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There are so many things I want to tell the woman behind us in line at the coffee shop. Her lips are twisted in a disgusted frown and her stare is so intently disapproving we can feel the heat of it on our skin.
I'd tell her my girlfriend's father's lungs are filling with fluid and his heart is leaking. We've been drowning in the news. Our own hearts are leaking, too. All I can give my girlfriend is this single sacred moment of normalcy where the hardest questions she has to answer are about sugar and cream. And now this woman has reminded us we are different. With the way she sneers at my hand on my girlfriend's back, she has reminded us we should be ashamed. To some, we will never be family, be love, be whole.
Once, a young homeless man stopped me on the street and thanked me for answering his greeting. He said I was the only one who answered back that day.
I was shocked to realize I had the power to give or take away another person's sense of humanity – with only a look or a word. As Archbishop Desmond Tutu said, “when I dehumanize you, I am inexorably dehumanizing myself.”
I wanted to talk about humanity with the woman behind us. I wanted to tell her the hands she was so horrified to see intertwined are the same hands we've used to rub each others' backs when we cry or to make each other meals. We have been stitching up each other's wounds with tiny words strung together over and over – saying “you are beautiful” after a lifetime of feeling ugly and “you are perfect” after a lifetime of feeling broken.
After all, the love between my girlfriend and me is fragile like any beautiful phenomena in nature – like robin's eggs, like saplings, like cocoons. The survival of delicate beginnings seems impossible in such a crushing, hostile landscape. Yet, fiber by fiber life weaves an architecture of strength. So, we too are sending our spindly roots into this arid soil and slowly we are creating love in a climate of hate.
Yet, this woman still has power. We all do. We can add to those strands banding together to create community or we can hack away at other people's tender vines. Yet, judgement is the axe we can't wield without cutting ourselves. So, as much as I might have wanted to lecture the woman, I began to wonder about her instead. Does she turn that look on herself?
In the end, I no longer wished I had told the woman anything. I wish I had said in all honesty and with great love, “I noticed you seem uncomfortable with us. May I ask why?”
I wish I had listened. I wish I had given her her humanity. I wish I had treated her the way I wanted to be treated.