held out two books, both clearly intended to convince one of the merits of Jesus.
I froze like a 'deer-being-offered-Christian-literature-in-the-headlights.' I had felt connected to this woman until this moment, and then it was her act of wanting to "offer" me something that pushed that "lock down" button. I want to keep my heart open to people. I want to connect with people and meet them where they are. I could be with her Christian Santa. I could even be with her wishing me a "Merry Christmas" at least three times, even though I also celebrate Hanukkah because I am Jewish. This, however, was the last straw. I refused her "gift" and she put her books away in her bag.
I turned toward the window again and stared out contemplating this interaction. I continue to believe that our final frontier to equality is reaching these folks who use Jesus as a barrier, or a shield, to block authentic human connection with LGBT people. I continue to want to stretch myself and find a way to stay present, to be as open to these folks as I want them to be open to me. This feels even more urgent at this time in my life because the woman I am seeing comes from an evangelical Christian background and her family is coming to terms with our relationship, a complete exception to her past relationships with people of the opposite sex. I want them to be open to me, and I know it works both ways. I have to be open to them.
As I sat there, I contemplated the deeper meaning of my refusal of her gift. Part of my spiritual practice is to be open to receiving, knowing that as I make myself available to receive, abundance and opportunity comes to me. When we cut ourselves off from even the smallest thing, this signals to the Universe that we are not open.
I turned to her and said, "On second thought, I would be happy to have one of your books."
She got excited, reached into her bag and pulled out the two books. I took the one called The Story of Jesus. I figured that there were likely Bible passages or things Jesus really stood for that I could use to enhance my equality talking points, since I am convinced that if Jesus were around today he would totally be talking about the merits of same-sex love. "Love is love after all," he would say. I thanked her and wished her a Merry Christmas with her family and grandchildren.
I don't know if I will ever really read the book she offered me or if there was something else I should have done. In the end, however, I think this interaction was metaphorical of the season of giving and receiving and of how sometimes we just need to be open.
I know that openness by LGBT people is what changes hearts and minds. I think of the gay man that helped my grandmother at work after an operation limited her mobility. He, not me, changed her view on LGBT people. It was his kindness that kept her from losing her job and transformed her to an LGBT advocate.
Then there was a young gay man with HIV who opened the heart of my friend, Lynda's mother, who was staunchly anti-gay until she got to know him at their church. She watched him struggle with the disease and got involved in caring for him the last few months of his life. The barriers came down and her heart opened to LGBT people.
In New Thought/Ancient Wisdom teachings, receiving and giving are synonymous. In other words, the young man with HIV was actually "giving" something to my friend's mother by allowing her to care for him. In the same way that the gay man "helping" or "giving" to my grandmother was "receiving" the opportunity to be a place where unconditional love showed up and transformed her ignorance and close-mindedness into love and acceptance. He received an opportunity to be someone's hero.
When so many of us have been chastised, bullied, and worse, it can be challenging to keep our hearts open to those people who believe they are superior to us or believe that we are sinners. Yet, I do believe our courage, which means "heart" in Latin and is defined as "the ability to do something that you know is right or good, even though it is dangerous, frightening, or very difficult," is crucial to our creating a world of equality for LGBT people. Staying open-hearted and present is what a love warrior does.
During this holiday season, may you receive the gift of giving and give the gift of graceful receiving.