Today (now yesterday) is National Coming Out Day and for the third year in a row I spent my lunch at the annual NCOD luncheon at UMD. There always two speakers: one college student who is usually a member of the UMD GLBTQ community, and a staff/faculty/community member with some affiliation with said community. I love their stories. Often heart-breaking, these stories are frequently interspersed with tales of bullying and being ostracized from family and peers. These stories also include moments of triumph and chance meetings of encountered compassion. (Because who wants to listen to a story where nothing ever resolves, where everything stinks and even the tiny seeds of hope sewn in our souls when we were younger are smothered?) So these stories give hope. (And often a politically rallying refrain for a the current issues. NOT the point of this post, so please, let's not go there.) And these stories give us an opportunity to extend compassion. We are invited into their story.
One of my favorite moments in one speaker's story: He had 'been out' for a while but hadn't told his Grandma yet. And he wanted to, and it was hard, but he finally mustered up the courage to say, "Grandma, you know I'm gay, right?" and she looked at him and said, "Everyone needs someone to cook supper for," and they never spoke about it again. I love that!!! No condemning, no picking at the details of right or wrong, no disowning, just love and the understanding that relationship is important.
We have a newer person in our church and small group. She's single, black, and a mom of 5 who has a whole story behind why she's in our community, moving here with 'the clothes on their backs' and not much else. They recently rented an apartment that actually fits their family and it made their meager possessions even more obvious as they had been doubling up on beds and eating picnic style in an empty dining room. From the outside, this family might appear like a few demographics people like to rip on... (AGAIN, not the point of this post...) but when you get to know them, they are just another family in need, or just like you and just like me.
Unfortunately, we aren't in any position to financially help, but I could put a word out. And did - social networking to the rescue! And people heard and helped! In a big way. From church friends, work friends, and even friends from high school gave: a double bed with new mattresses, a twin captains bed, 4 dressers, a standing cabinet, a love seat, a curio cabinet, 3 lamps and a picture, a large dining room table, a kitchen table & 4 chairs, 4 other kitchen chairs, a bookcase, 3 night stands, an end table, a bunch of curtains/drapes, and I'm sure I've forgotten something! And then, one of our men's groups from church moved all this furniture into her 2nd and 3rd floor apartment, installing curtain rods and reassembling furniture! And it all happened because someone (not me!) took the time to notice someone in need and invite them in! Someone chose to become part of their story. The tears in the eyes of the teenager who finally had a place to put her clothes and the wide-eyed amazement on the face of this mom who hasn't had a bed to herself in years told me that the story of their life had changed.
Somehow, we need to start seeing people. We need to see the people around us who are in need - any kind of need. We all have the opportunity to speak into someone's story. At the close of the NCOD luncheon yesterday, someone said, "I don't have to add anything, please pay attention (to what's going on). And if you are paying attention, you should be outraged." I agree. And I would add '... and you will see opportunities to extend compassion, and change a story, change a life."