Maybe it’s the Orlando shooting.
Maybe it’s the access to military-style weapons.
Maybe it’s 13 months of temperatures rising.
Maybe it’s Donald Trump.
I’ve been torn from pillar to post over one thing over another lately. I find myself discombobulated much of the time. You feeling that way, too? Maybe we need a collective day at the spa, or a night around the campfire roasting marshmallows?
Years ago, when I wrote that memoir about my father, I encountered many Gold Star families. Sometimes, albeit infrequently, I would hear stories of estrangement. Death does that to families, causes sore feelings over one thing or another. Sometimes these are major offenses. Sometimes these are offenses that seem major because of the rawness that comes with death. Whatever the cause, it usually resulted in one thing – children being used as a bartering chip.
I’ve been thinking upon all that in the wake of the Orlando shooting. Several readers wrote to me about their children who had come out as gay in their conservative Christian homes and how that had caused hurt feelings, which had then led to family estrangements. I thought back to the 1990s and how I had wrestled with my own confused theology over Gays and God. I wrote about all that in Where’s Your Jesus Now? I had close friends with gay children or gay siblings. I remember the discussions that took place over the AIDS crisis and how certain family members didn’t want to be around their gay relative – or more tragically, didn’t want their children around their gay relative because well, you know, cooties spread and AIDS cooties scared the whole nation. So the gays were banned from family functions, Thanksgiving, Christmas and the like, anywhere where children could be present.
It all seems so silly now but it wasn’t silly at all. It was very serious and very hurtful. And all because of ignorance.
So I was proud to see the nation, who had abandoned its AIDS victims of the 80s and 90s, rally around the shooting victims in Orlando. It’s like Oprah says, when we know better we do better. We are doing better with Orlando. Nobody was afraid of the puddles of blood at the gay bar. Everyone just wanted to help save as many victims as possible. (I remember during the AIDS crisis when a nosebleed in a gym was treated like an exposure to deadly mustard gas.)
Still, when I heard the news of the slaughter on Sunday morning I thought about how some families would be learning for the first-time that their son or daughter was gay. That there would be among the dead those who had not yet come out to their families, and how very difficult all that would be for those families. The death would be awful to deal with no matter what, but to find out that there was this secret life, well, that might cause a whole other level of hurt.
So when readers wrote to tell of how afraid they were for their gay son or daughter, I wanted to pull them all in like a mother hen and protect them and their children. When they wrote to talk about how children/grandchildren were being used as bartering chips between estranged family members over this Gay and God thingy, I just wanted to slap some sense into somebody.
Just stop it now.
You don’t say to your sister or brother, to your mother or father: “If you don’t behave you can’t see my children.”
Or to put it more bluntly: “If you are going to be gay, you can’t ever see my children.”
Who does that? Who in Jesus’s name thinks it is ever okay to regard children as barter in a game of power and control?
Jesus. Help us.
Lord. God. Almighty.
What is wrong with us?
My mother and my father’s mother were not trusting of each other. There was plenty of good reason for that. I wrote about some of those reasons in After the Flag has been Folded. My mother gave my granny plenty of reasons for concern. She did some pretty jaw-dropping things in the wake of my father’s death. Things that I am sure must have shocked and disappointed my grandmother. On the other hand, my mother had some good reasons to be wary of my grandmother. Like I said, when people die, shit happens.
But the one thing my mother and my granny never did was fight over us kids. We were never used as a bartering chip to get my mother to behave or to get my granny to behave. My mother never interfered with my relationship with my grandmother. She never even told me what led to their estrangement until I was in my 40s because my mother would never speak ill of my grandparents, ever.
Of course, that’s not the way of the current world. Family estrangements is such a common issue that there are Facebook pages and websites set up for support for alienated family members. The posts on these sites are difficult to read, especially when it comes to grandparents being denied access to grandchildren, or aunts and uncles being told they can’t be around nieces and nephews. It’s akin to being kicked out of a nomadic tribe, left to wander around in the grasslands on your own.
Christians have been particularly bad about this sort of behavior, especially when it comes to issue of homosexuality, although, other fundamentalist religions fare no better.
Listen, I don’t care what your counselor is advising you about establishing boundaries and drawing the line, and all that other babble-bullshit, you do not cut off family members in an effort to control them.
It won’t work.
It never does.
The loser in all of this is children, of course. By cutting them off from the family members whose life you seek to control, you teach children to be rigid and uncompromising, to be arrogant and unforgiving, to be exclusionary and to marginalize those whose ways are seemingly foreign.
You fail to teach them that life is messy and family is everything.
You fail to teach them that when they need a safe harbor they can find it in the community of family.
I bet those family members in Orlando who woke up Sunday morning to the news that their son or daughter, their mother or father had been slain wished for anything the opportunity to hold their loved ones close, to love on them once again.
If love could heal anything, I bet those slain would rise up and walk again.
I don’t know what this obsession with building walls in our culture is all about, or why we do it, but we have got to stop it.
For the sake of all children.
One of the stories out of Orlando that stirred me was a survivor who recalled how when she escaped The Pulse, those fleeing the shooter before her had already destroyed a fence in an effort to reach safe harbor. She said because that fence was already down, she could run without obstruction to safety.
Shouldn’t we all be tearing down the fences, paving the way for the wounded who come behind us?
Karen Spears Zacharias is author of Burdy (Mercer University Press).