I can’t lie. I was frustrated with the results of the midterm election, and mostly with America’s collective impatience with our president to, you know, remake the economy, create jobs, work on healthcare, hold the mortgage and banking industries accountable, and attempt to resolve two wars. Stuff like that. Wait, you mean it can’t be done in 18 months? Can’t we give change a chance?
Then I got in a whip when someone blithely asked if I was “happy” simply because a woman was elected governor. Let me just say this: You are not “in” with me simply because you are a woman. Or gay. Or from New Jersey. Or have a short inseam. You have to prove yourself like everyone else.
I want legislators who are more intelligent, experienced, and well-traveled than I am. Why is this strange? Would you ask a neighbor to fix your plumbing or call in a professional?
Then things got horrific. Kids killing themselves. Many of them bullied for either being gay or being “perceived” as gay.
I don’t think anything hurts quite like the pain of being ostracized, isolated, bullied, or ridiculed during one’s teen years. When we think back to those days, I’m sure we all remember times when we were victimized or intimidated for something we had no control over. Times when we wished, hoped, or pleaded with the universe to feel at ease, comfortable in our skin, comfortable anywhere.
Days after the suicides, I, along with a few hundred Charleston folks, gathered for a candlelight vigil in the courtyard of Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim synagogue and listened to a variety of voices share personal stories of bullying, coming out, self awareness, and the thought that things do, and can, get better. The evening ended with a sea of flickering candlelight and a soft voice singing Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.”
Weeks later, I attended the Alliance for Full Acceptance’s Taste of Equality fundraiser, listening to Mayor Riley accept an award from the organization’s founder, Linda Ketner. Twelve years ago, when Ketner created AFFA, she reached out to Mayor Riley for support and counsel. The incredible legislative and social progress the Charleston LGBT community has achieved was accomplished, in large part, due to the mayor’s pragmatic, steadfast assertion that the things that make us different are to be honored, respected, and treated equally under the law.
I detail these high and low moments on purpose. Because in the work for equality and change, we must pay attention to all the moments, the brutal and the beautiful.
As an example of the beautiful, consider the Charleston nonprofit, WINGS for Kids, an after-school program that “teaches children how to behave well, make good decisions, and build healthy relationships,” according to the organization’s website. Building compassionate, thoughtful children seems to me to be the way to stop the brutality. And WINGS works hard — producing better adjusted, more successful children as a result.
Of course, we want it all to be better now — immediately, if not sooner. Such is the nature of our instant-gratification culture. We demand change. We cross our arms, tap our feet impatiently, roll our eyes, and snap, “Well?” Like Carrie Fisher says, “Instant gratification takes too long.”
It’s not easy to wait. Or work for change. Lately, it seems like the closer we move to equality and meaningful change, the more fear and hate act out in protest.
The truth is, it’s taken the Alliance for Full Acceptance 12 years of dedicated, diligent work to effect change. And WINGS for Kids? Their work with children began in 1996. In my mind, the time that change takes makes it more meaningful, not less.
Perhaps change is most about endurance, perseverance, sacrifice, and — wait for it — patience. We know there will be ups and downs. What we cannot know are the unexpected twists and turns this roller coaster called life will take. Today, I am as hopeful as I am frustrated. But I’m certain there’s a turn ahead.