One of the perks of having a baby is that I have the opportunity to enjoy quiet early morning strolls more than I used to. That is a looking-on-the-bright-side kind of a statement, but it is also true. One such morning recently, I packed up my little pal and headed for our neighborhood park. He fell asleep easily, and I breathed in the quiet summer morning. There was not another soul in sight except an elderly woman, wearing a hat obviously made for church, crossing the road. So old-timey, so cute to see her toddle across the road heading for towards the bus stop with a straw bag teeming with books and papers. I smiled at her, and said good morning. She commented on how nice it was that I was out with my baby on a Sunday morning, peering into the stroller where my son was peacefully, thankfully, finally asleep. She pulled a coloring sheet out of her bag, commenting it was the focus of her Sunday school lesson that maybe I would like to share with my baby or other children I might have if I wasn’t planning on taking them to church today. I just smiled politely, but saw that this offering was only the tip of her proselytizing iceberg.
“You know, Obama made a mistake,” she said, with a smile that told me she was barely containing a lethal amount of anger beneath it. She pulled out a notebook from her bag, and fumbled for a pair of reading glasses that hung from a chain around her neck. Oh, I thought. Now I know what’s coming.
“Here is what he said,” she began, apparently unaware or unconcerned that I looked as though I desperately wanted to get away from her and continue on my quest for a blissful naptime walk. “‘I’ve just concluded that for me personally it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same-sex couples should be able to get married.’ But you see, he is WRONG,” she emphasized. I did not bother to say that his personal opinion does not fall under the realm of right or wrong. Her rant began, and it was hard to follow, as she went all over the place in her effort to make me see the wrongness of it all. She spoke of Sodom and Gomorrah, as expected, but also pointed to other biblical non sequiturs that she assured me proved her point. Sure, she could insist that the bible implied that whoremongering and infidelity would likely bar your name from the Lamb’s book, but committing yourself to one person you love for life? The sin in that I wasn’t hearing in her plethora of supposed examples.
My eyes began to tear. Not because I was afraid that all of my gay friends and family were damned, nor because this woman was so full of hate. They were tearing because it was June, and the pollen lays thick on every blessed surface at this time of year. I could not stop the torrent of tears, and this woman obviously took it to mean that I was moved, one way or the other, and she upped her ante.
“THOSE PEOPLE BROUGHT THE SCOURGE OF AIDS UPON THE CONTINTENT OF AFRICA!” Her shouting echoed in the stillness of the morning. Her eyes blazed and bulged from her head. It was becoming more difficult to be dismissive of her as harmless in her prejudice.
“I can see that you feel strongly about this,” I said firmly but barely above a whisper, because if this unwanted conversation cut my baby’s nap short, it would not be the gays that would be damned straight to hell. “But I don’t really believe in an angry God. Didn’t Jesus say ‘love one another?” I was trying to win her over by quoting her Number One Guy. This did not work. Her shouting continued. I don’t really know what she was saying, so focused was I on moving the stroller away from her loud and venom-filled voice. Seriously, she did NOT want to wake my baby. Hell hath no fury like a sleep-deprived mother.
I was dumbfounded that she had turned her argument towards Africa, blaming gays, GAYS, for the AIDS epidemic there. Not a lack of sex education. Not a lack of access to healthcare and medicine. Not rampant government corruption. No, it was the gays who were to blame. Especially the marrying kind, apparently.
I was in turmoil.
The old me, who slept for eight hours a night, who had only myself to worry about, that girl from New Jersey, soooo wanted to go into the ring with this old battleax. This woman was going to spread this awful message, this outright lie, to the children in her care at church. I looked down at my son – my beautiful, sweet, impressionable boy. It made me sick to think that he would someday be exposed to people like this – bigoted, spewing hatred towards people whose only crime was to be in some way different from her.
I wanted her to know she was not fooling me. That she was full of fear and ignorance, and that I was no way moved by her fire and brimstone threats. But I knew that my words would fall on deaf, unbudging ears, and it was a war I didn’t want to wage in front of the baby anyway. I tried to imagine how I would teach him to deal with differences of opinion, and I knew yelling at an old lady would not be the way. I closed my eyes and pictured the man my son would be someday, and I used that image as my inspiration.
“I am really, truly sorry you feel that way,” I said, as I headed in the opposite direction. “I just do not agree.” I could tell it took her a minute to regain her composure. She flashed another angry smile.
“God bless you,” she said through gritted teeth. She began to walk away, but then turned abruptly around.
“AND GO TO CHURCH!” She yelled. She quickly unknitted her brow to offer me one last terrifying smile before waddling off towards the bus stop. Good God, I thought.
Peace was restored to the morning, but I remained a little shaken. I couldn’t help but feel a little disappointed in myself, in my tame reaction to her outrageous attack not only on gay marriage, but on anyone who did not drink her brand of Kool-Aid. I thought, though, of what Dr. King had said and felt a little better about my decision: hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.
Well, I thought, I do know a thing or two about love. When my son was born, I found out that there was no bottom to the well inside me that held it. Surely I had some to spare for the good of the cause. I didn’t do much to combat that woman in the park, but in my small way I had let her know that I was on the side of love, and that she would not have me to count on in her army of hate.
I walked out of the park and towards the coffee shop. The rest of the world was waking up, and the stillness was giving way to the humming start of a busy, beautiful day. People smiled and nodded as they passed us. Two women, holding hands, said good morning to me as they strolled passed. I watched them as they stopped to admire someone’s garden, arms loosely around each other’s waist, before continuing on their way. It was a perfect sight to counter the confrontation in the park. I wondered if the church lady would be disgusted, would be AFRAID of such sweet, loving gestures, just because it was not between a man and a woman. I’m sure she would be, but I still for the life of me couldn’t understand why. Her own go-to book says that love is kind and that it doesn’t delight in evil. I can only hope that she reads it more closely before she goes to wherever she’s headed and has some explaining to do.